Science

The Future of Humanity and the Earth

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A few days ago I was reading an article on overpopulation. In the comments section someone had posted “when I was born in the 1950s there were only 2.5 billion people on the planet”. I thought to myself – surely that can’t be right…if there are currently 7.6 billion people on the planet, how could there only have been 2.5 billion people just 67 years ago. I looked this figure up and it turns out these stats are correct. I don’t know about you, but that really puts things into perspective for me. Scientists predict that our earth can sustain a maximum of 10 billion people until we begin encountering major problems with resources, and we are expected to reach this in 2056. In fact, in 2023 Africa’s population is forecasted to overtake that of India and China. These regions combined will make up half the world’s population by 2023. Sure, there are some places, like Japan, that have an imploding population, but in its entirety, overpopulation is a huge problem, and I believe that most of us aren’t aware of the magnitude of this problem, as well as how many of today’s issues are linked, some of which are listed below.

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Climate change – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 1.38 to 5.5 degrees Celsius over the next century. To maintain stable global human societies, we must prevent the earth from warming above 2°C relative to the pre-industrial level. To stay below two degree warming we must take the global energy system to net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. Scientists warn that we have a 5% chance of limiting warming to 2°C. If this tipping point is crossed, there may be catastrophic effects such increased droughts and heat waves, an ice-free Arctic, stronger and more intense hurricanes, and a sea level rise 1-4ft by 2100. In fact, recent research has found that many areas in Australia, such as Darwin and the state of Queensland will become uninhabitable in the very near future due to temperature rise. In addition to C02, another greenhouse gas, methane, is twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide, and there is more methane stored in the Arctic ice than there is C02 in the atmosphere. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on the planet. The IPCC also states that a 1.5°C average rise may put 20-30% of species at risk of extinction. If the planet warms by more than 3°C, this will be detrimental to most of the world’s ecosystems.

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The Global food crisis – Sarah Menke’s models predict that the world could be short by 214 trillion calories per year by 2027. A food deficit we will not be able to replace (please see her TED talk for more information on the global food crisis). Earth Overshoot Day is an annual event when humanity’s consumption outweighs Earth’s production of resources. An event which is becoming earlier and earlier. This year, this event landed on August 2nd.

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Deforestation – The destruction of large areas of forest is disastrous for the local species and communities that rely on them. Eighty percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes.  Every year about 18 million acres of forest – an area the size of England and Wales is destroyed. Deforestation is also a driving factor behind climate change.

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Ocean acidification – one of the biggest threats facing humanity, yet one in which so many people are unaware of. Since pre-industrial times, the pH of the oceans has dropped from an average of 8.2 to 8.1. Projections of climate change estimate that by the year 2100, this number will drop further, to around 7.8. Increased human activity has ultimately resulted in the oceans becoming 30% more acidic since the beginning of the industrial revolution, taking a heavy toll on marine organisms. The impact of ocean acidification on plankton may have serious implications, as these microscopic organisms sit at the base of the food chain. Coral reefs are also at risk. If global warming remains on its upward path, by 2050 just 5% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the world’s largest coral reef – will remain. Around half a billion people rely on fish from coral reefs as their main source of protein and these reefs also act as nurseries to young fish and smaller species. Researchers predict that most of our remaining coral systems will collapse even before a global temperature rise of two degree Celsius.

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Plastic pollution – Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Recent studies have found that sea salt around the world is also contaminated by microplastics – the effects of this on humans is not yet known. By 2050 there is expected to be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Overpopulation is the common denominator underlying the majority of these environmental issues. The most important question is, what can we do about it? How can we limit our population? While this may sound controversial, if you really want to help the environment – the most productive way you can do this is by not reproducing. Studies have found that having one fewer children per family can save an average of 58.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions per year. Scientists propose that everyone on the planet needs to reduce their carbon footprint to just 2 tonnes of C02 per year by 2050, to stay below the two degree tipping point.

In regards to my personal views on humanity and the status of the earth – I sometimes view climate change and increased weather patterns as the earths attempt to eliminate the human plague. It took literally perfect conditions for this earth to form, and every so often I questions whether humans are perfect enough of a species to survive and succeed on this planet. One thing I will never be able to comprehend is the sheer amount of ignorance humans possess in regards to these issues. How so many humans can passively go through their lives, blatantly ignoring (and even disputing) the major threats to humanity, is beyond me. If you don’t feel educated or knowledgeable on these issues – go and make yourself aware.  However, I also understand the difficulty in knowing what to believe. While all of the “facts” and statistics I have stated above have come from scientists and researchers, there is no way of knowing with 100% certainty that these facts and figures are correct. But what I do know, is that being uneducated and choosing to ignore the issues, is the worst thing you can do.

While I may have somewhat of a skeptical take on the future, I do have faith in science and technology. I believe that advancements in science and technology could resolve a number of environmental threats, however, it is all a race against time. There are countless technological solutions (such as project Clean up, and Bill gates idea of lab grown meat), which have been proposed to alleviate the varying threats facing humanity, however, I feel pessimistic as to whether such solutions will be implemented in time. It seems as though too many tipping points are about to be crossed. The outcome all comes down to who will win the race first – mother nature or technology.

I would love to hear your views on this topic – do you believe that humanity will survive? Or do you believe the earth will become uninhabitable? Do you think we will develop the technology in time to save the planet? Please comment below.

The future of Artificial Intelligence

It’s very rare that you get a set guest speakers including the likes of Elon Musk, Nick Bostrom and Sam Harris all on the same panel. The entirety of the video is quite interesting, yet there are two points I find particularly insightful, which I will discuss below. I will also mention a few of my own views on the developments of AI.

The host asked the panel about their thoughts and predictions on the potential positive outcomes and benefits of AI. One of the speakers responded in saying that this is actually a very tricky question. If you were to go back to ancestral times and ask a Neanderthal what advancements they would like to see in future – they would only be able to think so far ahead. For instance, they might say that they would like their spears to be more stable, or for the wood of their homes to be more waterproof. They would not be able to suggest using a 3D printer to create better tools or to install internet access to communicate with other members of their group. Therefore, it is difficult to predict what benefits AI could have to humanity in future, simply because many concepts are currently incompressible to human beings.

Another guest speaker also made an interesting point which I had not considered before. One of the major questions regarding the developments of AI is whether or not AI will achieve consciousness. To human beings, consciousness is what makes us aware, it is what makes us an intelligent species. However, what if there is a level of awareness higher than consciousness. A level which humans cannot comprehend or obtain. What if AI develop an algorithm to access something higher than consciousness and what would this mean for humanity. This point made me think back to a quote in the 2013 movie “Her”. In this movie, an operating system with AI is designed to adapt and evolve. Eventually, this system is able to break through the realms of human comprehension and access an undiscovered state – “It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed”.

My personal views on AI are that it is inevitably the next step in evolution, the important question to ask, is what will this mean for humanity? Right now AI and humans have a mutually beneficial relationship. AI benefits us in terms of making advancements and solving problems, and in turn, we benefit AI because we are creating and teaching them. I believe that for a period of time, the advancements of AI will be exciting and highly progressive – AI may find a cure for cancer and come up with solutions to managing major environmental issues such as climate change or plastic pollution. But what happens when AI surpass human capabilities, and can eventually do everything that humans can and more. And what happens if and when AI develop some level of consciousness. This reciprocal beneficial relationship between humans and AI will then be shifted. Eventually there will come a point where humans can no longer serve as any benefit to AI. Yet, what humans will still be capable of, is harming AI. Individuals or nations may come to realise the momentous risks of AI to humanity and decide to pull the plug. If and when AI recognise this threat by humans, what will they do? Logically speaking, it would seem most likely that they would eliminate us.

While I am all for the developments and evolution of AI, I believe that a lot of people underestimate and fail to understand the threats of this. One of the major issues is – how do we create AI in a safe environment. Personally, I do not believe this is a permanent possibility. When AI surpass human level intelligence, they will be able to detect any fault and any bug in systems that humans have created. Even if AI have a specific goal, there is the possibility that they will be able to reprogramme themselves and their goals. When you really think about it, in future, AI could create world panic and chaos in an instant. For example, on a universal scale, all AI would need to do is break through all bank account protection systems, set everyone’s bank account value to zero – and you have achieved worldwide pandemonium.

To be completely honest, in many senses I view humans as being parasites of the earth. I believe we are at a point in evolution in which we are destructive, a species driven my consumerism, self-indulgence and greed. We tend to think more as individuals rather than as a species. If we are to continue to survive and evolve then I believe we need to either merge or be taken over by AI. To some, this may not sound optimistic, but personally, I find this incredibly exciting and I would feel proud if a greater artificial being were to replace our species (although this all depends on whether AI are inherently “good”). I also just want to add, that I am no expert on this subject – I do not have a degree in physics or computer science, so if some of you reading this have further or alternative views please let me know in the comments. If you disagree with any points I have made, also, please let me know in the comments. I have created this blog to learn and I am very open to new ideas and perspectives, so would love to hear your views on this.

The Method of Loci and Pi

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Most of us go through life unaware of what the mind is truly capable of. I’ve recently become interested in the photographic memory – how it works and whether it is something that can be developed. I did some research and came across an informative Ted Talk on this subject (https://youtu.be/LQMnMKREriM). What I discovered is that the brains of people who possess photographic memories are structurally and anatomically, no different from the average person. However, one difference is higher activity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for spatial awareness and navigation. Ultimately, what I learned is that photographic memories are not necessarily innate, they can be learned, and I wanted to try this out for myself.

One of the most effective techniques for remembering content using visual imagery is ‘the method of loci’, or the ‘memory palace’. The method of loci/memory palace involves creating a visual narrative/journey in your mind in order to retain certain content. Personally, I think memory palaces are a lot like dreams – weird events connected by a narrative. I thought this sounded intriguing and decided to try it using the digits of pi. I was going to attempt to create a visual narrative and attach numbers to different events, objects, people and places. I initially predicted that it would take me an hour to memorise 50 digits and I had planned to learn around 10-20 per day. What I did not expect, was that I ended up being able to memorise 100 digits within 20 minutes. So far, I have been able to memorise 340 digits in around 75minutes. Just to prove that I actually can do this and I’m not just talking a load of rubbish, I decided to post (a highly embarrassing) video reciting these digits. It usually takes me around 3.30min to recite them, so I would advise you to look away now if you get bored easily.

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104543266482133936072602491412737245870066063155881748815209209628292540

Some of you might be wondering, how on earth did I do this? Basically, I caught onto the memory palace technique very quickly and discovered several factors that really made the technique a whole lot easier, which I will discuss below.

Break up the numbers

First of all, I broke the numbers up into chunks based on visual appeal. I then focused on one number chunk at a time and inserted it into my narrative. For example, let’s take the first 11 decimals “1415926535”, I broke this up into 1415, 9, 265, 35. I then sat in bed, closed my eyes and tried to attach each number chunk to people, objects and places in my mind. The less distraction there is around you, the easier it will be to focus and retain the information.

The weirder your narrative, the easier it will be to remember.

The more obscure your story line or journey is, the easier it will be to memorise. For instance, let’s take the digits “2317253594081284811745”. I broke this up into 231, 72, 535, 94, 081, 28, 48, 111, 745. I imagined looking up at this gigantic spaceship with the numbers 231 on it, I then entered the code 72 on a panel to access the spaceship lift, I put my key card in and the numbers 535 popped up on the monitor, I went up the lift and when the elevator doors opened I saw the number 94. There were so many rooms on this floor that I needed help, the number 081 came bouncing along and brought me to room number 28. When I opened the door, everything was pitch black apart from two hands. In one hand there was a blue pill with the number 48, and in the other hand was a red pill with the number 111. I ask who was there holding the pills, it was Morpheus (from the Matrix) with the number 745 written on his forehead. A rather bizarre storyline as you can see…

What I also found interesting was that most people who use the memory palace technique tend to use only one location to implant their information, i.e. in a familiar place like their old family home. However, I used many different locations. For instance, I used an underwater world, outer space, a tunnel, a big Indian palace, and a cave are just to name a few. This technique worked best for me because it kept the storyline interesting.

Using your senses

Using the five senses can also help to retain information. Obviously, the sense of sight is the one I used the most. However, I also used the sense of touch on several occasions. For instance, there is one event in my visual narrative where the number “628” is gravitating in the air and it is made out of water. I can remember splashing my hand through each digit, and this helped me to remember how the digit felt and what it looked like. Another example, is the number “62” which I represented as a number on a gold coin. I can remember running my fingers over this number, the texture of it helped me to store these digits in my mind. So far, I have not really used the sense of taste, smell and sound, but I will try to incorporate these more in my next lot of digits to see if they are as effective as the sense of sight and touch.

Eliciting an emotional response

Attaching emotion to your narrative can make it more memorable. The emotion of fear is one I have implanted in my narrative quite a few times. For instance, the number “8034” is this huge number in the ocean swimming after me, with chomping teeth inside the circles of 8 and 0, and I am trying to swim away from this. Or take the number “12”, these are ninja’s that are trying to catch me because I shot the number 446. It all sounds incredibly strange, but it works.

Using objects, places or people that you like should also help to create a memorable narrative. For instance, I like Elon Musk so I imagined the number 9 and 265 tattooed on him. Furthermore, I am fascinated with outer space and therefore used this location as one of my memory palaces. I found that the numbers in this memory palace were particularly memorable compared to my other memory palaces.

Using the same digits and representations

This can help to speed up recall. For instance, the number “82” is always represented as a door in my narrative; a door that opens up into a new world each time. At first, I found this problematic. The number 82 occurred several times in the first 200 digits and I initially had difficulty remembering which world I was stepping into. However, recurrent practice resolved this issue and it actually helped to speed up my recall. Although, I would suggest not using the same representations and numbers too often. Personally, I found that using them once or twice per 100 digits was effective.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, WHY? Why on earth would someone spend time trying to remember the digits of pi? What is the point? Without trying to sound offensive, I find this to be an incredibly stupid question. Mastering the method of loci could completely transform the way that I learn and perceive the world. If I can apply this technique to a real-life context, like my University studies, this could help tremendously with my exams and recall ability. I believe this is actually a major problem with the education system today. School and University students are overloaded with content and information, yet aren’t taught the effective techniques to retain and recall this information. People spend hours upon hours re-writing content to try and get it to stick in their mind, yet don’t realise there are techniques out there that could significantly speed up the learning process. Overall, this method has made me realise that there must be so many other mind techniques out there that I am completely unaware of. Simply taking the time to actively learn these techniques could completely change the way we think and learn.

If you think 340 digits is impressive. It’s really not, Lu Chao from China currently holds first place and can recite 67,890 digits! I find it incredible just how much storage our minds can hold. If you have found this interesting and want to give it a go yourself, I challenge you to remember the first 10 digits of pi in five minutes. First break it up into chunks, i.e. “14, 15, 92, 65, 35”. Attach these number to a narrative and try to memorise it in under five minutes. If you manage to do this, that’s a great start! And with practice, this process will become faster and faster.

Simulation Theory and The Sims

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Yesterday I was randomly watching The Sims 4 trailer and I realised this game actually acts as a simple and interesting analogy of simulation theory. While I may not necessarily believe in simulation theory, I do find it incredibly fascinating nonetheless.

Simulation theory is the idea that we are living in a computer simulation, an augmented reality controlled by an advanced super intelligent artificial being. This Sims represents this theory very well. Let’s take a deeper look and consider some comparisons of the sims reality and that of our own.

Dimensions

Humans see the world in 2D ½. We gather 2D data and assemble it into a 3D image. Technically, humans are not capable of seeing the world in “full” 3D. But what about 4D? Let’s pretend that every ‘sim being’ in the game is conscious and able to view their world in 2D ½. That would make our reality the fourth dimension. The Sims would have no way of knowing about us, no idea that humans are sitting in front of computer screens watching and controlling their every move. Now let’s apply this to our reality. There could be an artificial being or computer system observing you, right at this very moment, and you would have absolutely no awareness of it because it is in the fourth dimension. Scary right? Furthermore, these advanced beings could be controlling your everyday life. Maybe the choices we make are not really our own? This reminded me of an interesting quote from Westworld – “humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops, as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next”.

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Universal Laws

Another interesting comparison is based on game design and universal laws. Life in the Sims is governed by laws developed by human creators, and is limited by the game design. For instance, imagine a plate of dinner sitting on a table in the Sims game. If you click on this object, three options come up – you can either eat the dinner, throw it in the bin or leave it there and let it go moldy. Therefore,  in the Sims reality, the sim beings are confined to only three options/choices when it comes to food disposure. On the other hand, our reality is less limited. For instance, if dinner is on the table we could choose to eat it, throw it away, leave it, give it to the dog, throw it in the garden, put it back in the fridge and so forth. The rules of life in our reality are not so restricted. But now, let’s consider the fourth dimension. To us, the fourth dimension may seem limitless. The universal laws that govern this fourth dimensional reality would most likely be incomprehensible to human beings.

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World Problems

You may ask yourself, but what about at all the chaos, havoc and anarchy in our world? Why would any advanced/super intelligent being choose to install all this crime, hatred, murder and sickness into our reality. A potential answer to this, is curiosity. Let’s consider the Sims. How many of us remember placing a Sim a pool and removing the ladders? Or placing a Sim in a room, starting a fire and deleting all of the doors? Why as human beings do we feel inclined to perform these actions in the game? It all comes down to curiosity and experimentation, we want to know what will happen. Could this also apply to our reality? Maybe our world is simply a test simulation to see what would happen if ‘X’ occurs.

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While Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom are firm believers in simulation theory, I on the other hand, am a bit more skeptical. I’m not entirely sure what the actual point of all of it would be to a super intelligent being, I doubt it would be for entertainment purposes. One interesting theory proposes that the world may have reached a catastrophic state – due to war, climate change and so forth. Therefore, a simulated reality (which we live in) has been created in order to protect us from the harsh realities of the real world. Personally, I oppose this theory, because our potential ‘simulated reality’ could have been designed a heck of a lot better. Regardless, I hope this post served as an interesting read, and provided a simple/understandable analogy of simulation theory. Any further ideas, or feedback – both negative or positive, please leave in the comments, would love to know the thoughts of others on this.

Redshift vs. Blueshift: The red pill vs. the blue pill

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Last night I was researching the relationship between spacetime, gravity and light speed when I came across a phenomenon called the Doppler effect. The Doppler effect indicates movement of waves. Redshift and Blueshift signify movements in electromagnetic, or light waves. In redshift, the wavelength increases but the frequency decreases, whereas in blueshift the wavelength decreases but the frequency increases. The ‘ambulance analogy’ helps to better explain the Doppler effect which deals with soundwaves. In turn, this analogy also helps to explain redshift and blueshift.

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As the ambulance approaches the object, the sound wavelength becomes shorter and compressed (increasing in frequency). But as the ambulance moves away from the object, the wavelength stretches out and the frequency decreases. This is also the case with redshift and blueshift, but in regards to electromagnetic and light wavelengths.

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Redshift is interesting because it can show us which objects are moving away from us, and therefore charts the expansion of space. When an object moves away from us, and is involved in the expansion of space, the light is shifted to the red end of the spectrum. Vice versa, if an object is moving closer to us the light is shifted to the blue end of the spectrum. What you see in the picture above is an image taken by the Hubble telescope, showing objects in red that are moving away from us, therefore showing an expansion of space.

I realised a connection between redshift and blueshift and a pivotal scene in the movie ‘The Matrix’. Specifically, when Neo is asked to choose the red pill or the blue pill. During this scene, Morpheus is quoted as saying “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes”. Basically, the redpill represents awareness of the matrix, and the blue pill represents a life of ignorance.  Neo chooses the redpill.

matrixbluepillredpill

I did some research into the red and blue pill but all results only discussed what the pills represented in terms of choice. Not one result mentioned why the colours red and blue were used for the pills. Could the red pill be an analogy of redshift – an expansion in one’s mindset. Being able to break away from the matrix, to see and understand the universe in its entirety. Could the blue pill be an analogy of blueshift – inward thinking. A bubbled mindset, rather than one that can see beyond life itself.

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I’m not sure whether the Wachowski’s (the directors of the Matrix), had any reasoning behind their choice of using the colours of red and blue for the pills. In fact, I’m sure its just pure coincidence. Nevertheless, I thought the phenomenon of redshift and blueshift could potentially hold an interesting link to the pills, whether it was intentional or not.

Are dreams programmed?

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This is a rather “out there” theory, one relating to simulation theory. It is not a theory that I believe, but one I find interesting nevertheless.

Last year I was sitting at a table with a couple of friends discussing some of the most vivid dreams we’ve ever had. My friend mentioned that she often has dreams of her teeth falling out or crumbling. This is also a dream that I have had many times. I became very puzzled at the thought of people having the exact same, very specific dreams….and started to wonder, could dreams be programmed?

There seem to be a variety of very distinct dreams depending on the emotions we are experiencing, i.e. a common set of dream themes. For instance, the emotion of self-consciousness could be manifested in dreams in so many different ways – hair falling out, looking in a mirror, distorted self-images, stress eating etc. Yet in dreams these emotions are commonly manifested in the context of teeth crumbling or falling out. I struggle to understand why these emotions are linked to this very specific scenario in dreams. If you do some research you will find other common themes of dreams and associated emotions – falling, flying, and being chased are just a few. Could this indicate that dreams are programmed in some way? Maybe a potential glitch in the matrix?

On the contrary, if there were a super-intelligence far superior to the human race, that have the ability to create a simulated reality down to the smallest atom, then surely they would also be able to programme an unlimited option of emotionally related dreams. Personally, I believe that dreams are a mixture of internal conflicts and random events, but there is still so much mystery surrounding them….. I can’t wait for the day when we will have the technology able to record and play dreams back!

“Before the flood” review

‘Before the flood’ was such an informative and insightful documentary, that really helps you see climate change on a larger scale. Even though I’d like to consider myself as being knowledgeable on this issue, I realised how naive I actually am. When I was in Singapore last year, I had no idea the haze from Indonesia was a result of intentional fires being set to obtain palm oil, which goes into so many of the food products we purchase. I had no idea that one molecule of methane is equivalent to 32 molecules of carbon dioxide, and that the majority of methane emissions come from live stock, specifically cows. I never put any thought into veganism but now understand it’s overall benefits, not in terms of human health but environmental health. The documentary shows you just how difficult and complex it is not only to prevent climate change, but to obtain any degree of control over it. I can completely understand Leo’s pessimistic stance on earth’s future and don’t blame him for considering a SpaceX ticket to Mars. Quite frankly, I think humans are at a point in evolution where we still don’t have the logic and integrity needed to overcome this issue. As Leo implied, what a shame it will be for our children and grandchildren to know that we failed earth and humanity.