Taking a look at the big picture

Elton Wong

I don’t know about any of you, but the mere mention of the words “recount,” “Florida” or “ballot” is now enough to make me scream like a 10-year-old girl being chased by a snake. This sensitivity is an especially large problem, given that all news sources are now devoting enormous resources to getting the scoop on the latest news, much of which turns out to be uninformative and irritating.

In times such as these, it is helpful to step back and take a look at the larger picture. We may not know whom our next president will be, but the way things are going, it may not matter. I read recently that a Mormon sect in Utah has pulled all of its children out of public schools, possibly in preparation for the end of the world. I never put too much stock into the Mormon belief, but I think those guys are on to something here.

Take note of the recent Ebola outbreak in Uganda, for instance. The death toll has risen to 113, although there have been no new cases reported recently. Why should we be concerned with a virus on the other side of the planet from us? Because Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses known and is very contagious. The outbreak is pretty much under control right now, but diseases such as these are very difficult to contain.

Ebola is spread through bodily fluids so even sneezing introduces the viral particles into the air. If one person infected with the virus got to an airport, for example, they could start a worldwide epidemic just by sneezing on a few people who might then sneeze on a couple of others and so on. The current Ebola outbreak might not spread in this way, but there will be more.

An Ebola-like virus has even spread to the United States, although this was only in monkeys. Luckily, the Center for Disease Control was able to contain that outbreak before any people were infected. The CDC can’t monitor every airport, though. The way I see it, it’s all a matter of time before we have a worldwide outbreak of something nasty.

Ebola starts with flu-like symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose early. However, the disease progresses quickly, destroying connective tissue and liquifying organs. Death from Ebola is gruesome. The internal lining of the digestive track sloughs off and is expelled. Patients often vomit blood, which also leaks out of all bodily openings.

So let’s apply this little biological curiosity to our own lives. If you feel yourself coming down with flu-like symptoms, it may not be a bad idea to max out your credit cards in one last, glorious hedonistic binge. You just might start bleeding out of your pores before long. Of course, it could just be the flu. When you think about it though, is that a chance you really want to take?

This would be a particularly dramatic way for the end to come. It wouldn’t have to happen that way. It’s also possible that the end of the human race will be a long, drawn-out process. Global warming comes to mind.

For instance, the final negotiations of the Kyoto protocol on climate change began Monday, and the results don’t look good. These talks are being held to finalize the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which calls for the reduction of fossil fuel consumption to pre-1990 levels. Al Gore was instrumental in negotiating the treaty. This is based on the idea that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, which contributes to the trapping of solar energy. This raises the temperature of the Earth, which has the potential to melt polar ice caps, disrupt weather patterns, and wreak all kinds of environmental havoc.

The reality of global warming, the causal relationship of it and fossil fuel burning is recognized by virtually all scientists. The only people who refuse to acknowledge this link are a minority of scientists, the petrochemical industry and republicans.

This is especially true of George W. Bush, who is openly hostile to the Kyoto treaty. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not eager to take advice on atmospheric science from a guy who has such strong ties to the oil industry and can’t even pronounce the word “subliminal.”

American democracy is usually a good system, but it often leads to results that can screw us all over. Politicians know they can’t get elected on a platform that involves reduced carbon-dioxide emissions.

Our European friends are years ahead of us in making emission reductions, but this was done by taxing gasoline until it cost more than four dollars a gallon. Proposing this sort of thing in the United States would be the equivalent of political suicide.

On top of all this, the United States is the single greatest polluter in the world, so it has the most leverage in negotiating the final treaty. Pretty ironic. Be this as it may, a Republican Congress will almost certainly fail to ratify the treaty. This is democracy at work.

So, the next time you turn on CNN and hear about the latest court battle in Florida, don’t get too worked up about it. Don’t even get too worried about finals. Remember that our Mormon friends could be right: The end may be coming soon.

Like the possibility of a snowstorm that could cancel class and keep your paper from being due, this consideration does wonderful things for your stress levels.