Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/20

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

not renewable; and we must look, for the only power we know which can replace coal, to those regions of the earth now desolated by solar heat, and to which future empire may probably tend.

We have considered the past and the present of our study; for its future, lies the solution of all the great problems I have already alluded to, but these questions are so interlocked that the complete answer to one will probably not be given till we are nearly ready to answer all,

I have spoken of the fallacy of the popular impression of the result of our study as enabling us to predict the weather, or to anticipate the character of coming harvests. Repeating my belief that we as yet know nothing here, or next to nothing, I yet do not mean to disparage the object of such researches, nor even to deny the possibility of their ultimate success. We can look forward, among other fair dreams for our science's future, to a time when it will enable us to predict the years of plenty or play the part of a beneficent Providence, by warning in season against those of famine, which have cost in our time so many million lives in China and in India. These are, I repeat, still dreams only, but we may call them hopes if we will—hopes of which increased knowledge may deprive us, but of which we can not say it may not bring fruition.

There remains among the greatest problems of the future of our science the all-important one to the whole human race of the future constancy of the sun's heat, of which we have, it seems to me, no assurance of the present rate of supply. We have, it is true, every assurance that in the contraction of the solar mass and in the supply of meteoric matter, we have heat to warm the human race for periods almost beyond limit; but we learn also that this heat is tempered to us by a solar envelope, which seems to be, as far as we know, in conditions which do not favor stability. It is constantly being added to by eruptions from within the sun, caused by we know not what, and constantly diminished by some counter-process which we understand as little. When we consider that the thickening of this solar atmosphere would bring back the age of ice, or its thinning carry our polar regions to tropical temperature, and when we remember that rhythmical action, not uniformity, seems to be the law of nature here, we can feel no certainty of the future constancy of the solar heat, nor of our protection against such changes as seem to have befallen other suns in space, and against which we are powerless to guard.

But such considerations of our ignorance and helplessness, while they may prevent us from any undue pride in what our science has already attained, may teach us renewed confidence from the very brevity of our life. These green fields around us were once covered with glacial ice, and the change has been absolute from that condition to the one of to-day. Yet in the lifetime of any one of the thousands of insect generations which have succeeded each other in these fields,