The Fate of the Earth

Why the human race and perhaps the planet itself is unlikely to survive

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THE FUTURE: I fear that it is extremely likely that the human race will either become extinct or suffer a catastrophic decline in the not so distant future, and that most likely will result in the destruction of most of the remaining biosphere as well. The two major contributors to this are the unsustainable growth of human population, that compounds all the problems that humans cause, and the exponential growth of dangerous technology. If not outright extinction, then indications are that we almost certainly can expect the collapse of civilization as we know it and a subsistence existence in very unpleasant conditions indeed. The problem is even worse than most think as there are at least a dozen major catastrophes looming which will all tend to exacerbate each other. We may have a few decades as calamities accumulate and intensify, perhaps somewhat longer, but the growth curves provide little hope for much more than a couple hundred years remaining for human civilization.

Unfortunately, the only remotely likely alternative I see is a global government so powerful and invasive that it is effectively able to identify and suppress all dissent before it can take hold. Emerging technologies such as implantable GPS identification and tracking chips, data mining monitoring of all communications, complete dependence on government controlled economies, and the ability to remotely destroy anything at any GPS location on the planet make this scenario a possibility. A government with such power would most likely suppress all but the minimum freedoms and force the vast mass of humanity to work for the benefit of an elite ruling class. We already see this process developing in many countries where the gap between a rich powerful elite and the poor continually widens. Already millions upon millions of working poor across the planet live lives of unimaginable drudgery at menial jobs at bare subsistence pay with little possibility of bettering their lives. But even if such a global government were to emerge there would still be the ever present possibility of conflict among the ruling class itself that might lead to collapse and resulting chaos.

I care immensely what happens to the earth even if there are no humans left. That might actually be the best thing that could happen for the earth. Let's ask it this way. Do you care about the earth before humans evolved? I think you do even if because it led to humans. What might the earth without humans lead to in the future. Possibly some species far more caring and intelligent for the planet. As to humans vs other species. I'd rather see many millions of humans die off than one tiger.

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SOME EVIDENCE: The best evidence for pessimism about the future is perhaps the lack of any signals coming from intelligent life on other planets. It took us around 4.5 billion years to evolve to where we are today, but our galaxy is much older. There is now ample reason to believe that the number of planets that exist in our galaxy with liquid water and other conditions able to sustain life must be very large indeed. If it takes 4.5 billion years on average for a technological civilization to emerge, we should reasonably expect numerous civilizations far more technologically advanced than ours to exist. We would expect that such greatly advanced civilizations would be readily detectible by the sensitive receivers we have in place. Yet we find not the slightest trace of any such civilization. The most reasonable conclusion is that technologically advanced civilizations quickly destroy themselves, and perhaps their planets as well.

So it's likely that intelligent life invariably destroys itself. That is the most probable reason no one is communicating. We may well not have too much longer ourselves and we have barely begun to send signals others could pick up.

I certainly hope I am wrong but judging by the trends here on Earth I'm not hopeful that that is more than wishful thinking. Sadly evolution tends to make predatory species more intelligent than prey species, thus it is reasonable to think that it will naturally be predatory species that tend to become a planet's dominant life forms. That plus the standard evolutionary tendencies of male male competition and inter-group conflict that promote to ensure a species' strength and survival and eventual dominance, all tend to become dysfunctional when that species gains the technology to destroy itself and its planet. The process seems near inevitable based on simple evolutionary theory. The very characteristics that allowed humans to become dominant are now those that threaten to destroy us.

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HUMAN OVERPOPULATION: Human overpopulation and the misuse of exponentially advancing technology are the most dangerous threats to the future of our planet. The effects of wars, disease, starvation, polution and environmental destruction all tend to rise proportionally with human population and technological growth. Thus succesful and humane strategies to reduce human overpopulation are of the utmost importance. If human overpopulation is not drastically reduced humanely it will certainly be reduced inhumanely, and in the relatively near future.

I've recently heard it claimed that human like all natural populations are always in balance with resources and thus there is no overpopulation problem. What absolute nonsense! Human population growth in recent centuries is primarily a reflection of ever increasing exploitation of dwindling non-renewable resources. When those collapse so will human overpopulation.

The human growth on the body of the biosphere is very analogous to an out of control malignancy that threatens the life of what it is growing on. It's an excellent analogy to recognize and analyze the problem. The question is what is the treatment and prognosis? Because in this case we don't want to kill the tumor since we are the tumor. The tumor just has to get intelligent enough to reduce itself to the level where it doesn't kill the host it depends on for its own survival. Unfortunately tumors don't have a very good track record of being able to do that....

Not only is it essential to reduce human population, but also the improvement of the human species is of the utmost importance. The problem of eugenics, meaning the gradual improvement of the human race has to be revived in an enlightened and compassionate way. The history of the eugenics movement is an interesting one.

Prior to World War II, there was a vigorous eugenics movement in the US and other Western countries. This was unfortunately hijacked and distorted by the Nazis, and ever since eugenics is so associated with them in the common mind that it has become impossible to discuss it rationally. By definition the improvement of the human species is a positive concept. The problems arise when one considers what constitutes improvement and by what means it should be achieved and according to whose authority. As a start, as genetic science progresses, we can envision couples being informed more and more accurately of the potential for various genetic diseases in their unconceived offspring. Perhaps this information should also be available to an Agency of Genetics which could offer financial incentives for prospective parents to conceive or not conceive based on genetic profiles when the implications were clear.

The single most important way to control human overpopulation is ensuring that every woman in the world has access to effective birth control. This should be a priority of any foreign aid. Also the pernicious influence of the Catholic church in opposing birth control must be actively combatted (see my blog on Religion). This policy of the church has led and continues to lead to a massive increase in suffering worldwide as more and more children are born into poverty worldwide.

Rather than the self defeating cycle of continually providing welfare based on the number of children which incents the production of more poor children largely condemned to a life of poverty, welfare programs which provide strong incentives to produce fewer children should be adopted.

More importantly the government should offer generous financial incentives to women willing to undergo non-reversable sterilization. These payments should be based on age and number of previous children in a manner that minimizes the total number of children produced. To be fair and eliminate any unnecessary qualifications this program should be offered to all women irrespective of financial situation. An easy way to manage it would be through the income tax (see my blog on Taxation). This could be offered as a one time deduction or a refund based on income. There should also be reduced or no dependent deductions for more children after the first, providing an additional yearly incentive to have fewer children.

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BIOTECHNOLOGY: There has recently been enormous and rapidly accelerating advancement in our ability to engineer life itself. It has become possible to quickly and efficiently manipulate the genetic material of any species in an ever increasing number of ways. And transferring genes from one species to another to create transgenetic hybrids has become routine. Though huge profits from anticipated benefits drive this process, it is equally easy to use it for harm as well. Now anyone with a degree in biotechnology with minimal funding can begin genetically modifying human and agricultural pathogens for release into the environment. Even from legitimate laboratories we can anticipate more and more engineered genetic changes 'leaking' into the environment. The problem is that once such genetic changes enter the environment they have the potential to propagate in unforeseen ways and will likely be impossible to remove. They are living organisms which inevitably will compete in the natural environment, and if successful, spread through it displacing other organisms or otherwise modifying their environments. Even with the most stringent precautions it is nearly inevitable that serious effects will occur in the mad rush of competition. The result will be an invasion of engineered organisms throughout the biosphere which will have profound and unforeseeable consequences for the survival of the planet. I fear this is just a matter of time, certainly it will begin in this century, and be completely beyond any effective control. The future of life on earth could well come down to pure chance as bioengineered organisms battle it out for supremacy.

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GLOBAL WARMING: This, by comparison, is probably a minor problem, at least in the long term. After all, throughout geologic history there have been numerous climate changes much more extreme than those projected from global warming and life adapted and in many cases flourished.

What global warming really is is the pumping of significantly more energy into the seas and atmosphere. What this does is to make for greater and greater extremes of all weather phenomena including local and seasonal variability of hot and cold. So it is not contradictory that local extremes of cold will occur and they should not be misinterpreted as casting doubt on global warming. Nevertheless absent any exogenous effects the net global effect is warming. However there are reasonable scenarios in which global warming could in fact trigger a new ice age by shutting down the thermo-haline sea current circulation resulting in a colder arctic, resulting ice accumulation which in turn reflects more solar energy which in turn leads to global cooling.

Though there is little doubt that very significant changes and disruptions in human societies which are based on fixed state boundaries will occur, new opportunities will also emerge as northern climates warm and potential vast new agricultural areas in Canada and Siberia open up. Previous climatic shifts have invariably resulted in extinctions and problems for many life forms, but such periods are also those out of which new species emerge. Global warming in itself is unlikely to have any long term effect on life on earth. However it will exacerbate the much more serious problems of habitat destruction, international conflict, and the breakdown of societies, though perhaps not the increase in human population.

The degree of irrationality in the global warming debate is truly amazing. Below I attempt to clarify a couple of the many unsound arguments. The global warming deniers are very similar to the holocaust deniers. They both ignore sound empirical data on ideological grounds. And even funnier when they finally can deny no more they embrace it as if they had believed it all along and claim it's all natural. So we often find them denying it out of one side of their mouth while claiming it's caused by the sun out of the other. The global warming deniers are so afraid they would become liberal Al Gore democrats, or have to admit he was right and they were wrong, if they stopped denying that they persist in their delusions no matter what the facts are. It's an extremely interesting study on how delusional psychology trumps logic and science and certainly worthy of some good papers on the mechanics of delusional psychology.

Many global warming deniers assert that natural climate changes are are continually occurring as if that proves all such changes must be natural. As for the science it is simple common sense. No matter what natural climate changes are occurring it is obvious they would have been occurring anyway. The massive introduction of greenhouse gases esp. CO2 is a warming effect IN ADDITION to any natural climate changes going on. That is simple science any grade schooler can demonstrate in a bottle on a sunny day.

While we can reasonably discuss what the additive effect of natural + human induced changes will be, there is absolutely no doubt that it will be warmer than if humans had not been adding their part. That natural changes also occur has absolutely nothing to do with whether humans are making a significant effect. There is a very strong correlation with human activity since the industrial revolution and the resulting rise in CO2 produced by that activity and the well documented rise in average global temps. That is strong evidence right off the bat of human involvement.

So all this stuff about natural processes is irrelevant to the issue which is simply that human activity is a significant additive warming effect to any and all natural processes.

For example the Milankovich cycles that are often mentioning are very very long and gradual cycles, much longer than human history. They can be disregarded as any influence on current climate changes.

The only natural cycle with a relatively short period and abrupt effects is the solar sunspot cycle which has resulted in several significant climate changes over the last 2000 years. There is some evidence that the sun's radiation has increased by 0.05%/decade since the 1970's however such a small % is hardly significant unless it persists over many years. E.g. the average energy difference in the 11 year solar cycle is nearly 1% (20x as great) and there is not that much difference in global average temperature corresponding to that cycle that I'm aware of. Global climate apparently averages the energy output variations in the solar cycle pretty well or the 1% doesn't make that much difference.

However during little ice age which lasted from ~1300 - 1850 culminating in the Maunder Minimum of 1645 - 1715 when the solar sunspot cycle shut down there was a significant effect so the lack of effect now may be due to averaging over the 11 year cycle.

No, global temperatures aren't getting colder. There are always up and down blips around the trend, but since the industrial revolution began which is when humans began pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere there has been a very clear rise and acceleration of global average temps. One year or two due to a sunspot minimum or El Nino variations doesn't invalidate the clear and ongoing trend.

Look at this NASA chart and you will clearly see how statistics can be made to lie as some sources have done. If you misuse the data and take just the 10 year prior peak and the last point on this graph (1997-2007) and draw a line from the first to the last you get a decline, but if you actually consider every data point the trend is still very clearly a rise.

So while the statement "over the last 10 years global temperatures have declined" is technically correct it is deliberately chosen to give the wrong conclusion about what is actually happening with global temps. For anyone who is still unconvinced please note that by carefully selecting your points on the graph you could say global temps have dropped in EVERY n year period during the last 120 years - a laughable misinterpretation of the data!

Let's use some real science here and some real logic and real math for a change.

Global temperatures are clearly trending up. They have been for at least the last 100 years and still are today. In fact even now almost all glaciers are still receding as well as Greenland and Antarctic ice shelves with the expected bidirectional noise. The evidence is quite clear that the warming trend is continuing and accelerating with the expected little blips up and down.

DISTINGUISHING SCIENCE FROM POLICY CHOICES: Of course, in contrast to the science, the projected effects and what to do about them for human induced global warming is of course a political choice and that can be reasonably debated. That goes without saying but the warming deniers don't seem to have the wherewithal to separate the science facts from the political discussion of the cures. Instead of denying the science they should be contributing to the discussion of possible mitigations of the effects.

However the real tragedy of the global warming issue is the dysfunctional psychological confusion among the no human effect camp. Due to Al Gore's championing of the issue, many US conservatives and republicans have unthinkingly knee jerked to the other side irrespective of the science on purely political and ideological grounds. They delusionally think if they dare recognize humans are causing any global warming at all that means they have to become liberal democrats or at least admit a liberal democrat got something right. You can see this all the time in the continuing identification of Gore with global warming as the knee jerkers attack Gore without considering the science. Any such identification is completely irrelevant to the science. It is a non political issue and a purely scientific issue. You don't have to be liberal democrat to recognize the science. That being said I readily agree that almost all proposed 'solutions' are politically tinged but that is a separate issue altogether and shouldn't be confused with the science as to whether it is occurring.

GLOBAL DIMMING: What would really be relevant is if the anti Global warming camp would come up with some human activity that is an additive effect COOLING the planet instead of warming it. Until then they will just have to face the facts.

Hopefully not to confuse the issue but there is such an effect, the human addition of particulates to the atmosphere has actually produced a 'global dimming' effect which actually has reduced solar energy hitting the ground by up to 10% in some areas. See the wiki article on global dimming for more.

However the important point relative to that is that global dimming has actually masked some of the human produced global warming effect which is actually significantly worse than the measured rise in temps indicates. That is because the global dimming particulates settle out fairly quickly whereas the increased CO2 remains for comparatively very long periods. So for example if we stopped adding both CO2 and particulates today the result would be a sudden spike in human induced temps due to the persistence of CO2 as the masking particulates settled out. This effect was actually seen in the days after 9/11 in the US when all air traffic came to an abrupt halt and the skies cleared and appeared brighter.

WON'T THE PLANET SELF CORRECT ANY GLOBAL WARMING? As to homeostasis, true dynamic interconnected systems like our ecosphere do tend to equilibrium around some balance point but that balance point itself can jump abruptly due to disturbances of the system and the system will then stabilize around a much different balance point. That is so obviously true if one just looks at geological history where it has happened many many times. So the assumption that human induced changes can't also abruptly induce a new and much less desirable balance point is simply wishful thinking.

GLOBAL WARMING, GOOD OR BAD? Some have incorrectly argued that one good effect of global warming would be the increase in range of all plants. However if that were true we would see temperate and boreal plants growing in the tropics along with tropical plants which we don't. Many temperate plants require periods of cold to survive and propagate. Warming of the areas in which they live will have a deleterious effect and will also subject them to increased competition from tropical species.

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NUCLEAR POWER: The storage solution for nuclear waste seems to me rather simple. First stabilize it with glass or metal coatings. Then one need only deposit it on the edge of a deep sea subduction zone where due to its weight it will be drawn into the earth's mantle, melted and thus massively diluted into the magma. Since nuclear power is so efficient by weight of material used, he actual amount of dangerous nuclear waste is relatively small so this should be fairly easy to accomplish.

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ENERGY CONSERVATION: It is important to note that the US military is THE single biggest user of petroleum in the world. Most of that use in my view is nonessential waste....

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SURVIVALISM: Survivalism should be understood as simply maximizing a long and healthy life in the face of any sort of challenge. What is amusing is that many so called survivalists concentrate on hoarding guns, ammo and food and ignore the every day dangers of smoking, drinking, poor diet and other poor lifestyle choices. They are much more likely to die due these very preventable causes entirely within their control than invasions by UN troops in black helicopters or most of the other survivalist's paranoid fantasies! Nevertheless there are a host of real dangers of this sort as well that need to be evaluated and ranked as to probability and impact and to be rationally prepared for on that basis. True survivalism includes optimizing both everyday lifestyle choices as well as preparing for possible catastrophic events based on their probability.

The major point I'm trying to make is that for someone to claim they are a 'survivalist' while smoking, drinking excessively, engaging in risky behaviors and eating an unhealthy diet high in animal fat, sugar, salt and packaged foods with added chemicals and pesticide residues is absurd and delusional. THE single most important element of rational survivalism, of actually maximizing one's odds of surviving, is a healthy life style. All the guns and ammo, bunkers, stored food and supplies add a little extra protection to that, but without a healthy life style there is no true survivalism. Nevertheless there seem to be plenty of survivalists who use survivalism almost as an excuse to lead unhealthy lifestyles from which they will likely die BEFORE lean times come. Basically it comes down to leading a healthy life style and maintaining a healthy weight in both good times and lean times that optimizes survival.

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SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLES: Ironing? What's that? Decorating? Why? Vet runs? Give up the pets like I did and you will save both work and money. I encourage the wild animals to come and visit instead. Childcare? Let them work to help you instead of the other way around. Think of kids as extra work helpers instead of more work for you. That was the norm throughout history and is the natural order of things. That gives them purpose in helping the family, it strengthens the family and best prepares them for life as well. No more 'cult of the child'!

Opt out of the consumerism life style. Most people spend 90% of their money on things they don't really need because they think they have to, and the consumer driven media reinforce that message constantly. It's a lie. Buy 90% less and you will have to work only 90% as much. Almost all work is unnecessary. Before beginning any task ask yourself what would actually go wrong if you didn't do it? You will see in most cases absolutely nothing will.

Don't spend a dime unless it is absolutely essential. Ask yourself what would happen if you didn't spend it? It the world won't come to an end don't spend it and then you won't have to work to replace that dime. Live a simple life of leisure and hopefully intellectual pursuit. You will be a lot happier and healthier....

Relax, and take it easy for a change and enjoy your life and your kids. Play with them instead of working for them. Then do the little work that is necessary together with the kids as helpers. That's not work, it's fun. The nirvana is of your own making....

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GAIA: In spite of a growing awareness of the issue, most people are not remotely aware of how much the Earth's biosphere has been degraded by human destruction and overpopulation, and how near we may be to an irreversible global catastrophe which may well threaten the extinction of man as well as many more species than have already vanished due to man's activities. This section explores some of the issues and what needs to be done to address them.

Before we can make a judgement as to what is currently wrong with the Earth, we must have some concept of what would constitute an acceptable or optimal state for it, for we need that concept to judge what is wrong by what is different. Part of the problem here is that the Earth's environment has gone through considerable changes in its long history, but as a first approximation perhaps we can take the condition of the Earth at the end of the last ice age when civilization began as a baseline for comparison.

The major problem in achieving an understanding of the human induced degradation of the biosphere is the relatively short life span of individual humans. Because of this it is natural to compare the current situation with that when one was a child, rather than going back 10,000 years, or even a century or two.

Protecting the future of the planet is without doubt the prime good, for upon that all else depends. Thus theoretically all means to that end must be considered moral. The relevant questions in practice are to what extent any particular issue affects the future of the Earth, and the effectiveness and consequences of any particular action in that defense. However there are very strong arguments to be made for any effective actions aimed at preserving threatened species, ancient forests and acting to stop other irreversible situations.

One necessary action to protect the Earth is the considerable reduction in human overpopulation. Perhaps a billion is a good number to aim for. Once that level was achieved, the effects of this reduction could then be studied to see if a long term stable biosphere at that level could be achieved. See the section on Population Control for more discussion of this issue. Obviously government incentives should be available to protect the environment but unfortunately the large companies which most profit from its destruction often control government policy and in many cases government incentives are given for the destruction.

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WHY I DRIVE A HUMMER H2: OK, here's my excuse.

It's a commercial vehicle for my business as well as I need to carry big heavy loads sometimes. In spite of being the global warming poster boy it gets the same mileage as all large SUVs which is what I require for my business.

Long steep driveway and can't get up in winter without a very good 4w drive which it has.

I don't commute so the actual mileage and gas consumption is very low, actually considerably less than a standard commuter car.

I also use it to haul in firewood from my woods so it actually lets me save a lot of consumption of heating oil.

It allows me to go into natural areas much better than a standard vehicle, so it actually gets me closer to nature than an ordinary vehicle.

It's good for picking up girls.... LOL!, that's just to see if you were paying attention!

Am I forgiven? Or do I have to take a taxi? :-)