Can Our Species Escape Destruction?

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Can Our Species Escape Destruction?

A question we seem to regularly return to, and which is important enough to ask multiple times.

The following is an excerpt from a book review (of the book Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet, by Tim Flannery) at The New York Review of Books. Unfortunately the review is behind a pay-wall, but there's enough meat there to start another discussion: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/oct/13/can-our-species-escape-destruction/

(note: I have not read the book)

 


Can Our Species Escape Destruction?

October 13, 2011

John Terborgh


 

Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet

by Tim Flannery
Atlantic Monthly, 316 pp., $25.00                                                  

terborgh_1-101311.jpg

Drax Power Station, a coal-fired power plant in Yorkshire, England, 2008

Here is the anguished cry of another distinguished scientist distressed by our collective incapacity to grasp the enormity of the earth’s looming environmental crisis. It has been obvious for a long time—many decades—to legions of individual scientists, and to prestigious scientific organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Academy of Sciences, that the global human enterprise is on a collision course with the physical and biological limits of the earth.

Estimates of how bad the situation is, of course, differ, but various assessments agree that the global economy is consuming resources at a rate equivalent to 1.3 to 1.5 times the earth’s capacity to supply them sustainably. The only way this can happen is for us to be consuming the resource capital from which we should be harvesting only the interest. The consumption of resource capital is evident in the sluicing of millions of tons of topsoil into the oceans, the drawing down of underground aquifers, the salinization and desertification of erstwhile croplands, the depletion of fisheries stocks, the overharvest of forests, and on and on. We, the prodigal sons of the modern era, collectively seem powerless to stop any of this. Efforts to date, such as international fisheries commissions, the Rio biodiversity treaty, and the Kyoto Protocol have been feeble and ineffective. The much-anticipated Copenhagen summit on climate change of December 2010 flopped.

On top of this already dire situation we face the added stress of climate warming, which promises heat waves, droughts, torrential flooding, forest fires, Class-5 hurricanes, coastal inundation, and the melting of the glaciers that serve as the vital water supply for millions of people. Can it get any worse, one wonders? It can, and worse will be our reward for disregarding the warnings of a generation of scientists.

In Here on Earth, Tim Flannery softens the frightening reality of these inconvenient truths by resorting to an overzealous use of metaphors to engage the reader and create a sense of the individual’s connection to nature. The subtitle, “A Natural History of the Planet,” would have been apt for one of his earlier books, The Eternal Frontier (2001), but fails to suggest that this new book is a galloping history of man’s relationship to the environment with chapters on overpopulation, financial discounting, the role of markets, global governance, and other topics far afield from natural history.

Flannery is a consummate storyteller who has written a series of fascinating books on human prehistory and the history of life. His earlier works, including The Future Eaters (1994), Throwim Way Leg (1998), and others are rich in detail and drama, and leave a lasting impression. I wish I could say as much of Here on Earth. Flannery describes the book as “an investigation of sustainability—not how to achieve it, but what it is.” The subject matter is wide-ranging, encompassing human history …

 

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Atheistextremist
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Yes we can but no we won't.

 

When you consider that in the educated, enlightened West the conservative majority seem oblivious, no, fiercely opposed to, any recognition of the finite nature of our planet, then you can see there's no hope of a general acceptance of the need for change, a need that would ultimately demand we overturn the way we live and redefine our footprint on the Earth. 

In Australia you can see this in the recent debate on a carbon tax which sees the majority so enraged by the possibility of increased energy prices that the Green Labor government faces assured defeat at the next election and the Carbon Tax, which was to be used to fund alternative energy projects (and chucklingly, to buffer polluting industries from the Carbon Tax), will be overturned. Why should we do something when China/India/The World does not, the pundits cry. 

As we know, global warming is a polarising science with a huge number of people insisting the science is bogus, that it's explained by solar flares, etc. All the while this puerile debate overshadows deeper concerns over runaway habitat loss and destruction of fisheries, loss of diversity, the imposition of monocultures across swathes of the arable surface of the planet. 

Talking with my mother the other night she decried the world's end but said it was part of god's plan and the world was meant to go wrong and that god would return and make christians a new Earth. It's clear that there are ramifications associated with a tendency to operate on the basis of feelings mistaken for knowledge. Over the next century we will taste those ramifications in full measure. 

 

 

 

 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck


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I would say that we can. That and we might. We have made it through other crisis points in the past.

 

I am dating myself here but I remember the silent forests in the 70's when we damn near destroyed the food chain.

 

The real threat as I see it is overpopulation. Everything else is secondary. Really, the earth's total human population had doubled in my life time and I fail to see how that is not fucked up. I suppose that one could debate what the optimal population would be but if we were to cut it down to a level where we could actually manage our resources in a sustainable manner, then a lot of the other considerations would become moot.

 

If we do not get that under control, then every other problem is just going to get worse as demand on resources just keeps getting worse.

 

For humans, the ultimate resource is going to be access to oxygen. The ratio of plant life to animal life need to be in balance in order to have a stable atmosphere. However, if we continue to breed like rabbits, that is eventually going to create a burden on biodiversity as there will be less oxygen avaliable for other animals.

 

Even if we stopped destroying habitat, many billions of breathing humans are going to crowd out other species. According the the “square – cube” principal, larger animals will go first. However, the further down we go, with more animal species dieing off, the greater the pressure on general biodiversity. Eventually, we could reach a tipping point where we cause some kind of total fuckup that really puts our environment into a crisis that cannot be resolved.

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I'm tapped out on this

I'm tapped out on this subject for now. Invested myself too much in the last topic. All I'm going to say for now is that it isn't too late to save ourselves as a species.

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In what context?Can we do

In what context?

Can we do better to manage things? In that context, the question isn't can we, we can. The question is will we?

But in the ultimate context no. Our species will go extinct one way or another. Even if we managed to survive without a meteor strike or gama ray, the sun will eventually fry the planet and all life on it. The core of this planet will burn out long before that.

Extinction is unavoidable for life, for the planet and for the sun. Time will take all that. The universe will continue without us.

 

 

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ex-minister
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Brian37 wrote:In what

Brian37 wrote:

In what context?

Can we do better to manage things? In that context, the question isn't can we, we can. The question is will we?

But in the ultimate context no. Our species will go extinct one way or another. Even if we managed to survive without a meteor strike or gama ray, the sun will eventually fry the planet and all life on it. The core of this planet will burn out long before that.

Extinction is unavoidable for life, for the planet and for the sun. Time will take all that. The universe will continue without us.

 

 

 

And the universe will say WTF was that?

 

I don't expect humans to wake up and even if they did they certainly will be quite clumsy about doing anything rational. We have a great tendency to over-react. I assume it is because we have limited brain power and don't do well at seeing the big picture. 

"Get a brain, morans"

 

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www.vhemt.org

And remember, if you think you're causing too much suffering to our planet, there's always the...

Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

Stop the suffering today!


Atheistextremist
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Yep

luca wrote:

And remember, if you think you're causing too much suffering to our planet, there's always the...

Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

Stop the suffering today!

 

That's crossed my mind a few times. 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck


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Whether extinction is

Whether extinction is voluntary or not, human overpopulation is a serious threat to our own race's ability to sustain itself.  Its interesting how things naturally balance, however, because the Earth itself has survived much greater damage to its natural equilibrium than we have forced upon it.  I think the perspective the human race seems to lack happens to be how we are more or less a blip on the actual time scale of life.  Chances are nearly certain (from what I can tell) that we will not survive the test of time or extinction level events simply because no other form of life on this planet has or likely will.  The human race could propagate its existence to a tremedous extent, but the risk of overpopulation would be ever present because as technology increases in capability and efficiency we become closer and closer to being virtually unthreated, and thus we threaten ourselves through consumption.


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Matt wrote:Whether

Matt wrote:

Whether extinction is voluntary or not, human overpopulation is a serious threat to our own race's ability to sustain itself.  Its interesting how things naturally balance, however, because the Earth itself has survived much greater damage to its natural equilibrium than we have forced upon it.  I think the perspective the human race seems to lack happens to be how we are more or less a blip on the actual time scale of life.  Chances are nearly certain (from what I can tell) that we will not survive the test of time or extinction level events simply because no other form of life on this planet has or likely will.  The human race could propagate its existence to a tremedous extent, but the risk of overpopulation would be ever present because as technology increases in capability and efficiency we become closer and closer to being virtually unthreated, and thus we threaten ourselves through consumption.

What sickens me is that, while we cant survive forever, because even if we don't do it to ourselves, something will get us eventually. What sickens me is that we CAN if we collectively pull our heads out of our asses, we can minimize the superstitious tribalism, and slow the rate of growth.

But it seems inevitable that if we don't start volunteer planing now on a mass scale, money will eventually cause a dictatorship and it will be done to us without our consent.

 

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Ultimately, no.  We will go

Ultimately, no.  We will go extinct or evolve.  Choices, grasshopper.

I'm just hoping we won't break the record as the world's shortest lived species.

 

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cj wrote:Ultimately, no. 

cj wrote:

Ultimately, no.  We will go extinct or evolve.  Choices, grasshopper.

I'm just hoping we won't break the record as the world's shortest lived species.

 

If republicans go extinct I won't lose any sleep.(HEY NOW, I am only talking about death of economic ideology and religious ideology)

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
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Extinct

For as long as there is ecological balance I believe humans will still exist for a log period of time.