I will call into question the idea of a 'background extinction rate of 1 species /1000 years'.
We currently have a deeper understanding of our planet's ecosystem compared to any time in our recorded history. If someone from 1000 years ago observed an extinction, it does not mean there were not many other species coming to a natural end.
 We are a product of nature, the current imbalance of primary predator over the food chain is a product of both our intelligence and growth. It's a well understood predator/prey cycle. You cannot have who were are without what we cause, as much as we'd like to think otherwise.
The issue, fundamentally, is 7 billion humans on the planet. Doing something about that number would no longer make us human.
Fasten your seatbelts, there's some turbulence ahead, putting your trays in the upright position will have little effect on the outcome.
I really struggle with this. Apart from "evil" countries like China we do very little to try to steer the reproductive outcome / health of our own species. We aggressively breed domesticated animals and plants but apart from class stratification we do almost nothing to ensure a positive genetic future for ourselves.
Why not? I'm not suggesting we prevent certain people from having kids (who? who decides?) but awareness of really basic concepts like "kids are expensive, have fewer or none if you're poor" simply aren't out there or are ineffective.
My wife and I (I'm an entrepreneur and a software engineer, my wife is GM of a company in architectural design) very deliberately decided to have one child. Our nanny on the other hand has three (grown) children. They're all in the same income bracket as she is and all having children of their own.
It's pretty well known that smarter / better educated people have fewer kids. That means that our current 7 billion is mostly those least equipped to raise the next generation and also those most likely to increase its size.
Again, I'm not suggesting we have the government try to regulate reproductive rights. (Governments rapidly accumulating power via technology is another problem we have to deal with as a species.) But what about global awareness? Or what about incentivizing the poorest people to have fewer children via social programs, education, etc.
And, just in case: No, you can't compare what I'm suggesting to Nazi Germany. This has nothing to do with race. I don't think race is even a meaningful concept when discussing humans. This is about us taking responsibly for our future and the health of the only planet we'll be able to call home for the foreseeable future -- by raising awareness of our collective responsibility to future generations, our strengths and weaknesses as custodians of.
Was really hoping to spark a meaningful discussion here. I think this is the elephant in the room wrt our future as a species -- as important as curbing CO2 emissions or detecting / destroying the next killer asteroid.
1. Just for the record, no, I did not call China evil. I thought that was self evident. I guess not. If I thought Chinese people were evil my son wouldn't be half Chinese.
2. Yes, there are a number of reasons poor people have more children than they should. None of those negate what I am saying. I'm suggesting we need to educate the poor on choices that will benefit themselves, their children and the human race as a whole.
Yeah, we probably don't want to try that. The genetic health of a species can basically be defined by its genetic diversity. That aggressive breeding of domestic animals and plants leads them to be really vulnerable to disease or parasites. Any attempt to exert "control" of our genetic future is likely to reduce our genetic diversity, not expand it.
One of the great things about modern medicine is that it allows people with some genetic variations that would have killed them in earlier times, to live productive lives today. And one of those variations might be the key to surviving (or even curing) some future disease that could otherwise devastate humanity.
Also, as PZ Myers recently pointed out, when it comes to genetics everything is so intertwined and interdependent that we can't really know how things are going to turn out, and the law of unintended consequences is pretty much guaranteed to lead to catastrophe.
"It seems to me, rather, that it shows that you can’t decide ahead of time what traits are desirable, but that they have to emerge organically in concert with other properties of the organism"
I know you put 'evil' in quotes but I still find this trivializes the governance of a country of over billion people and three millenia of continuous government (yes, the communist party may not be called a dynasty but if you look at it from historical perspective it's a direct continuation of the bureaucratic autocratic system that's dominated the area before Plato and Aristotle ).
Or what about incentivizing the poorest people to have fewer children via social programs, education, etc.
IMO, there are two main reasons for high birth rates: 1. lots of children are a form of capital in capital poor areas 2. there is very little else to do than breed in the evenings. 3. these two create a behaviour pattern in society where having lots of children is the social proven option.
If one does not want to go the china way then one needs to affect these causes directly. For 2. I suppose giving entertainment would lower birth rates. For 1 - well, I have no idea what to do with that apart from supporting economic growth.
Gametheory makes us do it.
Only Africa has large population growth still.
China have stopped the 1 child policy (such as it was, if you could afford it you had as many as you want) as they are worried of fertility rates being affected in the future. They have seen the situation of countries like Japan and Germany with a shrinking population.
I would be more worried about resources such as clean water and energy. When most of the worlds population is competing for as much water and energy as the average US citizen currently uses, then you have problems.
In nature, the less likely you judge your children chances of survival, the more you have. Other reason is that poor people use their children as a form of labor.
There is however one thing you can do and that is - send all your money to poor people and reduce their natality number.
you & your wife might be very rational compared to average, but "crowd" isn't. otherwise they wouldn't consider some soccer games most important thing in the universe for a few weeks in a year, wouldn't give a damn about terrorism, would lead healthier lives, wouldn't think with their d*cks and so on.
over longer term, it's a zoo out there, however nice we want to paint our civilization so far. it's rule of the stronger, as it has ever been, and power in numbers will over time prevail over some more rational approach (as yours). if times will get really rough medieval-style, mortality will sort this out anyway.
I used to care a lot about these things, worried and afraid and so on. not anymore - apart from nuclear holocaust/massive meteorite/supervolcano, mankind will in some way survive. and since we have no clue what will happen tomorrow, no need to worry and just do what you feel is right for you. or something like that
This is only partly true. For women there is a negative correlation between the length of their education and family size. But for men it's actually the other way around. Also, I don't know of any statistic that shows that smarter women tend to have smaller families.
It's extremely easy to do something about that: Just encourage development, educate women, and provide access to effective birth control.
In every single industrialized nation where women are empowered to make choices about their fertility, they're choosing to have fewer children. Experts disagree  about when the world population will peak (as early as 2055 or more like 2100) and how high it will peak (~8 - 10 billion) but everyone agrees that it will peak, and then decline thereafter.
If you want to help that happen faster, we need to support development, education for women, and access to birth control in places like sub-Saharan African and Southeast Asia.
However, the current load is straining ecosystem. There's too many of us as-is.
The question I ponder is, would we be where we are today (science, understanding, etc) if it not for the fact there's so many of us.
What's the magic number of sustainable people on the planet and does that mean a collapse in the levels of trade that support the advancement of science?
Fwiw, I think we're doomed. We're about to find out what the 'great filter' looks like. Somewhere down the road, whatever comes after us, and something will, something will get another stab at it. Hopefully they learn from us.
I'm in the George Carlin Camp on how to save the planet - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTIsI95IscY
Just one fact, up to 91% of the deforestation of the Amazon since the 1970's has been for cattle!
 Livestock's Long Shadow http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm
For all that we've learned and have built, we still don't have a Plan B. No foreseeable alternative to this planet if it goes belly up, one way or the other.
What's worse, we're still not over our politics and economics and artificial borders; all the things that keep us rooted here and actually headed backwards into primitivity.
Even if Elon Musk or some other zillionaire launches a successful extraterrestrial habitation program, sooner or later it will fall prey to the same old national interests from back home.
It's not like it's easy either. Sending massive amounts of stuff in space requires a lot of energy, and terraforming would require even more massive investments if we were to settle on any other planet even close to us.
I've always said that fusion won't save us from the coming global energy crisis, because it's coming too soon. Maybe that's good; we'll learn to appreciate it when we have it.
If we survive it. If the crisis hits so hard the technological civilization collapses, we ain't rebuilding it any time soon. All the easily accessible high-density energy sources are long gone.
Say, send up baskets of some materials in a balloon into storm clouds, have the immense burst of power in lighting strikes fuse them together into some form of fuel that we can then tap for energy.
I find it hard to believe that this awesome force cannot have any applications for man.
Lightning bolts may deliver up to 10GW of power, but the total energy is still only ~1GJ (based on a bit of searching; I'll note that some "napkin math" estimates by some bloggers drastically overestimate the duration of an average lightning strike). According to , "all the lightning in the entire world could only power 8% of US households. At best." You also have to consider how incredibly expensive it would be to build a lightning rod and capacitor bank at every single possible lightning strike site.
So even if lightning's awesome power can melt a few rocks, it still can't run our cars or heat our homes, because there's not enough energy.
The thing is, it's not that awesome, especially compared to the amount of energy consumed by humanity. Lightning is just another manifestation of solar energy. A tiny fraction of it, at that.
To get a burning fusion reaction, you need to satisfy the Lawson criteria , which can be seen as a constraint on the "confinement time", into which goes all the plasma physics. Empirically and theoretically, the most important factor in maximizing the confinement time is the strength of the magnetic field. We can just about able to create magnets that are strong enough, but they aren't strong enough structurally: the force they exert on the plasma is enough to break the magnets themselves.
From what I've seen and heard, the two most important bottlenecks are structural strength of strong (superconducting) magnets, and the robustness of blanket material to neutron bombardment.
There is a well known species interaction principle, which basically summarizes to - the growth of species A is negatively correlated with the growth of species B. This is especially well defined in predator/prey relationships. But let's just take a simple growth pattern (logistic growth) - which is continous population growth in an environment where resources are limited:
dN/dt = rN[k-N/k]
r - rate of increase
N - population size
k - carrying capacity
'k' is my favority ecological parameter. It's the theoretical limit an environment can hold a certain population of a species. The idea is, when a species surpasses k, population growth will decrease and/or even become negative until resoures are abundant again (sort of like an asymptote).
I always felt that Humans are the only species that alter their environment's 'k' through technology. For example, houses, heating, energy, etc.. all allow us to live in environments that we might not have been able to. This allows us to expand our population size much higher.
So are we going to surpass 'k' so high, that when we finally run out of resources we drive ourselves and other species into mass extinction? And will the environment be able to recover quick enough for our species population to stablize and recover?
- less travel needed because of worldwide VR/AR presence
- less food transports because of local/home-grown/urban farming (think permaculture/machine-learning inspired farmbots)
And much more good stuff like that! :)
If people genuinely cared about the welfare of animals, they'd have to accept uncomfortable truths like the fact that wild animals suffer immensely, and that nature itself is cruel. In many cases it may actually be beneficial from an utilitarian perspective to have some species die off. Being infested with painful or mind-controlling parasites, and being slowly gnawed to death are ordinary events for wild animals. They suffer some of the worst fates on this planet.
In some cases, like mosquitoes and malaria, killing off species might be the most heroic and useful action in the history of Earth.
A) We still lean on natural processes for agriculture (for instance, pollination plays a huge role in the production of certain fruits, and some species act as natural deterrents to crop pests). Biodiversity ensures that some of these natural processes we rely on are still functional and resilent to disease and other "cruelties of nature".
(The same concern could also be said for biodiversity of cultivated crops, although that's a bit different of an issue than what is highlighted in the paper.)
B) Biota oriented drug discovery still is pretty big even now. Less biodiversity means that we will have to lean more heavily on synthetic chemistry.
says "Across 65% of the terrestrial surface, land use and related pressures have caused biotic intactness to decline beyond 10%, the proposed “safe” planetary boundary."
How is "biotic intactness" defined?
We asked how much of the Earth’s land surface is already “biotically compromised” (exceeds the boundaries of 10% loss of abundance or 20% loss of species).
This measure (10% abundance or 20% species) is used throughout the full paper and the 23-page supplementary material.
The general area of quantitative biodiversity study is in its infancy. It is not as well-developed as other study areas within Earth system science. For example, there are no universally-agreed-upon variables that must be monitored, like temperature, sea level, etc., that exist for other areas. So biodiversity-related measurements tend to be side-effects of other measurements for other purposes. For instance, habitat loss could be indirectly measured by classifiers run on satellite-produced ground imagery.
Here's some information on NASA's biodiversity research program: http://cce.nasa.gov/cce/biodiversity.htm
This statement is so weak it's almost a tautology. What do we really know about the effects of biodiversity loss? How sound is the "safe limit" and what do we expect to happen when biodiversity falls below it?
> What do we expect...?
Short answer: Nothing good. Maybe a few golden years and then less water, less food, worst climate and war.
Long answer: Some people do not see any problem because the ecosystem is quickly replaced for another ecosystem. This new scenery can have even more diversity if the disturbance is mild, like if we change a young forest by a meadow, so yes, we can breed cows in the rain forest or turn a coastal eucaliptus forest in a weat field... but only for a few years. There is a prize attached. Such ecosystems can be also easily disturbed and turn into a oligoculture of the most tougher species, than are often poisonous or unedible.
Therefore humans suffer also with the change. Sometimes entire civilizations dissapear, like in the case of the Mayan empire; in other cases all humans can ever be entirely eradicated, like in the Easter Island case. We have historical registers of deserted cities all aroung the world by a greedy management of natural resources. Desertification, deforestation or a bad harvest by new plagues, lead typically in our species to war for the resources. We are not much unlike lemmings in this sense. The concept of war today is totally different to "a few people trowing spears and arrows".
On the downside this is a rather long essay, on the plus side it does not require familiarity with the author's work.
EDIT: Just a runaway thought: why is biodiversity important? If we are optimizing for the general well-being of humans and living beings on earth (which is the frame of reference I am using), then extinction of a species while increasing experiential diversity seems worthwhile.
In addition, the extinction of a species is only sad to those who remember. Many cultures have merged in history to become nations we see today, but nobody misses the oh-so-glory days of a specific Northern German tribe in BC 500.
As to the beauty we experience from diversity of species (seeing them, interacting with them), I would much rather enjoy technological experiences over that natural experience.
Perhaps this makes it sound all too all-or-nothing-esque, but it seems that there is a general assumption that increased biodiversity is good beyond measure.
Healthy ecosystems can better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters.
> Many cultures have merged in history to become nations we see today, but nobody misses the oh-so-glory days of a specific Northern German tribe in BC 500.
I assume certain indigenous people don't appreciate being conquered.
> I wonder if experiential diversity has increased.
Why do you suppose experiential diversity has increased?
We're a culture in a petri dish and we can see the end of the agar supply (resources/biodiversity). No cause for alarm because it's not exhausted yet?
Some fitness gradients are impossible to climb: genetic diversity is currency, and you need a lot of it to overcome more difficult shifts in the evolutionary landscape. As the world changes, species spend down this genetic currency (through death and selection). Now the world is impoverished.
But there is a solution: we, humans, can take our boots off the throats of the rest of God's creatures. We have the capability to be good ecological citizens of this planet, perhaps more than any other species. We can create our own energy sources; we can refine and recycle our material inputs, producing a tight, closed loop of biomass and energy around ourselves.
With this light touch on the world, the negative pressure we place on the downtrodden masses of creatures by disturbing their ecological spaces will vanish. And the denizens of Earth will then reacquire the wealth of diversity that is the natural reward of merely living.
Also, all of human history (millions of years) before the invention of agriculture.
In any event, today it is clearly do or die.
Not that we were any better before we settled down as agriculturalists. Within a relative eyeblink of the first humans crossing the Bering land bridge into North America, virtually all of the large mammals went extinct in short order, and that was when we were still hunting with Clovis points on the end of a stick.
Even if you don't think it's a crime to destroy an ecosystem, it's extremely foolish given that we depend heavily on it for our survival. If we damage or destroy it, what will happen to us?
Instead, we're building skyscrapers and reaping the benefits of modernization through technological progress.
I'm sure one can find "beauty" in the paleolithic era as well, but if you were suddenly stuck living there, you'd find that free wifi is one of the last creature comforts you'd end up missing.
Does anyone have a good track record? Isn't utilizing natural resources to the detriment of the ecosystem as a whole a feature of human civilization?
Bananas are an interesting example. The species is quite diverse, it's just that there's only a few cultivars that are commercially interesting. Many of them are full of big hard seeds or fibrous or not very sweet or whatever.
Lack of pollinators is one of the explanations I'm considering for my Zucchini not setting any fruit. Not fun to consider that in this context.
This should be enough if you have only a few plants. If is not the case, either buy some bumblebees or try with some of the parthenocarpic varieties of zucchini that do not need pollinators. Feed well your plants, Zucchini and pumpkins love having generous amounts of old manure
My present interpretation of pop-ups is that the author or their publisher holds their advertisers or their subscriber list as more important than their content: in these circumstances it's reasonable to assume the content isn't worth reading. There are exceptions.
Where Do The Children Play? - Cat Stevens
As a young adult, what can I do to help?