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Stop biodiversity loss or we could face our own extinction, warns UN (theguardian.com)
206 points by nwrk 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 160 comments



A great place to start would be to seriously limit or eliminate pesticides like Roundup. Don't believe the alarmists in Big Ag who will say the world will starve. We overproduce food now, and organic farming techniques, if widely adopted, wouldn't make it impossible to continue to produce enough. The loss of diversity in insects and "weeds" has had a huge impact up the chain.


I once saw a great quote which was, "maybe food is too cheap". This is probably true, we could probably eat better quality, organic food grown in a more diverse way, it would just cost more. On the flip side, it would be more valued so we'd have less waste.

I can't imagine the amount of "non-valued" food, fruit vegetables etc which end up in the bin.


Everybody here is ignoring yield per acre. RoundUp, for all its faults, drives the yield number up. More people (and particularly more cattle) are fed per acre when you use pesticides.

If you banned the pesticides, it would do a lot of good, but now consider how many more acres would need to be farmed in order to keep the overall yields the same. How many acres would be cleared that would not otherwise be cleared?

I agree that glyphosate (RoundUp now makes up less than half the market, which is largely Chinese-made and Chinese-consumed now) should probably be far more heavily regulated, but be aware that humans are not going to happily grow less food on the same land when yields drop.

Taste the rainforest.


> More people (and particularly more cattle) are fed per acre when you use pesticides.

This feels like saying we absolutely need multiple GB of RAM to display a website because how else would Angular work otherwise?

If the increased yield per acre is used primarily to support todays industrial-scale meat production, maybe we should address the latter first. The way meat production works today seems to have almost exclusively downsides: It's a moral bankruptcy considering current state of research in animal consciousness, it's a health hazard for consumers, it's an inefficient way to consume proteins and as you note, it monopolizes vast parts of crop production.


I agree we overconsume meat and that reducing meat consumption is one of the best ways to start addressing food/environmental issues, but to my knowledge the farmland producing feed or grazing material for livestock is not fungible in the sense that the land could just as easily be used to produce crops for human consumption.

That is, you can’t just swap out corn/hay fields for rice and bean fields. I would love to be proven wrong though, it would help me rationalize further reducing my meat consumption


We only have a few percent more food production than humanity needs, if I remember correctly. Roundup and other pesticides combined with fertilizer increased yields ... it doubles and triples them, and it prevents famines resulting from sudden insect plagues, which were common (as in every 30 years on average) for most of human history.

If these numbers are even close to accurate, eliminating roundup and modern farming would kill BILLIONS of humans.

I would love to get more accurate numbers, but what do you intend to do about the little "humans need food" issue in general ?


As i understand it, there are new intensive organic farming techniques that are practically unknown to big ag and which produce similar yields with higher quality (by not destroying soil and ecosystems every year). I'd counter that the final death toll of Roundup and similar chemicals could be much higher any potential famine caused by abrupt cessation of pesticide treatments. Destruction of ecosystems is an externality which has never been accounted for, and sooner or later someone will pay that bill.


Modern agricultural practices that focus on yield per acre are also decreasing the quality of the soil.

It’s a short term gain. Long term sustainability is more important.

Given how much food we throw away, I really don’t think the yield per acre is a problem. It’s a race to the bottom anyway.


It's meat that's driving the need for high yield, and large crops. Most agriculture is driven by meat production.

The solution is obvious, straightforward, and would be relatively easy, but human nature makes it hard to discuss, let alone implement.


> If you banned the pesticides, it would do a lot of good, but now consider how many more acres would need to be farmed in order to keep the overall yields the same. How many acres would be cleared that would not otherwise be cleared?

The argument above, if I'm not mistaken, is that we should produce less food, and so if that is the objective, we can farm the same acreage with a lower yield per acre just fine. Less supply is a fundamental part of the idea, in fact, to inflate food prices and reduce waste.


What about the humans who eat that food ? Should we kill them now or just let them starve ? (there's only a few percent more food than needed, so ...)


In first world countries, e.g. US and Europe, the amount of food wasted is massive and if there's anybody still starving in these countries, that's not because of a food shortage.

Also the wasted food cannot be shipped to countries that need it, like Africa, without a high cost, unless you're talking about food low in nutrients, like sugar, flour or corn, that can be stored for months or years and that does nothing to help those populations, because they need proteins, they need nutrients.

So the starvation argument makes absolutely no sense.

Also I believe that in some cases a lower yield per acre should reduce the costs. If you eliminate the waste, if you make the distribution channels efficient, if you keep the soil healthy, production costs should in fact go down.


I'm not commenting on the soundness of the above argument, merely trying to make sure its premises are correctly interpreted. :)

I think other comments, however, did address the discussion of people who struggle to afford food at current prices-- additionally, in the U.S. specifically, 40% of food is wasted [1]. Maybe just a decrease in U.S. food supply would be in order? Or specifically countries where food waste is that high?

[1] https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-food-IP.pdf


Can just eat less meat and gain 10x efficiency.


Meat is made, inefficiently, true, from grass. Where grass grows, it is generally so because nothing else will grow there.

So in a lot of places you can't swap out meat for, say, corn. It's meat ... or nothing (well, grass, which I guess you could make plastic from but little else).

All of agriculture is also pretty inefficient btw. From the sunlight to calories (before any processing) there's ~1.8% efficiency.


That's easy to say if you are rich because your food is only a small fraction of your income.


> we could probably eat better quality, organic food grown in a more diverse way, it would just cost more.

Better quality combined with eating less, both would be good and producing less waste.


What about people who can't afford it now, though? There are literally billions of them.


But for those people the food needs to be free, not cheaper - feeding them shit quality food just so they can afford it is the wrong solution as well. We need to be growing good quality food and those who can't afford it need to be given support to get it. Canned pasta and corn is not a solution just because it's cheap.


Famines and food insecurity are usually caused by sudden unavailability rather than slowly rising costs, aren't they? The ongoing famine in Yemen seems to be the result of blockaded ports and disrupted agricultural infrastructure, and the most recent famines in Africa were the result of drought.


What if we instead gave them means (technology) to grow it themselves and encouraged them to group in small communities that grow together?

Aquaponics is getting more and more popular and can be very cheap. I imagine that a good "how to" guide and a small monetary donation could help a lot of people.


The people who can't afford food are embedded in a corrupt society that stops anything structural from happening. Food is number one million on their list of needs, along with law and order.


You're not thinking like a poor person, you're thinking like a comfortably wealthy person. Poor people often don't have the time, energy, or mental well being to run organizations or take on another line of work.

Money is a tool for overcoming barriers to cooperation. People who can't self-organize to cheaply produce food for survival will continue to not be able unless enough money is available.


That’s not true - most of the time they just don’t know about alternatives. It’s not that they are not thinking about them, it’s that they literally don’t know what’s possible.

In terms of growing your own food, poverty of post USSR Russia is an interesting case study. The concept of a “dacha” became hugely important in subsistence. In last years of USSR shops became empty in most regions. You literally could not buy food even if you had money. Limited rations were provided so people didn’t die of starvation.

A lot of families turned to weekend farming. Usually not any kind of livestock, just vegetables. Potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and such. Pesticides were expensive, so not an option. Composting and dun from the villages who had livestock were primarily used.

My grandparents weekend farm produced enough to feed several families and we often gave away or bartered extra sacks of potatos. In all, the land used for this was less than .2 acre. Worked by 2 adults part time with rudimentary tools more reminiscent of 18/19th century than a modern operation.


Same in the Czech Republic with my grandparents and basically the whole village where they lived.


>But for those people the food needs to be free, not cheaper

I wonder if anyone has ever starved when some government came in to make the food free?

Edit: I wonder if I’m the only on that has seen HN move exponentially faster towards reddit in the last year?


Population inflated. Do a steady "deleveraging" where you couple a decrease in food production with a decrease in population from birth control.

I would also say "urbanization" but that generates other externalities and costs which interact closely with the biodiversity problem.


> We overproduce food now...

The alternatives to Roundup tend to be worse than Roundup. That's why people use Roundup. That's not to say Roundup per se is absolutely necessary, but farming without pesticides doesn't work at the scale necessary to feed the human population. There's no choice between "overproduction" and "appropriate production" by getting rid of pesticides. Despite all the overproduction, we still have spikes in food prices caused by bad harvests. Limiting production even more would be risky.

> ... and organic farming techniques, of widely adopted, wouldn't make it impossible to continue to produce enough.

First of all, "organic farming" is marketing BS. It doesn't have any properly defined meaning, it also uses pesticides (just not those deemed "not organic") which aren't harmless either, it is vastly more expensive even at scale (which by now it has, due to high demand in rich countries). It's wishful thinking that it could replace modern farming.


That’s not true. Organic farming is different from organic certification. I am not certified but I use organic methods. Only those who trust me and know me and have seen my farm knows about my methods but I am a small farm and that works for me. Organic methods of farming : 1. no pesticide or weedicide 2. Crop rotation 3. Cover cropping 4. Hedgerows 5. Watershed management 6. Organic and generally non GMO seeds. Sometimes hybrid Altho open pollinated is more gimmicky. Hybrid is natural. Organic farming that involves tillage also releases carbon. No till organic involves hand labour. It all hinges on manual labour. That’s why I have been begging for automation for small acreage farms that produce food. Not grains or commodity crops or food for industry/exporting like lettuce or strawberries...but for small organic farms under 100 acres that can now afford to go no/low tillage with robotic platforms in the field and automation.


> That’s not true.

Honestly, I think everything you said supports my point.

Now, maybe you don't tell anyone that you're more organic than the organic pope, but that makes you an extreme exception, not the rule.


It brings to mind sorting food at the shelter. The bins of produce that don't have an organic label usually come covered in some sort of semi-waxy preservative goop -- but it washes right off and the produce is almost always good. The bins with an organic label never have the goop but the produce itself has almost always gone bad. Entire bins of mush. The waste is staggering.

That goop had better be poisoning dolphins or something, because the null hypothesis -- that it really isn't so bad and organic labels reject it on account of the FUD opportunity -- is pretty damning.


> First of all, "organic farming" is marketing BS.

At least in the US, there is a "certified organic" label regulated by the USDA. https://www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national...


EU has its own label as well[1], and most (or all?) EU states protect the word "organic" on the food market so it can only be used for foods certified by a few approved organizations.

1: https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/splash_en


Its not just a label, its a regulated labeling term. Practically all food labelled as organic in US, EU and other regions has to be certified organic. This "marketing BS" idea is pure meme.

https://www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/organic-labeling-s...


It's still marketing BS. Yes, governments certify and regulates marketing BS.

The part that makes it BS has nothing to do with regulation. Homeopathy and Chiropractic are regulated and certified in various ways, they're still BS.


It’s marketing BS in the sense that organic food still uses pesticides. I guarantee you that fact would be shocking to most consumers of organic foods.


That "in a sense" is just making light of what is literally a falsehood and which introduced a string of them in the source comment: "It doesn't have any properly defined meaning ...."

Organics pesticide use is much more selective and heavily controlled than standard regulations[1]. Your notion that most consumers of organic food have unrealistic expectations ( with no survey to support that ) is really just a statement of your own expectations.

[1] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-n...


If the meaning is so "properly defined", then why do we have a self-described organic farmer in this thread, who says pesticides are off the table for him?

Who decides which pesticides are okay, what is the criterion that everyone can agree on? Why are there differences across countries, if there is a proper definition of it?

By the way, you can slap a "gluten free" label on table water and it'll be marketing BS, but at least "gluten free" has a properly defined meaning.


The organic farming regulations are professionally developed for decades, globally. US labeling options and regulations are officially defined [1,2] Very small scale producers like the farmer in this thread have some leeway - this is a feature of your national regulatory framework suiting small local markets, it is relevant to a tiny fraction of traded organic produce.

> Who decides which pesticides are okay, what is the criterion that everyone can agree on?

You know in this age of IT you can find answers to your questions. [3]

> Why are there differences across countries, if there is a proper definition of it?

Because it is a developed practical system, its not defined by dictionary definition - it is very complicated. Why are there differences across countries in safety regulations? How well is the term "safety" internationally defined ? Where did you get the idea that dictionary definition of "organic farming" should be able to completely explain the practice. What other well defined terms do that ?? Renewables, Genetic Engineering, Nuclear, Carbon reduction?

I think this involves unwillingness to observe context and make sense of terms, for the sake of the sort of argument which is fun for supporting sport teams.

[1] https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/labeling

[2] https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&SID=9874504b6f1...

[3] https://www.ifoam.bio/en/about-us


> Because it is a developed practical system, its not defined by dictionary definition - it is very complicated.

It's a bunch of semi-religious practices that were made up on the spot with no scientific basis whatsoever. For you to put it next to Genetic Engineering or Renewables is quite misleading.


How long did you take looking at the references I provided, to answer the questions you asked me ?


I've looked at them, but my question weren't to be answered. I understand that there are interest groups that have fancy websites and lots of people are invested in it, looking all serious. Just like with Homeopathy and Chiropractic, they're not putting the woo-woo up front.

Organic farming has its origins in nonsense beliefs, the practices that exist today are still based on them, even if they're regulated now. Farmers practice organic farming for basically two reasons:

1) To make money by selling inefficiently produced food at inflated prices

2) Because they irrationally and dogmatically believe organic farming is "better", without any scientific basis

The people in group #1 don't actually believe in the principle, they just believe in the money they'll make.

https://southsaskfarmer.com/2015/01/11/why-im-not-an-organic...


> my question weren't to be answered

Please don't defend untrue claims in these discussions by asking questions "not to be answered"


It's called a "rethorical question". You gave the example of safety. It's as if I asked you "who decides what safety is?" and you post a link to some standards body. It's missing the point.

It's not untrue to say there is no clearly defined meaning of "safety", just like there is no clearly defined meaning of "organic farming". The fact that there are standards bodies or certifications doesn't change that.

The other claim is that organic farming is marketing BS. I don't even see you arguing that it isn't. Even many organic farmers agree!

So, what's the issue?


> It's called a "rethorical question".

No, rhetorical questions have expected answers. You simply rejected answers which you did not expect and then declared your own questions "not to be answered".

>It's not untrue ((its true)) to say there is no clearly defined meaning of "safety"

Agreed (see - rhetorical). There is not one clear definition of safety, there are many for different contexts and in different jurisdictions.

Your idea that organic farming should be atomically definable, doesn't make nonsense bullshit out of organic agriculture and labeling - it has made nonsense of your understanding of organic agriculture.

Im not continuing this with you, but may link to it in the next discussion featuring insubstantial and false claims about organic farming. Organic agriculture deserves fair assessment and criticism for these times, not so much name calling. Have a good weekend.


> No, rhetorical questions have expected answers.

Not necessarily, but either way the answer is not the point.

> You simply rejected answers which you did not expect and then declared your own questions "not to be answered".

Okay Dr. Mind Reader. Do you believe I didn't expect that someone could google who does organic certifications and give me links to that? Do you believe I have never heard of such a thing as organic certification, even after multiple people have pointed it out to me right here?

Once again, I don't actually expect you to answer these question. The point of the questions is to make you think. You could answer them, but you would be missing the point.

> Your idea that organic farming should be atomically definable, doesn't make nonsense bullshit out of organic agriculture and labeling - it has made nonsense of your understanding of organic agriculture.

I didn't say it should be and indeed it doesn't. I really just mentioned it, you don't even seem to disagree that it doesn't have a clearly defined meaning, so what is your problem?

Anyway, what actually makes organic farming bullshit is the fact that it's based on bullshit theories. It has no basis in science. It comes out of nonsense beliefs, like Antroposophy. What makes it marketing bullshit is the fact that "organic" is used as a label of quality, even though the practice is based on bullshit theories, just like Homeopathy, which also has certifications. The farmers following these inefficient practices often do it only for the marketing effect. I don't even see you contest that at all, so I must conclude that you actually agree with me on this. Glad we're on the same page!


Look, have your opinions. But if you think organic is marketed solely as meaning that only non-synthetic pesticides are used, then you are wrong. The organic label means one thing. The marketing surrounding that label is another thing entirely. In the world of marketing, organic means healthier and pesticide free.

But, in addition to being neither of those things, it is an utter disaster for the environment.


Ive not been giving my opinions - criticisms or expectations of organic farming: the global mature, studied, developed, alternative agricultural system. This is not opinion, it exists. Its actual flaws - thats a different class of discussion. When you just feel like giving an opinion, at least don't attach plain falsehoods, defended later by "in a sense" etc.


Using gene drives to eliminate the few insect species that cause most of the harm to agriculture, will allow to drastically reduce the amount of pesticide we have to use now.


A myopic solution. We have no idea what role these problematic insects and weeds play in the grand scheme of things. Killing them is one thing. Elimination of species is a totally different game.


I agree. We pretend we know what we are doing, but we have no clue. It really sucks that insects eat our crops, but insects need to eat something, or they die. If they die, then whatever eats them will also die. No matter how you slice it, humans need to consume every ounce of available resources to fuel not only just our population growth, but our economic growth too. We do this by vast ecosystem destruction, replacing complex food webs with our own industrialized agriculture and production needs. Whether we use chemical pesticides or turn their homes asunder and starve them to death, or "snipe" them to death with gene drive fantasies, the result is the same: we're eliminating everything that does not participate in the cartoon food web of our own creation. This will not end well.


While i agree that loss of biodiversity especially in tropical forests, is a catastrophe, i don't think that keeping a few more insects and birds in our fields helps. In fact it forces us to use more space for agriculture and destroy more of valuable forests.

Also most of the plants we cultivate are invasive species, and their main pests are invasive as well, so we have plenty of opportunities to experiment on this invasive species before before we kill native species in their original habitats.


Getting rid of chemical warfare on soil and in farms will become much easier of farming is automated. Automation in farms works longer than any human labourer. And getting rid of weeds in farms and planting hedgerows and letting at least 30-50 percent of land go back to nature with reforestation and installing grasslands will help with habitat restoration. We have urban indoor farms that can deal with the shortage. A lot can be grown indoors..not all our food tho. Just take inside whatever is possible to be grown indoors! Shorten supply chains. Population needs to be reduced not by punitive methods but by incentivizing smaller families. In the 70s, our population was around 3.5 billion ..now it’s close to 7.5 billion. This is a problem. We accommodated this explosion by getting rid of animals, birds, insects and turning forests into farmlands. Some of this conversion needs to be reversed.


I agree with the big idea of conservation of biodiversity, but it really bothers me when these articles are using what seems like lies and fear tactics to convince me. 2 years? Why is it so urgent? The article doesn't explain. And "By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals," sounded really implausible to me. I had to do further research to determine that they are probably actually referring to "50% of species" rather than "50% of population", which is a very big difference that seems the opposite of what is implied. In this case, "face our own extinction" seems like a huge overexaggeration. This kind of deception and disregard for actual facts makes me much less sympathetic to the cause.


Humanity has already wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity...

Read the article and you'll see that it's a decline in population, not in number of species.


Losing 50% of species _is_ the loss of biodiversity by definition. Just about every species plays a vital role in maintaining a habitat and losing 1 or several has consequences that are hard to predict and could mean a drastic reduction in the ability to grow food and have clean water.

What incentives do scientists have to lie about this? Why is everyone so skeptical about warnings that scientists around the world agree on and have been saying for 20 or 30 years? It's maddening


Losing 50% of species sounds bad, but much less bad than losing 50% of all mammal populations. Are we just talking about losing ten thousand obscure rodent species? I actually have no real idea what this value means, which makes me inclined to ignore it. A scientific source would be great, but the article doesn't provide any.

If we're talking about "human extinction" level threats, it would probably be from massive famines, and "half of the animals are now dead" seems much more likely to cause that than "half of animal species are extinct". What is the actual percentage estimate that we would go extinct from this, and when? It matters when comparing it to nuclear war or AI.

The incentive for scientists to lie seems obvious to me. They want people to support and fund their efforts (possibly for noble reasons, possibly because they just want more money). They think that simple facts aren't good enough, so they use fear tactics like "we could face our own extinction" hoping that will convince us instead.

Also, the authors of these articles and the people interviewed are not necessarily the scientists either. Given that sources aren't provided, I have no idea what the scientists are actually saying.


Most animal species are insects, so probably that is the majority of animal species that will die out. Insects and grubs, worms etc though can be very important to the local ecology. Loss of some could damage human food production that relies on them in sometimes very indirect ways.


There have been a several recent studies showing massive loss of insect populations: https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/10/15/hyperalarm...

But insects are also a foundation of natural food webs; we can't lose lots of insects without losing lots of other animals too. And as a couple of us have posted already, a recent study showed that we've reduced the populations of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles by 60% since 1970: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity...


I don't believe the GP disagrees that losing 50% of species is loss of biodiversity. But the OP might give the impression that is about losing 50% of animals, which seems more apocalyptic.

"What incentives do scientists have to lie about this?"

They might believe they are lying "in good faith". Exagerating the impact so people take action. Basically treating the rest of the world as children.

And this, like the GP, I too consider counter productive.

And a possible answer to "why is everyone so skeptical...". Because scientists (if taken as a homogenous group) are lying to us (as a group of lay people) for some time. Sometimes this lies are just exagerations made with good intentions, sometimes from bribed "scientists" like the ones who defended the tobacco industry, sometimes the scientists were just wrong but acted like they were 100% certain of their results (not technically a lie, but has the same impact on general population).


Good news! We haven’t lost 50% of animals. We’ve lost 60%. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity...


Repeated hysterical predictions of human-level catastrophic events are the single largest impediment that environmental causes face -- because when they repeatedly fail to come true people update their priors accordingly.

The worst part is that the people making the exaggerations think they are helping.


There are billions of people on the planet and there's no way to stop some of them from being hysterical. It would be a shame to fail as a species because we didn't like the way the message was delivered.


If only a few fringe outliers were crying wolf, I would not be so concerned about the credibility issue.


It’s not an over exaggeration or fear based. We have overwhelmingly evidence now about weather forecasting and global temperatures WILL increase. We have to keep that under 2 deg C. When wet bulb temperatures start peaking first in places like India and then Asia, people will go to sleep and die before they can wake up because of the heat. Sea levels will rise and is getting warmed up. Data is overwhelming. This IS urgent.


I too am sick of these exaggerations, it makes it hard to separate real science from crackpots. Two years before we face human extinction? Why did the reporter ask zero questions about “how”? Likely they got the quote they wanted for a clickbait headline, smirked, and carried on.


So, how many times do you think earths' ecosystem can lose 70% of it's insect biomass before it collapses completely?

Consider the two years a 'final notice period' in which we actually can change the course of the cruiser. Until we start facing the dire consequences a bit more time might pass, but it will have been to late for a long time.

It's only a matter of time until the results of our predatory overcultivation catch up with us. Do you sincerely doubt that? How much more punishment can our habitat suffer before in finally collapses?


I don’t doubt any of it, but I despise the hyperbole.


> "50% of species" rather than "50% of population", which is a very big difference

Loss of 50% of species is really bad. Population growth and climate change will only accelerate the loss.

While I would welcome a decrease of the population of farm animals by 50% or 75%.

https://xkcd.com/1338/

Besides, humans will never die out because of lack of "resources".

Instead:

- either the sun kills all intelligent life on Earth maybe in 600 million years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_of_Earth

- or ET or AI kill us.

- or some huge object from outer space collides with Earth.

IMO transhumanism will end the biological evolution of humans. Maybe as soon as this century.


You're being downvoted. I too voted this post of yours down, let me explain why; sheer hubris.

> Besides, humans will never die out because of lack of "resources".

We are in grave danger of dying out; because of lack resources and because of our mind-boggling stupidity, sheer arrogance and our inability to deal with our tribal instincts.

You might (or not) have noticed that humans don't exist outside of the ecological system that our plant harbors. We're part of this ecological network, we're fully, totally, no-exceptions dependent on it. Techno-utopian dreams (nightmares, more like it) of being independent of the 'natural' world are not going to save mankind; we're part of 'nature', we exist within nature, there's no existence for humans outside nature. We need an ecosystem that provides us with calories and oxygen. The only ecosystem in existence that is capable of providing that is the very ecosystem we're working tirelessly to dismantle and destroy. So yes; we might die out because of lack of resources. We very probably will. Maybe

There's only so much damage that an ecosystem can take. And there are tons of signs that signal that our earthly ecosystem is reaching it's breaking point; - we've lost about a third of the arable land in the last forty years. - we've lost about 30% of bio diversity in the last twenty years. - we've lost almost 75% of insect biomass in the last thirty years.

The loss of insects is especially alarming; insects play a major role in all food webs on earth. The disappearance of 75% of insects (biomass, not species) has a catastrophic impact of everything further up the food chain. Yes, including humans.

We're currently working non-stop to destroy our ecosystem's capacity to carry animals in the upper food chain. Guess who's on top of that food chain. Yes, us humans.

Don't kid yourself; we're currently rushing full-speed ahead towards a full-scale ecosystem collapse. And don't fool yourself on our ability to create and maintain a man-made closed ecosystem as a replacement; we're not able to do that and we probably won't for many, many, many decades to come.

The only ecosystem we have to save our collective asses is the one we're currently punishing every day with our overproduction, overconsumption, with our fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and waste.

It's so past high times that we - humans, as a collective - have a hard talk how much longer we want to exist as a 'civilized' species, with global trade, no struggle for survival, boundless capitalism.

Because if we keep going, we've got a dozen or so decades left. It's back to hunter gathering for the rest of mankind's existence after that.

If we leave enough prey species alive, that is. Otherwise that will be the end of mankind's short stint.


Thanks for the clarification. I guess you did not downvote me. As always, reasonable interesting people do not downvote so easily.

> We are in grave danger of dying out;

I do not think so and there is no reason at all to think so.

Again: https://xkcd.com/

Again: I welcome a reduction of farm animals by 50% or 75%.

> because of lack resources

What resources of and on Earth are scarce in your opinion ?

Depending on skills and technology, they are not scarce for a world population of 10 billion humans or they are scarce with a world population of 1 human.

> and because of our mind-boggling stupidity, sheer arrogance and our inability to deal with our tribal instincts.

Yes, most societies worldwide are very insane. Obvious proofs: Wars and military and poverty in 2018. All elected and re-elected US presidents being evil mass murdering war criminals.

IMO, humanity is not so insane that humanity will die out. If people became vegan and current morality and practices and technology improved we could live in a biological paradise even with 10 billion people.

Improvements like cooperation instead of competition, waste treatment, recycling, no fossil fuel, no insane individual commuting every day because of flexibility, no insane transport of products, less waste of time and energy for needless production,...

I live in Belgium.

Do Belgians need butter from Ireland ? No.

Do Belgians need milk products transported around Europe ? No.

I studied agriculture at university so I know a little more than the average arrogant angry downvoter.

And I am in favor of transhumanism (e.g. machine body parts) in case somebody might read my previous comment in the future.


The problem is not of a technical nature, but of a political/social one.

> Depending on skills and technology, they are not scarce for a world population of 10 billion humans or they are scarce with a world population of 1 human.

This is very true. If organized properly we could very easily feed the 7.7 billion people that live on earth today. We could easily feed the 11 billion people that are expected to exist in about 50 years or so on earth. I do not doubt that the technological hurdles are gigantic, but the could be overcome.

Alas, I don't see that happening. Not because of the technological difficulty, but because of human stupidity or shortsightedness, our tribal instincts and the tendency towards reckless acquisition of resources that allowed our ancestors to become the dominant species on this planet in the first place.

You see, the problem is not our abilities to change the environment. The problem is our inability to change ourselves.

/If/ we all went vegan, /if/ we stopped needles, wasteful wars, /if/ we stopped consuming more than we need, /if/ ...

... then we could make it. But we don't change our behavior. We are still greedy little apes that are driven to resource acquisition to improve our social status in order to have higher reproductive success. We are reproduction machines, nothing that is changed by a few decades of wealth in some parts on earth.

It is this inability to overcome our biological imperatives that will doom us, because they prevent us from recognizing the foreigner as our sibling. And so we compete for resources, even though we've already so many resources that we die from over saturation.

So, unless all the peoples around the world start working together very soon to combat climate change, mitigate species and biomass loss, reduce the consumption of resources to a degree our planet can actually provide, I don't see how the human species will be able to survive.

It's not that we couldn't do it. It's that we're not willing to pay the cost in the /now/ to be able to survive in the /future/.


First: I had missed the part of your previous reply where you wrote that you too had downvoted my comment because of "my hubris". Unfortunately I read and replied too quickly because I had to leave. Now it is too late to correct my reply.

Second: Fortunately only few people need to introduce or enforce change to make big changes for all. Modern societies would have never happened if change was not imposed by a few on all.

Unfortunately climate change is a bad problem because it is also a political problem because appropriate technology might not be available and imposed soon enough. Politics are determined by the stupid ignorant democratic majority. Even in dictatorships like China because a dictatorship must be tolerated by the democratic majority.

Fortunately, the stupid ignorant democratic majority could die and leave the surviving elite (not a money based elite of billionaires) with a better society. Natural evolution.

IMO, relatively few humans will die because of climate change but many more other species will die out.

https://theconversation.com/capitalism-is-killing-the-worlds...

> One tweet, posted in response to the WWF publication, retorted that “we are a virus with shoes”, an attitude that hints at growing public apathy.

https://www.techrepublic.com/article/google-deepmind-founder...

> "Either we need an exponential improvement in human behavior — less selfishness, less short-termism, more collaboration, more generosity — or we need an exponential improvement in technology."

> "If you look at current geopolitics, I don't think we're going to be getting an exponential improvement in human behavior any time soon."

> "That's why we need a quantum leap in technology like AI."


Permaculture (Applied Ecology) - we can provide food and CARBON-NEUTRAL fuel for ourselves without wrecking Nature.

A "Permie" farm is more productive than any other mode of food production. By setting up ecosystems that consist of a preponderance of human-usable crop species you can grow multiple times the amount of food-per-acre of conventional agriculture (even with GMOs and pesticides, et. al.) After the initial set-up very little labor is required.

Permie farms foster biodiversity.

"Permaculture Behind `Greening the Desert` with Geoff Lawton" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Q41b05ku9U Salt desert to figs in two years.

Toby Hemenway - "How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLKHYHmPbo

"Alcohol Can Be a Gas!" http://permaculture.com/ Small-scale alcohol fuel production integrated with a Permaculture farm. You can grow your own energy. The economics are totally different from large-scale industrial ethanol production. You can start this in your backyard and be driving your converted car from your own home-grown carbon-neutral solar energy within a few months. Faster if you scavenge feedstock. Farmer Dave used to have an arrangement with a donut shop to ferment their old leftover/scrap dough.


Why would reducing biodiversity cause humans to go extinct? It isn't made clear in the article.

Wouldn't it just cause certain creatures to be more dominant?


The environment is a complex web of interdependent relationships between species and ecological processes. You remove enough relationships and it'll just collapse.


That's very vague. Collapse how? According to other comments we have already remove 60% of species, why wasn't that enough to cause a collapse. Other species take up the slack left by those removed.


There are some good examples in the Wikipedia article on ecological collapse:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_collapse

Let's look at it from a different perspective though. If thousands of scientists are wrong and we improve the environment but there was never any danger of human extinction then we still end up with a more enjoyable planet. If thousands of scientists are right and we don't improve the environment then we all die.

Seems like a pretty easy decision to me.


Death of insects means no honey and many dead birds.

No pollination means many fallow meadows and dead plants.

This means either weeds spreading or top soil depletion.

This also means many crops we depend on will not survive because various helper species aren’t available.

Earthworms dying mean no areation of soil, or the impact of other insects to improve the eco system.

So no those other species aren’t taking up the slack as you put it. Wasps aren’t interchangeable with moths for example.

But I too want to understand better how far this collapse impacts human beings.


This doesn't really explain human extinction. Our food supply doesn't come from a natural ecosystem.

- Commercial bee populations aren't declining. (There has been an increase in Colony Collapse Disorder, but lost colonies are replaced and total bee population hasn't declined.)

- The vast majority of the world's food supply does not depend on pollination from insects. To quote from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated...:

> The most essential staple food crops on the planet, like corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and sorghum, need no insect help at all; they are wind-pollinated or self-pollinating. Other staple food crops, like bananas and plantains, are sterile and propagated from cuttings, requiring no pollination of any form, ever.

- None of the crops that require pollination from insects are essential to human survival. It's hard to see how their loss could lead to our extinction.

- Crops can be pollinated by hand or machine.

- Crops can be propagated without seeds.

- Crops can be grown in all kinds of unbelievable conditions. Crops can be grown without soil. They can be grown in space stations, completely isolated from Earth's ecosystems.

- Extinction is a very strong claim. To support it, it wouldn't be enough, for example, to show that 90% of the population would die off, leaving 750 million people. They need to propose a mechanism by which all humans would die.


If you think that the human food supply will not be affected by a planet-wide ecosystem collapse, you might want to think again.

Fertile soil is not just dirt. Talk to a soil expert and you'll find out very quickly how difficult it is to keep soil healthy, especially if you punish it every day with pesticides and herbicides. See you long you can maintain production if you don't have a support system of insects, arachnids, worms, fungi and so on. You'll end up with just dirt. Nothing grows in just dirt. You can try to keep up production by downing it in fertilizer, but in the end you'll just prolong the inevitable; loss of crop and collaps of production.

See how many humans you can feed by growing crops in space stations. See how long you can maintain a closed ecosystem in space.

To your last point; if you lose more than 30% to 30% of the productive workforce, you can kiss human civilization goodbye; our manufacturing is highly de-centralized, but heavily interdependent and without safety buffer.. Our infrastructure is wide-spread and needs tons of maintenance. Lose enough people and it all comes crashing down, leaving the survivors with broken machinery for which they don't have energy, don't have the knowledge to operate let alone repair if (not when) they stop working. They will also have to deal with all the poison and radioactive fallout from all the fission reactors that experience core-meltdown because nobody's around anymore to power them down over the period of ten years.

Don't kid yourself; saving what's left of this earth's ecosystem is the only shot we have. There's not techo-utopia down the road to carry us to eternity and the heat-death of the universe. Its you and me and the rest of us puny humans that will have to do the saving.


Extinction will come from Climate change. And the surge of climate change refugees and subsequent migrations will impact food supply and density.


You forgot climate change.


I am not an expert on anything but I can give the answer a stab. Let us make many assumptions:

Say plankton dies off, say animals eating plankton die, say humans eating those animals now have less food. Say all the fish die and we are reduced to land-based food. Now we have more space competing for farm land, we have to clear forest. Clearing adds to CO2 emissions, construction, more emissions, less CO2 being taken out. It's clear how this is all one giant feedback loop. Less biodiversity, more overabundance of something else, which leads to less consumption of something else which leads to collapse of ecosystems which leads to use trying to patch things up and doing even more harm.

Just zoom out and think about things that consume things and how that loops back directly to humans, environment, overproduction, overuse and eventually unsustainable usage of resources until there are none left.


Also phytoplankton are responsible for 50-85% of the oxygen we breathe, so if they die off it won't just be a food-chain issue.


My go to example is if we lose insects which pollinate plants we would have a very very hard time growing certain foods. There is a certain unforeseeable complexity to these things.

Just a speculatory example, losing migratory birds could weaken the soil microbiome and seed biodiversity in the places they migrate to, from, and over. There could be a crop-critical organism in their path that relies on the regular influx of new bacteria or seeds from a certain place.

On what we have already removed: a building likely still stands if you remove 60% of the contents of the building, the last 40% is what is really holding it up.


In addition to collapse, climate change, etc which would be relatively predictable, there would also likely be a potent feed back mechanism in the form of global war bringing the extinction tipping point closer much more quickly than we are prepared to cope with.


Don’t forget Ebola, the loss of fertility because of smartphone radiations and an inpending martian invasion...


Here's an example of re-introducing a single species to an ecosystem https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolf-restoration.htm

No imagine halving the number of species in yellowstone


Extinct is click bait, but it could definitely harm us. It also makes the world less interesting.


How would it harm us? It's never made clear.


The food we eat and the air we breath all depend on living things - on the ecosystem that we evolved to live in.


Collapse of food chains and loss of natural beauty are the two most obvious ways.


https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07183-6 : this explains about the loss of terrestrial biomass. [..]Numerous studies are revealing that Earth’s remaining wilderness areas are increasingly important buffers against the effects of climate change and other human impacts. But, so far, the contribution of intact ecosystems has not been an explicit target in any international policy framework, such as the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity or the Paris climate agreement.

This must change if we are to prevent Earth’s intact ecosystems from disappearing completely.[..]


We can't even stop killing each other because of greed and other stupid reasons, we can't even stop global warming, who's going to stop biodiversity loss and how? It's in the nature of mankind to create but also destroy. Every era of civilization was build on the ashes of the former, and the next will not be different, a lot of people will have to die of violent death for humanity to evolve and come to its senses. we are at the beginning of a climate refugee crisis of proportions never seen before,coming from Southern countries, do people really think it will go smoothly?


We kill each other less than we did in the past. Humanity is not a completely static thing.

There are many struggles ahead of us. But not all hope is lost. I wholeheartedly reject any fatalistic notion. There is always something that can be done to improve the situation.


I disagree with such broad claims about a monolithic "human nature".

> When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.

-- Hannah Arendt

> a lot of people will have to die of violent death for humanity to evolve and come to its senses

I hate to be that person, but I think that's still optimistic. People don't get smarter after having been sufficiently brutalized, both learning and evolution break down when there's just a whole lot of pressure and chaos, rather than speeding up. Just like children need both stimulation and "action", as well as "peace" and feeling of acceptance and security in which to assemble and integrate their personality from their experiences. If it's all just loud noises and bright colors, development gets stunted or halted, not accelerated.

Furthermore I also think it's also optimistic to think it would just "burn down" with everyone starting from scratch: I think it would just consolidate the power of assorted sociopaths further, or even finally. I'm not worried about human extinction, if anything I'm worried of us constructing a gravity well totalitarianism we might never escape from.

> Every era of civilization was build on the ashes of the former,

By definition, because we use such catastrophes to divide things into "eras". However, it's not like civilization is stagnant between "eras", eras are just labels, lines we draw, that could also be drawn in different ways.


Once again the principles of centralization vs decentralization play out in front of us. Decentralization is a strength, centralization is a weakness, in almost everything, from the internet to crops...


Humanity will never go extinct as long as the Earth supports photosynthesis generally. If the ecosystem collapses, we might suffer for a little while, but our technology can overcome any environmental problem. Environmental damage, no matter how severe, is not an existential threat, and hyping it up as so does nobody any favors.

That said, environmental damage is expensive, and we should mitigate it. But we should do so with an accurate, not inflated, knowledge of the consequences.


Holy cow, Batman, that's some fatal case of hubris if I've ever seen one.

Environmental damage /is/ an /existential/ threat. We're part of an ecosystem, we're not independent of it. We have no way to produce food or oxygen without an ecosystem. In what artificial Biosphere do you live in?

The sheer audacity leaves me (almost) speechless.


Agriculture is producing food without the ecosystem.


Nope, it isn't. You're still dependent on the fertile soil, on nematodes and fungi, on insects and arthropods. You fool yourself when you think that all these square kilometers of dry and dead dust will yield anything at all when there's no ecosystem around to renew the dehydrated husk of soil we leave when we're done.

Google for 'arable soil loss' and read a bit about it, please.


I like to think each living organism as a gigantic living git repository of successful experiments by evolution. No wonder a huge number of human inventions come out of either isolating naturally occurring compounds or mimicking some natural occurring behavior of some organism: plant/animal.

Each time we lose an organism, we lose an entire repo of commits made over billions of years.


There is a lot of skepticism and charges of exaggeration about this threat to the planet. Is it ok to make a book recommendation here? https://www.amazon.com/Sixth-Extinction-Unnatural-History/dp... : Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. And it’s not a new book either. Many people have been warning about this and 2020 is a pivotal year for answers about our survival. Media..as usual..is getting hysterical about it too late and all in unison. But that doesn’t negate the overwhelming evidence that the threats are real.


This has happened many times before in more localized settings. The big difference to our situation is that the pertaining cultures were most likely plain ignorant about the dynamics that lead to their demise.

We are lucky that we do have all the knowledge but instead of taking action we constantly bathe ourselves in dystopian fantasies and social media whining (Q.E.D.) without any vision other than what seems like a global death-wish.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Chimpanzee#Environme...


Honestly, I think it’s too late.

It’s not too late technically, we could make changes now that would save us. But it’s far too late politically because people are stubbornly doubling down on the behaviors that are killing us.


There was never any time. We're programmed like bacteria to expand and fill the available resources until either our consumption or our waste products kill us off. The only question was the speed and ugliness of it all. After agriculture, without population control, this whole shit became inevitable. Science? Education? Democracy? Capitalism? All just ingredients into making this global society capable of mass digestion. Chewing up the Earth and shitting it out.

http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199539...


What about overpopulation as a factor? The elephant in the room. Every time someone suggest that we are too many, people tend to agree, but when what is suggested is that we should think about how to be less people, everybody halts in horror


I some countries is still a challenge to forbid use of plastic bags on supermarkets and plastic straws. We just keep throwing this disposable stuff out like crazy.


It's incredible how many participants in this topic don't seem to grasp the delicacy of earth's ecosystem and see it as something that is easily replaced or that humans can exist without.

Let's not kid around; if the ecosystem of goes the way of the way of the dodo, humans will go along for the ride.

You might (or not) have noticed that humans don't exist outside of the ecological system that our plant harbors. We're part of this ecological network, we're fully, totally, non-negotiable dependent on it. Techno-utopian dreams (nightmares, more like it) of being independent of the 'natural' world are not going to save mankind; we're part of 'nature', we exist within nature, there's no existence for humans outside nature. We need an ecosystem that provides us with calories and oxygen. The only ecosystem in existence that is capable of providing that is the very ecosystem we're working tirelessly to dismantle and destroy. So yes; we might die out because of lack of resources. We very probably will. There's only so much damage that an ecosystem can take. And there are tons of signs that signal that our earthly ecosystem is reaching it's breaking point; - we've lost about a third of the arable land in the last forty years. - we've lost about 30% of bio diversity in the last twenty years. - we've lost almost 75% of insect biomass in the last thirty years.

The loss of insects is especially alarming; insects play a major role in all food webs on earth. The disappearance of 75% of insects (biomass, not species) has a catastrophic impact of everything further up the food chain. Yes, including humans.

We're currently working non-stop to destroy our ecosystem's capacity to carry animals in the upper food chain. Guess who's on top of that food chain. Yes, us humans.

Don't kid yourself; we're currently rushing full-speed ahead towards a full-scale ecosystem collapse. And don't fool yourself on our ability to create and maintain a man-made closed ecosystem as a replacement; we're not able to do that and we probably won't for many, many, many decades to come.

The only ecosystem we have to save our collective asses is the one we're currently punishing every day with our overproduction, overconsumption, with our fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and waste.

It's so past high times that we - humans, as a collective - have a hard talk how much longer we want to exist as a 'civilized' species, with global trade, no struggle for survival, boundless capitalism.

Because if we keep going, we've got a dozen or so decades left. It's back to hunter gathering for the rest of mankind's existence after that.

If we leave enough prey species alive, that is. Otherwise that will be the end of mankind's short stint.


Collapse != extinction


It is, for humans. We've got a hard dependency on civilization because we've forgotten how to live without it and don't have any natural habitats we could live in (as hunter/gatherers) even if we remembered how.


B.S.


Even tough you've very eloquently made you point, would you care to elaborate? What of my argument is -- to quote you -- 'B.S.'?


Given the sheer number of people who might die or have reduced lifespans due to a collapse, it's a meaningless distinction.


It's not a meaningless distinction at all.

The collapse is the imbalanced system naturally correcting itself, and the humans who survive will go on to create more and the cycle repeats.

Extinction means no more cycles for humans.

Your view strikes me as a very my-generation me-centric attitude, focused on the sheer numbers of people living now vs. future generations.


I don't understand the point you're trying to make. To me it sounds like you're saying (and correct me if I'm wrong) "Worrying about the massive human misery caused by ecosystem collapse is a selfish concern. Humans as a species will continue to exist." The second statement is technically true. But I don't understand how we can diminish the massive human misery caused to everyone you and I know.


Will they? Continue to exist? I'm not very certain about that. How would any human survive an ecosystem collapse? How would they sustain themselves? With technology that runs without any power, can be repaired without any specialized knowledge and operated without training? Because, you know, the ecosystem just collapsed and everybody not struggling for survival in a world unable to produce food is probably already dead.

I'm not so sure at all.


While it would be sad to see so many species dying, i dont think it will affect the survival of humans.

If really needed bacterias and plants would be enough for humans to survive. Wouldnt be pleasant though, so we should try our best that it doesnt happen.

I just dont see the apocalyptic prophecies coming true.


So precisely who is going to pay for all this, and the reduction in growth it’s going to entail?

Markets are levered if not overlevered, and maintenance of biodiversity is going to have both spending costs for the govt and resource extraction reductions (arguable), followed by compliance costs for firms.

Sure we save ourselves, but face it, our economic system is a rational system which at the end must put a finite price on a human life. Whether by market price discovery or by fiat, we are going to say, “there’s only this much we can spend”.

I’m really curious because I pretty much see a dead rock and humans under domes, in the far future.

Is there some other plausible outcome?

———-

Edit: people are correctly targeting the rational part of markets, but here’s the counter.

It’s very rational for business firms to lobby against externalities being priced in. It’s rational for ranchers to cut forests for economic gains. And it’s rational for the many many people who are being propelled up out of poverty to want better food, clothing and power.

That guy burning crops in India says “shit, sorry for the bad smoke Delhi. But it costs too much to do anything else. Sucks to be you.”

That’s why my point on our economy being levered. It’s not in anyone’s rational interest to halt growth. Every % of global gdp growth is millions of people out of poverty.

Which is why the question. Are people really incentivized to bell the cat - to actually price in externalities ?


Rational? It's about as far from rational as it's possible to get.

Homo economicus is the perfect caricature, as humans usually make purchasing decisions for far from rational reasons. They buy for emotion, because of brand, etc. Read any current marketing book. The system within which we operate claims rationality solely on the basis of conveniently ignoring anything that might impinge: pollution, environmental damage, cost of cleanup or restoration of a site, societal and human damage. All of those get lumped in a category called "externalities" that might be more honestly labelled inconvenient truths.

A rational system would be more holistic and somehow account for the value of lives, planet, society and so on. It would find a market way to penalise those actors continuing to saw the branch on which humanity or other species sit.


That marketing book and the course that teaches marketers is run by Homo economicus.

The economy is very much built by Homo economicus. The consumers are just assume customer to be Homo economicus.

(except we know that it’s just poor old Homo sapiens, which is why the shiny stuff is at the checkout counter. Let’s ~~exploit~~ optimize for all those gaps in cognition.)

So I’d have to highlight that Economic man is hard at work, hacking Homo sapiens. ————

And that’s the issue, the rational choice for the world is very clear. But local equilibrium points are very different. People are going to clear the Amazon because that means they can sell more meat.

The cost of that externality will never get priced in fully, because it’s in the interest of people to pretend it’s someone else’s problem (especially when they’re people’s jobs and food on the line.)

I’m sorry for the bleak image, but let’s remind everyone that Kyoto was a joke. It’s the best we could manage and even then it was weak.

I understand everything you mean about externalities, but once you leave Econ talk, and move to policy - well Homo economicus is there, busy doing the rational thing and lobbying to keep his interests safe.

I predicted AGES ago and publicly a year or so, that we would all soon be championing terraforming projects.

What is the actual path forward, to an actual consensus. Whether we have to go through Homo economicus or corrupt him, or through reminding Homo sapiens that he is the only source of moral authority.


>The economy is very much built by Homo economicus. The consumers are just assume customer to be Homo economicus.

This confuses the map with the territory.

The economy is built by actual people, with dreams, desires, etc, whose behavior is usually far beyond what the "Homo economics" would dictate.

Homo economicus is just a crude model.

>The cost of that externality will never get priced in fully, because it’s in the interest of people to pretend it’s someone else’s problem (especially when they’re people’s jobs and food on the line.)

Well, it will be fun to see them suddenly rebalance their "interests" when they are plagued to death, and it's their life and the life of their children on the line.


>The economy is built by actual people, with dreams, desires, etc, whose behavior is usually far beyond what the "Homo economics" would dictate.

Homo economicus is very busy figuring out exactly what those dreams, desires etc entail.

We know about how their brains work, I know how to design reward schemes, job happiness plans, legal documents and so on.

We are paid, to act as economic agents, and to do so rationally and to the best of our ability, with the moral aspect of it abstracted away.

How many times have you heard of people standing up and saying "hey I wont be the lawyer who buries the immoral and indefensible clauses in the contract".

Not very often, I'd bet. Furthermore if people did bring this up, or even leave their job over it - we can always find someone for whom the moral question is not a problem.

Its very easy to get people who are rational business actors and dont want to worry about the moral aspects of their work. They just want to do their jobs well, get paid and go home.

----

>Well, it will be fun to see them suddenly rebalance their "interests" when they are plagued to death, and it's their life and the life of their children on the line.

That's my point - people will "rebalance", but I don't see a solid path to avoiding that re-balancing.


>So precisely who is going to pay for all this, and the reduction in growth it’s going to entail?

Who is going to pay for the billions of corpses of men, women, and children? (And the "reduction in growth" that that entails)

>It’s very rational for business firms to lobby against externalities being priced in. It’s rational for ranchers to cut forests for economic gains. And it’s rational for the many many people who are being propelled up out of poverty to want better food, clothing and power.

This confuses "profitable" with "rational".

Motives (e.g. the profit motive, or altruism, or thinking about the commons) are not "rational" or "irrational", they are personal and sentimental.

One can think rationally about what their actions will bring on. The decision depends on their intentions and feelings, which themselves have little to do with rationality.

Picking the most profitable of two courses of action, externalities be damned, doesn't require reasoned thinking (only as much as to figure out which is the most profitable).

But while calculation "this will bring me profit" involves rational thinking, so does the calculation "this will also eventually destroy this place, or hurt society".

People are perfectly able to reason about the general (e.g. societal) and future impact of their actions, and avoid doing stuff that will have negative consequences.

It doesn't take irrationality to do that -- just not being a selfish greedy prick, which is orthogonal to rational thinking.


Seems like a total failure of an empty concept of rationality if it can’t avoid extinguishing life itself...


Globally, yeah sure. But all that will die is just most of humanity and the world - our current way of life. People survived worse, and people are busy building island getaways hoping to be those last few people standing.

Humans don’t act like a hive. Instead, we have local alliances and local optimums.

You know, I bet, right now, there’s a plan somewhere in America for what to do in a doomsday scenario to ensure survival of the American way of life.

Our way of life will end, our beautiful planet will lose its fish and insects and great fauna. But we’re busy creating fantasy world and games and movies. Kids are excited about magical beasts, and where to find them.

I’m being stark here, because I’m not finding an actual path to what I want ( a healthy planet and responsible species ). Instead the highest probable path I see is a husk of a planet and us figuring out a way to reintroduce life after terraforming is complete.


I don't think that humanity will survive a collapse of the current civilisation. First, we don't have the knowledge to go back to a pre-civilisation culture anymore. And second; we don't have the habitat to go pre-civilsation hunter/gatherer anymore.

It's pretty much make or break for humanity.

(As an aside: we've pretty much exhausted the easily available fossil energy sources, so no re-starting a civilsation on the glowing embers of knowledge and wisdom hidden in deep bunkers. Nobody's going to read that, ever.)


It is not 'your way of life' that will end, it is 'our lives' that will end. All of them.

Your fixes are fantasy, not reality.


I dont have fixes, I don't know where that idea crossed your mind.

I see this as the likely path forward. It is not a fix, it is essentially the car careening off the cliff and people the survivors picking up and moving on.

Could you let me know what was confusing in my text? I'll fix it up.


> Instead the highest probable path I see is a husk of a planet and us figuring out a way to reintroduce life after terraforming is complete.

Terraforming is fantasy. Reintroducing life is a process that takes eons and is on the scale of the Gods, not of us mortals.

We have a functioning planet with a well developed eco-system, we do not have a back-up and we do not have the abilities you ascribe to us. We would not be around to do any of the things you describe because this is all we have and when it goes we go with it.


   We have a functioning planet with a well developed eco-system, we do not have a back-up 
What is so hard for people to grasp about this concept? We have an incredible thing here, it would be impossible to engineer something like it in its vast complexity. Why would you not try to maintain this complex machinery and avoid throwing it out of kilter?

It's like watching parrots trying to run a fusion reactor.


Ok. Excellent - I too think that terraforming is dubious practical use.

I put it forward for two reasons - To leaven the bleakness and because pursuit terraforming is inevitable.

It’s just the perfect PR product. Spend money; create jobs, fix the environment.


> That’s why my point on our economy being levered. It’s not in anyone’s rational interest to halt growth. Every % of global gdp growth is millions of people out of poverty.

That is a short-term view. Look how growth will stall and turn into decline if we continue on our present path.

> Which is why the question. Are people really incentivized to bell the cat - to actually price in externalities ?

Probably not by themselves, because most people put their own self-interest first, and our economic systems stimulate them that this is the best way.

It needs the concerted effort of many to apply sufficient pressure to take the long-term view and affect real change.

And I guess this is particularly hard, as our current (broken?) systems also promote wealth inequality, and the rich and powerful - those who can help the most - are less inclined to do so, because they'll be among the last to really suffer the consequences of inaction.


A system of economy based on continuous growth and limited resources is simply not viable. That is nothing new, the Club of Rome presented their findings already in 1970s.

Their conclusion was a rapid and uncontrollable decline in population and industrial capacity, and the signs of that would be apparent by 2072.

Given that the "business as usual" scenario has persisted, we are on track to that sudden crash "overshoot" scenario. In addition, now there is the looming climate catastrophy as well. Countries and regions have to become more resilient to all kinds of impacts from climate change, as it does not look like we can avoid or prevent it.

In addition, another economic system than one expecting continuous growth is required.

Therefore the question of "who pays for the reduction in growth" is a rather non-starter, as the reduction in growth is inevitable.

Edit: crash not at 2072, signs visible at 2072.


I think his point was that individual actors do not want to hinder their prosperity at the cost of the planet. The looming threat of extinction is not something a business or a 3rd world farmer takes into account when making choices. Out of sight out of mind, unfortunately.


> Sure we save ourselves, but face it, our economic system is a rational system

I had a good laugh at this. It's only "rational" (or efficient) at optimizing the parameters we give it.

I'd argue that if "saving ourselves" is not a priority, then right now there are some important parameters missing.

If we'd put a sizable tax/cost on causing environmental harm, you can bet that "economic system" is gonna optimize the heck out of its processes to not cause that harm.


Sure, that’s baked into my argument - it’s saying that should you actually account for externalities, that’s going to affect global GDP growth.

Sure in the long run we will have a better planet, but then famously in the long run we’re dead too.

I do not think there is a rational incentive for many firms to actually allow externalities to be priced in. Making investment in lobbying more valuable (and America is case in point; it’s been decades of FUD and denial).

This is just the rational business game plan. Delay the onset of regulation for as long as possible, maximize profits and then adapt to the new world of regulations (hopefully diversify by the time regulations hit)

I’m hoping someone has a way to argue that this is incorrect.


As you hinted in your edit, you are describing the essence of a collection action problem.

Ultimately, we measure the success of our capitalist economies in total receipts, and optimise accordingly. Our markets (and our cultures) prioritise consumption over repair or even abstention. That last point might seem contentious but truth be told, most of us would rather buy something new than repair something broken unless it is prohibitively expensive or repair is easy. In short, if we changed the yardstick to determine progress then the matter becomes much simpler to solve. However, this is not likely to change so we are forced to look for solutions within our economic framework.

There are plenty of ways to correct these market failures but they must stem from government and have the support of the people. Private initiatives have nowhere near the influence or the scale to tackle such problems. Tax on goods and services could be proportional to how damaging it is to the environment. Regulations on animal welfare could be broadened and prioritised. Creative solutions exist for almost every issue, the problem is that they are not part of the public discourse.

For instance, while I personally abhor hunting, I feel we should encourage regulated African trophy hunting, where older animals are auctioned off so that the money can be reinvested to protect current populations from poaching. In places like Africa where money is the only thing that matters, it is of the utmost importance that conservation look to market solutions to assist wildlife, as we might as well nuke the poor bastards if their survival depended on African governments.

The biggest hurdle to overcome is the relentlessness of special interests to dictate policy around the globe. In fact, this is the root of the majority of global economic issues. I would imagine the only feasible way to do this is for the people to engage with these issues, which means we are most likely doomed.


As you pointed out, one of the issues is special interests.

But in a rational world, it is obvious that people will use whatever tools at their disposal to improve their chances.

So by definition, any sentient and rational society will have lobbying - anywhere in the universe.

So this is not a bug but a feature. In theory these lobby groups will be dragged to a stale mate by counter lobby groups, but practically the more unethical group will win just because of operational flexibility.

I don’t see any way this worst case out come doesn’t come to pass because of these very issues.

The collective action problem can’t be solved.


I am not sure I agree with your insistence on using the word rational. What is rational depends entirely on the perspective of the agent observing and is not a useful assumption, in my opinion.

I want to touch on what you said about lobbies and give you my take on it.

The characteristics of successful lobbies have three key properties. Within any dispute/issue the most important quality that determines influence of a group/cause is organisation. An organised faction will always triumph over the disorganised masses. Then, the second most important factor is possession of any tactical advantages to advance their goal over their adversaries. These can be anything from superior methods to a willingness to do things that the other side is not. The last, and least important, is the size of the group. Each factor is meaningless without the preceding one.

As a consequence, I would agree that other groups would 'win' in this case. But they wouldn't actually need to win, they would just need engage in dirty tactics such as proliferation of fake news, muddying public discourse, bribe political officials, etc. Humanity would face the greatest difficulty dealing with the lengths that special interests are willing to go to to wield undue influence and stagnate progress.

However, I do not share your abject and defeatist view. I concede that humanity is facing a battle in the trenches to ensure the health of our ecosystems. We all must take responsibility for what is coming because to do nothing is to allow bad actors to get away with being shitheads. Given that the survival of our species and many others on Earth is at stake this should not be acceptable to any one with a shred of empathy to possible future generations.


Great points on lobbying. I believe there’s an economics paper on the effects of lobbying out there, so it might be of interest to you. Sadly I don’t know it’s name :/.

By the way, If the issue is with my tone or perceived attitude, please note that this is my question- what precisely is the path to success?

I don’t get the issue with the term rational, I mean it in the same way you define it.

Locally solutions may not result in a global solution to the climate problem (because of externalities). What the issue with rational in this case ?


Neither your tone or attitude were an issue. I just wanted to note that the idea that there is absolutely no way out of this mess is too negative a view, in my opinion. Until we reach the point of no return, people need to keep engaging in discourse.

The path to success is simply education. It is not a sexy suggestion by any means, but I would point to how successful bad education is at stopping progress as evidence that it is the determinant factor. It is not a quick or a guaranteed solution. But by staying informed and engaging in conversation with people, this can have a knock-on effects on others. Further, key moments in contemporary human history show that shifts can occur seemingly out of nowhere. Will it be enough? Who knows? Realistically, this is our only play left and to squander it to apathy is not acceptable.

Re: rational. I guess this becomes a semantic issue, which means it is a non-issue to begin with as we are in agreement. I personally just feel that the word doesn't add much to the discussion as it is implicitly understood that economic actors will be driven to certain decisions by their own self-serving motivations. Using the word rational, while I agree that if we were to take your definition would be absolutely correct, connotes the notion that they are acting in absolute self interest, which is not the case in this example as that would mean individual actors would find a way to cooperate given that the existence of humanity is at stake. So, despite the fact that there is nothing wrong with the word, I avoid using it as I find it to be quite confusing.

My opinion on the matter probably reflects quite well on why I switched out of an economics degree :)


So this entire thread has been execution of an argument I’ve been working on.

I suppose it’s a rhetorical construct I’m working on to effectively move the needle forward.

Unfortunately, my current iteration requires the negative attitude variant to move other people into the correct line of questioning. There’s other issues with it Too, I’m sure.

A major problem with discussing issues today, is getting people up to speed on the problem and having a shared language and idea base which is both accurate, flexible and easy to share and reuse to create new insight and tools to deal with the problem.

It takes a lot of work to unravel the various issues, without getting bogged down with minutiae- or just championing unworkable ideas (lets all stop showering; the world should go vegetarian)

As such this thread did well in serving as a test run.

In essence the term I’m trialing is “Homo economicus is hacking Homo sapiens”, and building from there into showing collective action problems

I really didn’t have a solution for the larger systemic issue, and recently the only one I’ve come up with is the gandhian idea of re-awakening people as moral actors.

The larger system is amoral, as you well know having done Econ. This is by design and not a flaw.

Morality is only exercisesble by Homo sapiens. Homo economicus is not designed to have that capacity, it is an assumed constant, imposed by “policy” or by “consumer choice”.

Since policy and consumer choice are pre reqs to targeting externalities, we need people to feel that they are moral agents who can impose rules upon the working of society.

anyway the goal of this statement was to get the bleak but correct picture forward. We can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.


I get the impression you're not arguing that biodiversity preservation is bad or stupid, just economically not viable (i.e. there is not enough resource available to maintain this goal). One (arguably too) simple option is just to have governments tax offending businesses and pool these taxes into programs that support biodiversity. This is the more pro government-leaning viewpoint. The libertarian viewpoint is to have a bright, Elon Musk-like businessman or company that innovates into creating a cheaper and more sustainable solution to the business that's causing biodiversity loss, pressuring incumbent business to change.

Realistically, shouting "biodiversity" doesn't say all too much. What biodiversity? Deforestation is a different problem to the disappearance of the bee population (in terms of economic pressures on these things), and each needs to be tackled in a thoroughly researched, carefully considered manner. There probably isn't a single correct solution to this problem, and solving it will require a collection of viable solutions that incentivise economically, socially and morally.


> So precisely who is going to pay for all this, and the reduction in growth it’s going to entail?

Speaking of rational choices: if faced with paying everything you have or your own extinction, the most rational choice would be to pay everything you have. Nobody would spontaneously make that choice, but it really is.

Making this a very irrational question, in a way.


The problem is that what’s rational for the group is not what’s rational for the individual.


In general, sure. But here, the disaster extends to all levels, which removes that argument, no?


Unfortunately not.

There are four scenarios to consider:

1. You do what’s best for the world, and the world is saved.

2. You ignore the big picture and the world is lost.

3. You do what’s best for the world, but the world is still lost because too many others didn’t do the same.

4. You ignore the big picture and the world is still saved because enough other people did the right thing.

Regardless of what happens, you’re personally better off ignoring the big picture and hoping that other people fix the problem. If disaster is coming, at least you’ll have a better life in the remaining time you have. If it’s not, why hurt yourself?

The exception to this is if your own personal actions make the difference to avoid disaster, i.e. that you go from scenario 2 to 3 above by changing what you personally do. But the chances of that being the case are extremely tiny. You need collective action to solve these problems.


Markets just measure what we value.

If we put a price tag on different things, markets will shift.

We don't need to 'stop growth' we just need to grow differently.

We may need to slow down population growth, though.

"Is there some other plausible outcome?

Uhm, yes, people value walking around in clean air and would be willing to pay a premium for it.

It's one of the reasons people leave China and come to Canada, for example.


> I’m really curious because I pretty much see a dead rock and humans under domes, in the far future. > Is there some other plausible outcome?

Completely implausible. Who's going to pay for these "domes"?


People who are going to directly benefit from them. That is the difference between this (which is plausible) and unilaterally restricting your economy, which is going to definitely hurt you now but possibly (only if rest of the world does their part) benefit others later.

Part of the reason why we're doing so little to fight climate change is the misalignment of incentives because at least in the mid-term the groups who would have to pay for this fight don't overlap that much with the groups who'll suffer the first major consequences.

For the long term (100+ years?), there's tragedy of commons scenario - we want everyone else to restrict their economy, because doing it unilaterally won't help, so unless we can agree on binding restrictions for most countries, it's not going to happen; but in the mid-term it's not even a common environment, as the majority of expected harm is expected at places who don't have a meaningful impact on the global economy.


> So precisely who is going to pay for all this, and the reduction in growth it’s going to entail?

Extinction is not about money. The choice is to 'pay' now or to 'pay' later in a much harsher way.


Terraforming Mars, or maybe just create a habitable satellite is easier than saving the earth. Current economical model fosters growing business, and only government regulation to deal with externality. Growing is intuitive to human activity, but restricting human growth is counter-intuitive.

I forget the link, but a lecture video using bacteria growth as a metaphor of human growth creeps me out. Supposed bacteria in a jar growth 2 times for 1 minutes, and the jar will be full in 1 hour. When will the jar be half full? Answer is at 59 minutes. At the time of 58 minutes, only 25% space is used. How many bacteria thinks the jar or the world will be full after 2 minutes?

The situation is similar to human, and we still cannot find a way to protect the environment and have economic growth at the same time. Maybe the end of human history is next 2 years but we still think its pretty okay and didn't notice anything unusual. Then maybe finding a new jar is the second best way to deal with it.


Holy guacamole. "easier to terraform mars or create a habitable satellite than saving earth"

this is the most ignorant thing I've ever seen written on the internet. Get back to me once you have 1/10000000th the bio-diversity of earth on your habitable satellite.

1) change our paradigms, economic system, and other social factors. I can assure you that this is far more maleable than Martian soil composition...

our social structures evolved in the context of low population densities and plentiful resources.

our economic system is what needs to give, it doesn't even function for humans, let alone the planet and the rest of life we share it with...

need I remind you that 1) we are only ONE species, and haven't the RIGHT to destroy our shared home, nor the other species. Some of us humans are upset about this, and we WILL take you other humans on over this issue!

2) our planet is STILL the only known place with LIFE in the entire universe. This is likely to change, at some point, but not if you get us all killed first.

3) our social systems are flexible, arbitrary, dare I say "PRETEND"... change em.


Indeed, people are dangerously ignorant regarding Earth and Mars.

If we can not rescue Earth, a biological paradise, we have no hope to make it on Mars, a biological hell.


> change our paradigms, economic system, and other social factors.

As the famous quote goes: "it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism."

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalist_Realism:_Is_There_No_Alternative


I propose a voluntary mission where all those interested in perpetual crapitalism and archaic social values voluntarily move en-masse to Mars, and please try not to rob too many of Earths resources getting there...

Bring the right wingers and life-haters with you too please...


It's this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZCm2QQZVYk

And it's a great lecture, everyone should watch it.


bacteria in a jar grow and populate uniformly. Humans don't and tend to clump up in high population areas. Human population growth also tend to slow down with economical stability which is the opposite to bacterial growth.

As for mars, what we really need is to build technology that can make inhospitable places livable without infusing additional resources. A key point is water extraction, which would make a lot of desert environments much more hospitable with the right technology.




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