Not so sure. IIRC there are reasons to believe that the big one, the Permian-Triassic extinction, was due to methanosarcina, an archaean genus. OK, that's not a species but a genus, but still.
It's a bit naive to think that all extinctions events happen because of some geologic or celestial event. Sometimes, evolution goes terribly wrong and sh.t hits the fan. Either it is by releasing nefarious gazes in the atmosphere, or creating a Primate intelligent enough to rule and consume most of biosphere.
Even the human mass extinction has given life time to adapt, by way of crops, farm animals, pets, etc. We've even helped make sure that hundreds or thousands of species across many different kinds of life are 100% going to survive along with us if it's remotely in our power.
There are likely hundreds or thousands of other species like raccoons, pigeons, rats, jellyfish, various kinds of insects, etc that are going to thrive in our cities and continue to coevolve as parasites.
I'm not entirely convinced a human caused mass extinction is really all that much worse than other kinds, because we provide some guaranteed survival routes to animals that can coevolve with us, and be useful in some way.
The other parts of this earth play an essential role in maintaining ecological balance on this planet, and a world with just farms and cities and the animals that can survive within is not going to bode well for us or any other species. Hopefully that's a good enough argument if you still don't think that mass extinction and habitat lose isn't a negative outcome in and of itself.
In what way?
The main threat is disease if we shift to being large aggregations of essentially the same animals. We've run in to this problem before, with bananas as a particular case. However, we already know the solution to that. The answer is that you preserve several cultivars of the species, and intermingle them. We already see this kind of behavior with pets, gardens, zoos, etc. I fail to see why you think we're likely to end up with anything but more of the same kinds of pruning-but-not-completely-destroying-families behavior.
I'm also failing to see why you think we need thousands of kinds of lizards that are all basically the same, rather than a few hundred, and why such a bottle neck is either unnatural (hint: we've hit smaller choke points before) or why it would be particularly dangerous.
Ed: A key word.
Because we are all completely dependent on ecosystem services provided by those species, such as erosion control (without which your country erodes away to desert), rainwater buffering (without which you experience catastrophic flooding), and transpiration (without which you lose almost all inland rainfall).
Loss of individual species is just the symptom. The real problem—and what this article discusses—is wholesale destruction of wilderness.
Don't imagine that just a handful of species can provide these services either. Since ecosystems are complex adaptive systems, a particular species' role is almost always subtle and interconnected. See: the services provided by wolves in Yellowstone, which were never fully understood until they were removed and then re-introduced.
So why is wilderness important? Fundamentally, wilderness is arranged (and so, it functions) in completely different ways than human-tended landscapes. Now it's obvious that a suburb is different from a forest, but what's less obvious is that the way wilderness works is much more efficient. It's not dependent on a constant stream of material extracted from "somewhere else", but on average it produces far more economic value when ecosystem services are accurately accounted for.
Surprise, surprise: economics seems to suggest that those living on a spaceship shouldn't take a sledgehammer to the life support system…
(of course, the ultimate trick would be to design human landscapes that also function like wilderness ecosystems)
The vast majority of the external effects of forests and wildernesses is the effect of a few major species. In nature, those species are supported and interacted with by a complex network of other species. However, this established relationship isn't necessarily optimal for the few species of interest to us.
I find it likely that we're able to cultivate select main species of interest in forests if we set our minds to it, especially considering the large scale agriculture that we already do.
There's simply nothing to suggest that you can't construct an ecosystem with many fewer elements or the elements rearranged to, say, make room for houses, that has the same external effects as other ones. In fact, the success of many environments-in-a-bottle, indoor marijuana production, etc, suggests that we do have the ability to make relatively stable environments in which the necessary components of an ecosystem can thrive.
No one is suggesting that we do something silly like wipe out all the major predators while we let herd animals run free (which is the case with wiping out the wolves in Yellowstone), but rather that we can get away with a lot less moving parts and that we can tune the parts quite a bit to suite our fancy.
The only large scale human dependencies on plants relate to weather, oxygenation, water flow, and soil control. The last two we know we can do with intentionally seeded groves and other such constructs of plants we choose (using a reasonable selection), and don't need to replicate the full array of plants. In terms of oxygen, seeding the oceans with an algae would be far more efficient, but we really only need ferns, which are incredibly efficient at producing oxygen and are relatively hardy plants.
The final complexity is weather, which I must admit I know relatively little about, but am dubious there's any material reason it wouldn't work fine with planned forests.
Again, no one is saying "Fuck it, kill all the things". I just think we can get away with many fewer species - and sometimes who groups of species, where another can reasonably fill its role.
Or are you telling me we couldn't survive with 3,500 kinds of beetle... we really need all 350,000.
Only with the inputs of massive amounts of energy and additives -- fertilizers, pesticides, and cultivation supplied directly by humans (or our machines).
The energy intensity of modern ag is many, many times higher than of natural environmentments. Food production in the US requires ten calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food energy produced, in Europe it's closer to a 5:1 ratio.
A sustainable agricultural system would require that the output energy be greater than the input.
Yes, we do need to get to a point where we are not relying on expendable reserves to run the system. But it certainly is possible that we will engineer a better ecosystem (robot cultivators and solar panels included) that results in a more efficient net benefit for us.
In the former he argues strongly about the mechanisms by which humans have enhanced ag productivity in plants and animals.
Generally, there are the following methods:
Mechanical tillage, breaking up soil to make it easier for plants to grow and spread roots. This also, incidentally, increases topsoil loss to wind and water, such that many farms are effectively "mining" topsoil faster than it's being replaced.
Artificial irrigation. This varies from simply collecting and distributing water via gravity-flow reservoirs and irrigation ditches to transporting water and irrigation pumps and pipes to water mines which, again, deplete a resource faster than it is restored -- as is the case throughout the eastern Plains states in the US, much of China, and especially in the Sahara and Arabian penninsula where water tens of thousands of years old is used to irrigate crops, from underground reserves which aren't being replenished. Water availability itself is becoming a significant concern, with major droughts in the past 5 years disrupting crops in Russia, the United States, China, India, and of course, as is rather chronically the case, Africa.
Fertilizer. Nitrogen, fixed at great energy cost from the air using fossil fuels (mostly natural gas). Phosphorus, which is in extremely limited supply. Potash, rather more abundant, but still with only a century or three of reserves at present rates of use.
Selective breeding. Plants and animals have only so much metabolic budget. By diverting energy away from specific uses, especially immune response, physical activity, and foraging needs, more can be devoted to growth. This works to an extent, but is greatly facilitated by ...
Antibiotics and pesticides to reduce illness and parasites. Fun fact: the first virus identified wasn't a human illness but the tobacco mosaic virus. Antibiotics and pesticides mean that animals and plants need devote less of their own energy to competing in their environment. Unfortuately, both ultimately create resistance, a problem later to both the ag products themselves and quite possibly humans, especially in the case of antibiotics. Moreover, bred cultivars requiring such treatments don't compete where they're not available (similarly for fertilized crops, above).
Mechanical pest reduction. Removal of weeds, or native long-lasting plants which compete for ag lang productivity (e.g., natural plains, tropical rainforest).
Solar panels compete directly with plants for solar energy. At best you want to put them in regions plants cannot grow.
The history of ag enhancement is relatively brief, but it's all been accompanied either by vast investments of energy, or by the application of either materials or technologies themselves requiring or based on vast applications of energy. Even the father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, cautioned that he'd only provided at best a brief respite from hunger.
It's not so long ago that major famines still ruled the world, with major instances in the 19th century (Ireland 1845-52 killing 1.5 million, China 1850-73 with a population drop of 60 million), and 20th (1920s in Russia, 5 million, and China, 3 million, 1930s Ukrain Holdomor, 7-10 million and China, 5 million, and the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-61, 15-43 million). And that's just a set of highlights, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famines
In many cases, 30% of regional populations died (or in some lucky cases, emigrated elsewhere, as in Ireland), in others historically 50-90% of populations were wiped out. I'd suggest you not think this cannot happen again.
I'll also advise you that this is a topic I studied, extensively, in school.
Looking at the relative rates of technical growth and computing power, it's incredibly unlikely that we'll be able to accurately pick out what the future is going to bring.
Examples of technologies that are expected in the next 50-100 years: 3D printable organs which can be transplanted, based on your own stem cells; the first smarter-than-human general purpose AI; fusion power; the ability for bioengineering to be done with a home lab kit. (We're actually at the cusp of the first and last of these now.)
That level of bioengineering, computing prowess, and cheap power will have an incredibly hard to predict effect on issues like food production, ecosystem maintenance, etc.
So which of your warnings are only problematic at 100+ years?
Technology is a function of available energy (Tainter, White, Prigogine), not vice versa.
I find projections of viable sustained fusion nonsense given 62 years of failure to achieve it. Every last single other energy source tapped by humans, sustained nuclear fission included, had previous exemplars occurring on Earth, and was adapted by humans either before history, or (in the case of fission) within a matter of single-digit years of initial attempts.
But enjoy your Panglossian vista.
We have a precious example occurring not on Earth, and within a few decades had figured out how to make large pulses out of it.
Your summary also does a great disservice to the history of using assorted biochemicals as fuel, from various plant and animal oils through initial study in refinements and use of various technologies to aid in their burning.
You can hardly claim, as your statement implied, that we had full mastery of burning hydrocarbons the first time we tried - or that it was anything like when we tried to scale that technology up.
Given 62 years, we have systems with controlled fusion and systems without energy reclaim that are energy positive. A lot of the lack of progress is due to the relatively low level of funding. (The entire cost of fusion research so far is about the same as one stealth bomber.)
I find it unlikely that over doubling the time, with better technology, won't let us solve the capture problem, especially since the facilities of many studies are actually using old technology which we already know how to do better than. (Example: the ignition laser could be purchased in reduced size and with more efficiency for much less than it cost to initially build the laser.)
Your argument seems to largely be "It's complicated to me compared to what I know about these other methods, so can't happen!"
> Technology is a function of available energy (Tainter, White, Prigogine), not vice versa.
This is super unrelated to what we're talking about, because not even you are arguing that we're going to run out of the ability to produce electricity in <100 years.
I have the feeling you didn't read what I wrote.
Humans don't even need animals. It's brutally cruel to enslave, torture, kill and eat animals the way we do. Humanity can be fine on its own.
Regardless of whether or not you like things like, say, hippos, or mosquitoes, or prairie voles, humanity does not need them.
Should we set half the earth aside for wildlife? I think it'd be better used by humans.
Saying "I don't need animals so fuck them" is not a great attitude to have.
Not to mention that we do need plants/trees, and we'd find it difficult to keep them going without the biospheres that they survive in.
Yes... you should unless is someone that you care enough to risk abandon every loved one that you have by dying for a stranger.
I'm an extremelly pragmatic a-hole when we are speaking about eco-nonsense.
We will not change on time. We will destroy the planet. This is fine as we are, acording to Darwin, the current fittest animal in the planet.
So... what's the worst that can happen? We will be extincted by ourselves (carring several "not-good-enough-for-evolution" species with us... but, they weren't good enough so, who cares?)... and this my friend, is also fine.
And to close... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL8HP1WzbDk
"The Planet is fine... we are fd" :)
>if I see you being mugged/raped/beaten, should I just go on my merry way or should I help you?
Please avoid casually triggering rape survivors; 1/4 women has suffered sexual assault and using thought experiments that are triggering without any reason to (mugged/murdered would have sufficed) is a way to exclude women from spaces.
But as to your question, that depends. Do you think anything sentient has some sort of right not to suffer, or do you generally prefer a world without sentient suffering? If so, it'd be morally consistent to help me, and it'd also be morally inconsistent to eat meat or consume animal products in general.
As a vegan myself, I'm generally opposed to actions that perpetuate the suffering of sentient life. However, this only applies, critically, to life which exists. I have no moral obligation to perpetuate a species, because a species is a concept, not an actual thing, and it does not have the ability to suffer.
So, I'd be totally supportive of diffusing birth control for non-human species and just letting them go extinct. I'd honestly rather use that space and resources for humans than animals. I care about humans more and I generally think a world with more humans is more interesting and diverse (information-theoretically) than a world with more animals than humans.
We need oxygen, not trees. Algae makes most oxygen. As a matter of self-preservation I'm okay with algae; we can eat them anyway so it's a useful symbiosis.
Many men (or gender-fluid people) are raped/molested too. Why is your focus so intensely on women when talking about something that should be common all rape-survivors?
Also, first you say:
> I have no moral obligation to perpetuate a species, because a species is a concept, not an actual thing, and it does not have the ability to suffer.
Then you go on to say:
> So, I'd be totally supportive of diffusing birth control for non-human species and just letting them go extinct.
Having no moral obligation towards action (actively supporting a species) doesn't imply the a moral obligation towards the opposite action (actively 'destroying' a species).
Because women are excluded from tech communities more than men.
Try not to make everything about yourself.
One major assumption in your argument is that there wouldn't be unintended consequences.
I think humanity should either stop increasing the population or should place a great emphasis on space colonies. Repurposing earth resources from animals to humans is just delaying the inevitable point where human consumption outstrips resources available.
Don't worry. The 'market' will find a way. Just place your faith^Wtrust in the 'market' and all will be well!
Please avoid insulting people with PTSD by promoting the absurd misappropriation of "triggers".
>1/4 women has suffered sexual assault
That is not true. Repeating made up figures that have been debunked for decades makes it very hard to take you seriously.
In the grand scheme of things, the idea that setting aside "half the planet" will somehow fix, well, anything is really quite a parochial viewpoint. We either won't need to because biodiversity will be getting along just fine, or we'll be setting aside a great deal more than "half"....
To be an existential threat, there have to be less than 5 million humans left (in my mind, at least, and this is probably a really high figure to be 'existential'). This means whatever you propose has to be at least 99.9% deadly.
To put that in perspective, that's three viruses each as deadly as ebola at its worst (~90% deadly) striking humanity one after the other. /That/ would leave ~5-10 million humans alive.
So I'm actually sincerely curious: what do you think is going to happen that will wipe out all of humanity?
Hint: That's 12 to 16 global average temperature increase. Ice age was only 4 degrees colder than now. 12 to 16 creates a desert planet. If I had to bet what brings humanity at least to the brink of extinction, it would be this.
There's basically one way out that's still realistic: Creating a more reflective atmosphere. But we only have one shot at this. I'm afraid that when +4 degrees already create utter chaos from rising sea levels, hurricanes, landslides and the following mass migration, the one shot won't be aimed well - it will be done by politicians pressured by screaming masses.
Where are you getting those numbers from?
However their latest executive summary is here:
"Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today, emissions growth is expected to persist driven by growth in global population and economic activities. Baseline scenarios, those without additional mitigation, result in global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 from 3.7 °C to 4.8 °C com- pared to pre-industrial levels10 (median values; the range is 2.5 °C to 7.8 °C when including climate uncertainty, see Table SPM.1)11 (high confidence). The emission scenarios collected for this assessment represent full radiative forcing including GHGs, tropospheric ozone, aerosols and albedo change. Baseline scenarios (scenarios without explicit additional efforts to constrain emissions) exceed 450 parts per million (ppm) CO2eq by 2030 and reach CO2eq concentration levels between 750 and more than 1300 ppm CO2eq by 2100. This is similar to the range in atmospheric concentration levels between the RCP 6.0 and RCP 8.5 pathways in 2100.12 For comparison, the CO2eq concentration in 2011 is estimated to be 430 ppm (uncertainty range 340 – 520 ppm)13. [6.3, Box TS.6; WGI Figure SPM.5, WGI 8.5, WGI 12.3]"
A lot of our bottle necks occurred at times before we really spread out all over the place.
One possibility: global warming, war, and desperate overexpansion of agriculture causing complete terrestrial desertification.
I'm considerably more worried that a giant space rock is going to come turn my continent in to a pool of molten rock.
Derailing, I think it's also pretty reasonable to worry about events that will only wipe out 99.9% of humanity. Statistically, I'm probably dead in such a case. Probably everyone I know is dead. My back-of-the-envelope calculation says that I probably can't expect more than a fifth cousin to survive if 99.9% of people are dead. I don't even know any of my fifth cousins.
Yonatan Zunger posted an especially pessimisstic bit about global warming in April of 2013. In particular he noted:
_The last big spike like this was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, about 55 million years ago. Average temperatures rose by 6C over a period of 20,000 years -- which is enough to look like a giant, sharp spike on the history-of-the-entire-planet graph...._
_When the biota of a planet get rewritten, the creatures that require the most delicate maintenance die first. This tends to mean really big creatures, that rely on large supplies of their foods; apex predators, which rely on the entire food chain beneath them; and "canary" species like many frogs, which are very sensitive and tend to be the first to die when something is going wrong. Historically, the cutoff for "large creatures" (that tend to not survive extinction events) seems to be in the ballpark of 20 pounds; things bigger than that just require the ecosystem to be too healthy._
IPCC's estimates call for a global rise in temperatures of anywhere from 2-6°C, (3.6 - 10.8 °F). First thing to realize is that this is an average rise. Which means that in some areas (mostly over oceans, with higher albedo and greater thermal mass) it will be lower, and in others (mostly inland regions) it's likely to be much higher. Overland temperatures much over 49°C (about 120°F) are problematic as they tend to rule out much plant life. Above about 65°C (about 150°F), many forms of animal life cannot keep themselves cool, even in the shade. The result would be potentially large areas of land in which life would literally cook to death.
Even if we don't go that far, there are a number of other challenges humans face, all of which tie back to population, resource consumption, and overflowing pollution sinks.
If you think of systems layered on top of one another, you've got the global financial system, global, regional, national, and local economies, governmental systems, social systems, infrastructure, and more, layered on top of ecological, biological, meteorological, oceanographic, and other systems. Disruptions of lower systems will propogate through higher ones.
Disrupt enough human systems and things start to fall apart. The claim by numerous authorities in the Collapse space is that the collapse of Western Civilization isn't something that's going to happen, it's something that's happening, and likely will be for some time. There are definitely global trends which have been pointing downward for some time, many since the 1970s, some from before that.
Both the Arab Spring and the Ebola outbreak are examples people point to. Paul Mason's Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere gives a capsule summary of the dynamic of the wave of global revolutions which started in 2009. The original essay coves the basics:
The Ebola outbreak is being exacerbated by numerous factors -- perversely, both lack of technology and its presence are playing a role. Many people, living close to their limits, with few resources, in crowded conditions, but with access to transportation (both ground and air) have created conditions for the disease and facilitated its spread. Lack of literacy, ineffective communications, and other factors are also at play. Airplanes could transfer the disease around the planet in under a day. Nightmare scenarios have it breaking out, not in New York or London, but in Kolkata, Manilla, Cairo, or Sao Paulo.
The CDC predicts as many as 500,000 cases (of a disease with 70-90% mortality), I've seen projections far above that, though from less credible sources. Much of this depends on how rapidly exponential growth takes off, and when, if ever, inhibitory effects start slowing the spread.
Where things get interesting though, for ... interesting values of interesting, is when you consider the systemic effects of disruption.
In her letter to President Obama, Liberia's President Sirleaf gives one small example of this:
With blanket travel bans, border closures and interactions on vessels berthing at our ports, this has become more than a humanitarian emergency. In a country that has barely emerged from a 30-year period of civil and political unrest, with the presence of a large youthful(mainly unemployed)population, some of whom were child soldiers-this health emergency threatens civil order. What is even more heartbreaking is that we are unable to reopen our basic and secondary health facilities because terrified health workers, who have watched colleagues die, are afraid to return to work.
That is: disease has disrupted transport, which means commerce, which means civil unrest.
At a global scale, breakdowns in one portion of a globalized system (finance, trade, energy, raw materials, gas, water, food) could lead to a domino effect in others. David Korowicz's "Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse" takes a look at this: http://www.feasta.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Trade-Off1....
While it might not reduce the total population to 5 million or fewer, it could well disrupt systems to a level that modern industrialized economies simply could not function. Which might be a pretty big deal in some areas.
Of course, I doubt we will attempt to do so until after the first monoculture collapse, but that is a (relativly) short term catastraphy.
There is no reason to believe that a mass extinction of other species would effect a human extinction.
Even now, with only a few decades of genomics under our belt, we could probably replace every single food source humans currently rely on with genetically engineered algae/fungi/etc.
That is the worst-case scenario for mass extinction caused by habitat shift, and doesn't result in the extinction of humans.
Algae produce oxygen.
>What if we kill off species that are vital to the reproduction of plants?
Whatever simple dependency chains algae may have, we can engineer them away (or maintain them).
>I highly doubt that we're scientifically advanced enough to replace anything we rely on considering we've yet to be able to replace fossil fuels.
You're wrong on both counts. If the demand was there, we could switch to solar power now. We have the production capacity.
The availability of electric generation capacity, and the prices thereof, is a matter of public knowledge. The fact that coal burning is still cheaper than many "renewable" power sources is a contingent if not trivial fact. Any human on a greater than subsistence income who wanted to use only solar power, could.
Of course, asking for proof that we're "prepared for potential cataclysmic situations" is the mother of all goalpost maneuvers.
Consider a nuclear submarine for instance. This facility is capable of remaining totally autonomous during half-a-year (it even produces its own oxygen). It's not too hard to imagine that something similar could protect a fair amount of men and women from basically anything, and for a longer period, if it only is modified to do so.
Consider also this non-exhaustive list of underground bunkers: http://io9.com/the-secret-world-of-underground-bunkers-51160... You could probably store enough food and other resources to survive during decades in these. Certainly enough time to figure out how to eventually survive outside, regardless of what exactly happened there.
And finally, remember that there are already thousands of survivalists all over the world, actively preparing for the end-of-the-world.
What is hard to believe is that a few environmental factors would cause the death of absolutely all human beings on Earth.
It's very difficult to imagine a scenario that would absolutely wipe out all mankind. At least not an environmentalist one. Annalee Lewitz wrote a whole book about it: http://scatteradaptandremember.com/
There are so many unanticipated consequences of the extinction event we are currently slipping into that I think it is pointless to speculate in a sentence or two. The geologic record of past major extinctions (there have probably been many more minor ones) is extremely fragmentary and inconclusive. How fast can species, including ours, adapt to huge change? It is all about mutation and speciation rates. In some ways we have suppressed mutation rates by limiting disease and lengethning life; in other ways we have sped it up with synthetic chemicals and genetic engineering. Who's to say?
I'm not discussing how good or bad life would be if we were to mitigate a severe environmental crisis. I'm discussing whether or not it would provoke human extinction. And to me that seems very much unlikely.
Would a severe environmental crisis be a disaster for Mankind? Sure, I can totally agree with that. But I will object if you say it would cause its extinction.
This change would have dramatic effects on the entire ecosystem, but deoxigination is not one of them.
This sentence says that consuming the biosphere is natural as gas release. This colours a choice as an unavoidable step, and thus justify it. And this kind of logic was used by nations against other (as a side issue, disagree with other opinion is OK, downvote it - no. unless it's a Parimate evolution thing).
You don't even have to see it as a choice. I mean, even if we ignore the present and the future, thus avoiding any kind of moral issues, we can look at the past and see what Homo Sapiens has already done. It did provoke the extinction of a whole bunch of large mammals and insular birds, deforested extremely large areas and many other things. To a large degree, most of the impact of our species on nature is already done, so we should be able to look at it objectively, as if we were talking about an other species (to some extent we are, considering how different we are from say our Mammoth-hunting ancestors). And when we do, we should not let someone say that this was the only extinction to occur because of a biological species, because that is just not true.
You can't pretend to protect nature if you refuse to look at it for what it is.
If someone states that 2+2 = 5, should I shut up and not state that 2+2 = 4 in case some people give this fact some bad moral interpretation?
They can, but they don't. I don't understand your point. The choice you're talking about is being made. It's not because you don't like it that it doesn't exist. In any case what matters is what is actually done, not what could be done in an ideal world.
So to me the impact of methanosarcina on the environment is indeed comparable to the impact of Homo sapiens, in the sense that both are extinctions induced by biotic agents.
So, to be able to think about the world more clearly the "neutral position" is invented. There's no moral, no good or bad, there's just stuff that happens, causes and effects. And from that point of view primate, making nuclear weapons and causing extinction of the species is no different from some bacteria, who filled atmosphere with metane.
But that, again, has nothing to do with what actual author of this thread was saying. So I'm saying it only to point out that your appeal to morality is invalid. And if you'd ask me, I don't want elephants to extinct, but that doesn't make neutral arguments bad. It might be my position that goes against neutral one, but speaking is not really of much value in that case.
The question is what standard of living do we want for species in the long term.
We can always live more comfortably today by consuming non-renewable resources that make our world sustainably enjoyable, but at the loss of the benefit that resource would later give. Slash-and-burn farming does this. As do putting up a mall over untouched land, burning fossil fuels, and overpopulation, for example, all of which do the opposite of setting aside part of the planet.
Business people know the concept better than anyone. They know a company is in trouble if it sells an asset whose operation produces profit to pay for current operations.
We can set off as much of the planet as we like and live in as much abundance per person as the planet can sustain indefinitely, though not as much abundance per person as we can today by consuming non-renewable resources. Using up those resources today only impoverishes future generations.
We can do either. What do we choose?
"A basic principle unites all of the multipolar traps above. In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse."
So, basically we can't choose your former path above because we're stuck in one of these "multipolar traps." I recommend checking out the entire essay. It's long but rewarding.
A minor example of this is the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which have a certain protected legal standing, which has been fairly effective in its goal. Maritime laws and emissions control for large ships is another one where global legal frameworks have worked.
Don't get me wrong, those have to stop. But all current treaties, carbon taxes and unilateral actions have focussed on emissions from trackable sources.
I think the only reliable way to stop emissions is to stop extraction at the source. So far, our global policy appears to be to extract every fossil fuel we can economically extract.
At the other end, debates go on about whether to tax this emission or ban that emission. But there will always be leaks.
Tax one type of emission, and fossil fuels will flow to other sources that aren't taxed. Markets are very good at this. Make it more expensive for a car to burn gasoline, the price of gas falls, and it becomes economical to use gas in some way that wasn't covered in the regulation.
Shut down the oil field and the refinery, and you have an effective solution. An effective solution we are making no efforts to pursue.
You'll know something has changed when the policy is no longer "extract all that can be extracted".
I think you're saying the path of using up non-renewable resources and maximally populating is a Nash equilibrium so stable we can't get out of it, I admit it could be a possibility.
Your framing assumes a fixed supply of non-renewable resources and rough stability in our technology for both extracting and consuming them. Yes we should minimize irreparable harm to the planet, and yes we should obey the precautionary principle, but it would be silly to plan our current consumption of resources as if we will have the same technology in a thousand years.
I don't think humanity is up to the task. This proposal sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel where everyone is a Marty or Mary Sue or some benevolant engineer dictator is running the show. In real life, guys like Putin don't give two shits about life and will march troops on a whim to obtain resources.
How can we citizens of the world figure out a way to if not stop then exterminate this brutal force that has grown out of proportion? Can we do it without human sacrifice, and in a way that does not harm the american people who the US military is "protecting"?
Ninja edit: No I'm not saying a good solution is for the worlds government to wage world war against the US. Just trying to say that there is little difference between Ukraine and Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan, except that the war in Ukraine is a piss in the ocean in comparison to the sins of the American government and military.
The serious me thinks that trying to prevent a mass extinction is noble, and should be widely supported.
To your first point, aren't most species ocean-dwelling?
Indeed, it part if the joke that most people think of elephants and rhinos as animals under threat before they think about the abundance of life on our oceans.
I believe that the highest concentration if species is found in the rainforest though.
A frightening amount of the ocean is completely dead, even before deepwater horizon the gulf of mexico was home to one of the largest dead zones in the world - entire collapsed ecosystems.
For ages we have treated the ocean as our geological /dev/null, tossing all manner of stuff into it that we didn't have a better idea for how to deal with, and that is coming home to roost.
It's pointless to protect the rest of the wildlife without protecting the oceans. Check out Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue:
NOT what the US does with "national forest"... IE it's pseudo wilderness. They let ranchers use it to raise their cattle and lets companies harvest trees and mine it.
As we were leaving, he remarked that this is what happens when your country's forest service is part of the Department of Agriculture (tasked with policy on farming, agriculture, food, and using resources economically) instead of the Department of the Interior (housing the National Park Service and the Fish & Wildlife Service, among others, and tasked with conserving federal land and resources).
It's a real shame that the Forest Service, while doing an okay job maintaining much of the land, is part of a wider branch that is incentivized to promote economic growth and treat resources as things to be used instead of preserved. It just doesn't seem to fit in with that branch of the government.
Borrowing from Wiki:
Land management of (national forests) focuses on conservation, timber harvesting, livestock grazing, watershed protection, wildlife, and recreation. Unlike national parks and other federal lands managed by the National Park Service, extraction of natural resources from national forests is permitted, and in many cases encouraged.
USFS does not exist for pristine preservation of deep wilderness. The goal of the NPS is preservation & low-impact recreation. The goal of the USFS is responsible resource exploitation.
Both goals have their place. We need both organizations. The key then is wise choices in designating the land.
That said, having seen first-hand an example of "low-impact recreation", I felt that the USFS was over-stepping its bounds. There was even a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office on whether or not the USFS should be moved from Agriculture to Interior, the result of which seems to have re-enforced the cultural differences these two departments have had since their founding.
But I'll admit that the case of the RVs and dirt bikes might have been an outlier. I was simply not impressed by what I saw, and I hope that it's not happening much elsewhere in our national forests.
However, a part of me wants to keep the motor enthusiasts around. They obviously cause more damage than I do as a hunter, so while they are tolerated in places I expect I'll also be tolerated.
Before praising that department too much, you might want to visit some BLM land. You might be disappointed. The rule seems to be that locals can do or dump anything they want there, unless it interferes with mineral extraction.
One day I must visit the US and see some of those beautiful and wonderful parks they have :)
Of course, I spend most of my time in the Parks and Wilderness areas.
There are some fantastic Parks here.
They mention them in the article, but not everyone is familiar with them. Wilderness areas are not the same as national parks, though a national park may have wilderness area.
People are generally allowed to hike or ski, but you need a permit to camp and sometimes even a permit just to be there.
Illegal hunting is also an issue too but that won is harder to handle than legal hunting where too many permits are granted (and granted for too small of an area, wiping out a population in that area).
Over-hunting is also a massive problem for fishing (both inland and open water), we're wiping out whole species of fish.
 Home page of http://www.shoedazzle.com/
I think that you just described the tragedy of the commons. Individuals acting in their own self-interest contrary to everyone's long-term best interests by depleting common resources.
If your taxes go up 5% tomorrow, would you work 5% less?
Even Slate, which is hardly a right-wing bastion, concedes that there is an effect (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/20...)
If we subjected you to a 99% tax rate tomorrow, would you work less than before? A yes answer is all that is needed to concede the point theoretically. Then, we're just arguing about magnitude. And I just don't believe you if you answer no: Who is going to work a full-time $50,000 a year job when they're only taking home $500/year?
For further reading, Paul Graham has argued that redistribution through higher tax rates leas to less entrepreneurship (http://www.paulgraham.com/inequality.html)
If I'm making enough to pay for all of my needs and wants after the rate goes up, then I'll probably work less... Because what's the point?
If the difference is whether I can pay rent or not, then I'll probably work more.
The Slate article states that when income tax rate increases, the rich report less income, by fudging their taxes. It says nothing about rich people expending less effort.
I reread your comments (upthread). I imagined you were trotting out the "discouraged rich people" trope. My apologies.
It's rich people who have the most elastic working hours and income.
Currently less than 1% of the ocean is protected.
Greenpeace has been campaigning to set aside a large amount of the ocean as a "marine reserve." http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/...
Crops are grown on private property and the ocean is a shared resource. See tragedy of the commons.
The other problem is that just because something is a shared resource does not mean that it is automatically a lost cause. See tragedy of the commons:
Elinor Ostrom found the tragedy of the commons not as prevalent
or as difficult to solve. She and her coworkers looked at
how real-world communities manage communal resources, such as
fisheries ... and they identified a number of factors conducive
to successful resource management.
If the shared portion of the ocean were to be destroyed (over-fished or polluted) then I dare say that the unshared portion would be, too.
Studies have consistently shown that organisms within marine
reserves tend to grow larger and live longer than individuals
in adjacent unprotected areas. Monitoring results from 89
no-take marine reserves around the world have shown that, on
average, fish density, biomass, size, and diversity all
increased within marine reserves (Halpern 2003, Lester et
al. 2009). This is very important because fish that are larger
and older tend to produce significantly more eggs and larvae
than smaller fish. Also, larvae produced from older fish tend
to have a higher survival rate (Francis et al. 2007) [^1]
For reasons not fully understood, when areas are closed
to fishing, snapper aggregate within them, forming large
resident populations. Spiny rock lobsters (crayfish to New
Zealanders) do the same. Their density inside the reserve is
about 15 times higher than outside. Commercial crayfishermen
have cashed in on the reserves success because the outward
migration of crayfish—a process marine biologists call
spillover—brings the crustaceans to their pots, strategically
placed just outside the boundary. These former skeptics are
now some of the reserves staunchest defenders. They refer to
it as our reserve and act as marine minutemen, reporting
poachers and boundary cheats. ... Reserves where fishing
is banned are now seen as potential stud farms and fish
hatcheries, replenishing the surrounding seas. [^2]
Today I believe there is no way.
The world approaches population stabilization. Japan 's population is going to go down. So is China, Germany, Spain...
As we reduce illness in Africa and increase automation people need less children.
Population will get a peak and then not grow anymore.
If we solve fusion energy we will be able to plant vegetables or plankton underground, in floors, in a much more efficient way, as we will be able to have a stable temperature all day long, with pests controlled without using chemical products, just controlling physically the access, and very near the places they are consumed.
Setting aside half our land is kind of absurd in that it's inevitably going to be undesirable land - look at Canada. The population clings to the boarder, so we preserve the boreal forest, but not the more southern parts.
If we create a grid pattern we either end up with a low general density where wildlife is free to move though our popylation or we end up with isolated areas of ultra high density (eliminating the urban sprawl) surrounded by nature allowing wildlife to freely move around our population.
My example is here in southern Ontario we generally don't see things like bears or wolves. However we can go south into the states to find them or north.
Southern Ontario homes 95% of Ontario's population and 35% of Canada's. Being from England where overpopulation wiped out many of the native species, being in southern Ontario feels the same. We're one of the least populated countries on the planet, but the Greater Toronto Area has an extremely high population density for how large of an area it covers. There literally is no room for anything bigger than a raccoon.
If we started developing rapid transit systems it would reduce the impact of confining urbanization.
It isn't so much what can we do, as what can groups of people be bothered to do collectively and whether anyone else is going to complain.
At some point, the NIMBY mindset comes into play.
We should not worship nature to such a high degree. Yes, we should try to conserve wild areas as a buffer against mistakes and for basic enjoyment. And we are not doing a good enough job of that.
But the assumption is that basically the wild areas have some sacred process or system going on that we cannot possibly ever aspire to understanding or surpassing.
First of all, there is absolutely no separation between the "wild" world and the "human" world. The idea of a natural world that is separate from a human world is an oversimplification that has become misleading.
Everything in the world, including people and the things that we make, from human feces, to plastic trash bags to rocket ships and computers, is the result of the same natural physical laws and processes involved in the universe.
The planet sees itself with billions of eyes. The planet thinks with billions of tiny minds.
The cities, roadways, and agricultural fields that cover increasingly large areas of earth are part of the natural evolution of the planet.
Its hard to really convey especially since we are so far down the line of nature worship, but part of what I am trying to get across is that humans have already surpassed nature in some ways, and if we haven't already done so then we can create environments that do.
I think it will be easier to appreciate this type of thing once we become a multi-planet species. Or at least get a colony on the moon or something.
Because part of the nature worship is the reality that we only have one biosphere to support us. We need to fix that.
But another thing -- this does tie into Malthusian population control, eugenics, classism, etc. There is an inherent disgust for the dirty masses that is hidden behind the earth worship. We have to remember the value of human life.
I think you need to figure out what you're trying to say.
I wouldn't capitalize "nature". We are part of it, we can consciously direct its evolution if we do it in a sophisticated enough way.
We are not separate from nature and we are not inferior to nature.
My point is that instead of sort of shutting down and reverting to feudalism in the face of environmental challenges, we can continue to create a more sophisticated technological system that integrates information about the biosphere and continues to evolve it in new ways. My point is that humanity should not worship untamed wilderness. Rather, we should continue to respect the fragility and complexity of the biosphere, but still recognize our own abilities and shape the universe.
Also: we need to respect other forms of life. Just like I can't kill someone from another family, even if we are unrelated, it is immoral to kill or damage the environment of another species. I can't kill a human from another family, or other country, without being an asshole. That extends not only to other humans, but also to other forms of life.
Almost everything that you said, to a certain degree, is understood as a starting point.
The place where I differ is I believe that now that everyone understands those things that you say, we can use our science and technology to overcome some limitations.
Think about what nuclear power means, especially fusion.
One of the discussions that spurred here in my cubicle was: How? How can we set aside half of the planet for anything other than ourselves? It's impossible! With almost every nation, state or person out there worrying about their piece of land it surely must be impossible.
But not quite.
Use Nuclear Leakage & Irradiation. Like the one that led to the Red Forest in Chernobyl .
'Radiological Reserves' are probably the only way to set aside a large area for animals/plants with a guarantee that humans will not come by. Not in the next 10,000 years!
Eat that! :)
We essentially need to return to a lifestyle that is described by the 'Lark Rise to Candleford' Trilogy, with comparatively recent local communities in 'developed' countries growing their own food, helping each other, making their own entertainment, travelling little, and generally living within the resources of their immediate environment. Such a way of life could be said to reduce our land needs and potentially allow us to set aside half the planet.
Whilst the solution is arguably obvious, with the advocation of mass-consumerism and with many people having a vested interest in the continuous extraction of fossil fuels - that change will always be thwarted.
Water availability is a big one although hopefully we can at least handle some of that with clean energy an desal. The economics don't work yet, but water scarcity seems like something that will not stop for economics.
Agriculture scarcity - HAH. The only reason we have scarcity is because we consume too much meat, especially in the developed world. If we ate less meat, our spaces dedicated to farm land would feed at least an order of magnitude more people per square meter and would use less water in the process.
We are hardly "reaching upper limits on agricultural and water availability". The problem with food is distribution, not production. Water is an issue, but desalination is very possible once the demand reaches sufficient levels.
And your "infantile religion" snipe is a non-sequitur.
Nearly all first world nations have a birth rate insufficient to sustain their populations. It seems that a few generations after people are wealthy enough to ensure their children's survival, they stop having more than 1 or 2 kids.
Many first world nation still have growing populations which is due to 2 causes:
1) Immigration which, because we are talking about global population levels, is another way of saying that developing and third world countries have high birth rates.
2) People are living longer, which unless we solve mortality, is only a temporary factor.
So yes, poor areas have high birth rates. Perhaps those areas will stay poor or keep their high birth rates after becoming wealthy; those are valid points to make, but I think that as those area become less poor their birthrates will drop and thus global population will stabilize.