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On its own, global warming shouldn't cause the extinction of humanity. It will be disruptive and deadly, sure, but we ought to be able to survive it, just as other humans have survived the collapse of their civilizations.

The problem that I see is in our reaction to the global warming crisis. The current reaction is to deny there's a problem and aggressively reassert our "right" to continue living as we did in the 20th century, and to even ramp up the destruction of our environment and habitat. Denying the realities of global warming and the consequences of our ignorance of natural factors is likely to ensure that many more lives are lost in the coming troubles than is necessary.

Species extinction? Not quite sure about that. But Lovelock's hypothesis seems plausible, at least in terms of overall numbers.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Mon Jun 28th, 2010 at 08:22:55 PM EST
Species extinction isn't the issue. Humans are perfectly capable of devolving to a resilient but not very interesting pre-hunter/gatherer culture.

For most of human history, that's all there was.

The problem is knowledge extinction. It's a huge waste to have learned so much over the last few centuries, and then to throw it away through lack of imagination.

But then I've suggested before that all intelligent species have to pass through a similar bottleneck, when the instincts and low-grade sentient processes that promote individual survival but lack broader context have to be replaced by sentient processes that are aware of the species-wide value and potential of cooperation, context and symbiosis.

For now, this is still the Darwinian Dreamtime - at least for our so-called leaders.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 28th, 2010 at 09:03:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
pre-hunter/gatherer culture ? What is that ?

More seriously, it's entirely possible any outlook on very long term survival would show hunting/gathering as the only viable means of survival, and that can lead to quite interesting culture.

In the past few centuries, a lot of knowledge has been gained, but quite a bit has been lost, too, when it comes to organize how to live together.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misŤres

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 03:39:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
linca:
More seriously, it's entirely possible any outlook on very long term survival would show hunting/gathering as the only viable means of survival, and that can lead to quite interesting culture.

That's been my suspicion for some time as well. The boom-and-bust cycles of human populations ("civilizations") were unknown until the invention of agriculture.

IIRC, the fossil record also indicates that neolithic hunter-gatherers were also healthier than their agricultural contemporaries.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 12:15:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Then again, if the invention of agriculture was in part a response to changing climate conditions and the threat of starvation...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 12:25:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There seem to be multiple explanations. Personally I think population pressure played a greater role than outright starvation...

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 01:23:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wait, so the population bubble pre-existed agriculture?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 02:08:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My assumption is that the hunter-gatherer populations expanded to the limit afforded by that niche, and that agriculture initiated a process whereby that limit expanded (and contracted) dynamically.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 05:32:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A collapse of western 21st century civilization to a hunter-gatherer system means massive die-off of humans. There's never been enough natural food to support our population booms.

A hunter-gatherer-based system presumes a healthy ecosystem that will support the production of edible animals and plants. With accelerating climate change, all bets on the future are off.

We've reached a place where we've poisoned the entire world and entire species are going extinct through our pollution and exploitation.

Even if we humans vanish tomorrow, the CO2 in the atmosphere, the petroleum spills, plastic gyres in the oceans, and so forth will remain. The CO2 will take centuries to mitigate naturally and the plastic doesn't decompose. New life would need to evolve to handle the mess we leave behind.

by Magnifico on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 12:34:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the exclusion zone around Chernobyl proves that the bigger threat to other life from humans is not from pollution but from direct habitat destruction, competition for resources, and direct extermination.

The rate of species extinction might (though we can't be sure) go back to baseline rather quickly as soon as human pressure relaxed.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 12:59:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Holocene extinction - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Holocene extinction is the widespread, ongoing extinction of species during the present Holocene epoch. The large number of extinctions span numerous families of plants and animals including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods; a sizeable fraction of these extinctions are occurring in the rainforests. Between 1500 and 2009, 875 extinctions have been documented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.[1] However, since most extinctions go undocumented, scientists estimate that during the 20th century, between 20,000 and two million species actually became extinct, but the precise total cannot be determined more accurately within the limits of present knowledge. Up to 140,000 species per year (based on Species-area theory)[2] may be the present rate of extinction based upon upper bound estimating.

In broad usage, Holocene extinction includes the notable disappearance of large mammals, known as megafauna, starting 10,000 years ago as humans developed and spread. Such disappearances have normally been considered as either a response to climate change, a result of the proliferation of modern humans, or both; however in 2007 a cometary impact hypothesis was presented, but has not been broadly accepted. These extinctions, occurring near the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary, are sometimes referred to as the Quaternary extinction event or Ice Age extinction. However the Holocene extinction may be regarded as continuing into the 21st century.

There is no general agreement on whether to consider more recent extinctions as a distinct event or merely part of the Quaternary extinction event. Only during these most recent parts of the extinction have plants also suffered large losses. Overall, the Holocene extinction is most significantly characterised by the presence of human-made driving factors and climate change.



By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 01:00:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Magnifico:
A collapse of western 21st century civilization to a hunter-gatherer system means massive die-off of humans. There's never been enough natural food to support our population booms.

A hunter-gatherer-based system presumes a healthy ecosystem that will support the production of edible animals and plants. With accelerating climate change, all bets on the future are off.

I do not think climate change will reach the level of say Venusian climate, mostly from co2 having been really high with plant life and everything here on Earth.

Assuming die-off to hunter-gatherer level of population I would predict that those who survives are predominantly those already living as hunter-gatherers, in particular those that live in (oil-free) deserts and other very inhospitable climates.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 03:51:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My bet would be that the 0.01% of the populations that would survive in such a massive die-off would be local. I don't think existing hunter-gatherer would spread so fast as to reach other parts of the world before the survivors would adapt - which is not that slow either, at least for a basic "survive and hold" form of occupation.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misŤres
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Jun 30th, 2010 at 12:40:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i think very few people in the first world have any idea how little food it takes to stay alive.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jul 1st, 2010 at 07:26:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Spiders (I'm not sure this is all of them) have to liquify their food because emergence placed their brain around their throat. As the brain grew it restricted eating in a rather nasty feedback situation.

A literal bottleneck in one way, but also one that prevents further emergence.

But I agree that our human bottleneck is cultural. Our bodies haven't had much time to further emerge, in only 3000 iterations.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 03:25:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Montereyan:
The current reaction is to deny there's a problem and aggressively reassert our "right" to continue living as we did in the 20th century, and to even ramp up the destruction of our environment and habitat. Denying the realities of global warming and the consequences of our ignorance of natural factors is likely to ensure that many more lives are lost in the coming troubles than is necessary.
The Limits to Growth was published 38 years ago and roundly attacked and then ignored by the serious people. The scenarios in the 1993 updated second edition which avoided collapse required a change in policy direction within 10 years, which patently didn't happen. So, we're screwed. However, extinction is a different proposition altogether.

Three years ago I diaried a report on Spain's ecological footprint: Spain is unsustainable

The report ends with three scenarios for the period to 2020:

  • Scenario A: assumes that the main variables influencing the ecological footprint continue on the current trends.
  • Scenario B: assumes that sustainability targets are substantially met and variables without set targets improve.
  • Scenario C: assumes that targets are exceeded and variables without set targets experience a remarkable improvement.
The results are not encouraging.
  • Scenario A: predicts an economic slowdown in 2010-2015 and a final footprint of 8 ha/person with a deficit of nearly 6 ha/person (capacity would have eroded by 20%, then)
  • Scenario B: manages to keep the 2020 footprint at the 2005 values,
  • Scenario C: the footprint is reduced to 5 ha/person with a deficit of 2.6 ha/person (and a reduction of the biocapacity by about 10%)
Assuming no economic growth, scenario C achieved a reduction to 4.5 ha/person.
So, we know, we've known for a long time, and recent denial of global warming is just one manifestation of a broader cultural/political problem.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 29th, 2010 at 04:00:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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