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The Biggest Problem of All: The End of the World is Coming?

November 5, 2012 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Protection of Species, Daily Email Recap

The article below was written by Piero Scaruffi, a cultural historian and blogger who made a career in the software industry of Silicon Valley, where he directed an Artificial Intelligence Center. Visiting scholarships at Harvard and Stanford in Cognitive Science and lecturing at UC Berkeley resulted in him writing the book “The Nature of Consciousness” (2006).

The Biggest Problem of All: The End of the World is Coming?
See: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/6602

Paul Ehrlich recently gave a talk that listed eight major catastrophic environmental problems that are coming sooner than even pessimists predict… should we create a “culture of panic”?

Paul Ehrlich gave a talk at Stanford titled “Can a Collapse be Avoided”? Ehrlich is a biologist but his interests spread to Economics and Technology as well. The “collapse” of his talk is the catastrophe that, according to most climate scientists, is rapidly approaching. He listed eight major environmental problems and briefly discussed each. Some of them need to introduction (extinction of species, climate change, pollution) but others are no less catastrophic even though less advertised.

For example, global toxification: we filled the planet with toxic substances, and therefore the odds that some of them interact/combine in some deadly chemical experiment never tried before are increasing exponentially every year. There is no known way to fix something like that. We know how to fix pollution and carbon emissions and so forth (if we wanted to), but science would not know how to deal with a chemical reaction triggered by the combination of toxic substances in the soil. The highlight of the talk for me was the emphasis on “non-linearity”. Many scientists point out the various ways in which humans are hurting our ecosystem, but few single out the fact that some of these ways may combine and become something that is more lethal than the sum of its parts.

Another interesting point that is not widely recognized is that the next addition of one billion people to the population of the planet will have a much bigger impact on the planet than the previous one billion. The reason is that human civilizations already used up all the cheap, rich and ubiquitous resources. Naturally enough, humans started with the cheap, rich and ubiquitous ones, whether forests or oil wells. A huge amount of resources is still left, but those will be much more difficult to harness. For example, oil wells have to be much deeper than they used to. Therefore one liter of gasoline today does not equal one liter of gasoline a century from now: a century from now they will have to do a lot more work to get that liter of gasoline. That was the second key point that struck me: it is not only that some resources are being depleted, but even the resources that will be left are, by definition, those that are difficult to extract and use (a classic case of diminishing margin of return).

The bottom line of these arguments is that the collapse is not only coming, but the combination of the eight factors plus the internal combinations in each of them make it likely that it is coming even sooner than pessimists predict.

To read the full article, please click here: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/6602


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