Jun 29

Human Nature and Extinction

In Brief—According to Bay, humanity and a sizeable portion of our fellow creatures stand a no better than 5% chance of surviving this century. He gives examples of why he has come to this conclusion. You are invited to comment on his conclusions.


 Too Little, Too Late—

Why is extinction facing the inhabitants of Earth? Two words:

“Human Nature.”

Now those readers who have other stuff to do or who simply believe that Bay is just being Bay can get on to that other stuff that’s more important to them. But for those who want to learn more about my reasoning, here’s the longer explanation for my pessimism, or “reality,” as I prefer to call it. Actually, I’m something of an optimist; I give humanity a 5% chance of surviving this century. I‘m not so sanguine about many of our fellow creatures, however.

After years of observation and increasing concern, I started a file labeled “Threat to Earth.” I created it because I was struck by the accounts I was reading that seemed serious enough to warrant further study. I recently reviewed the contents of that file and was amazed that humanity had wrought such egregious damage to the only home we have, planet Earth. Neither God nor science will save our bacon. Why? Two words:

Human Nature.

Here’s a summation of some of what I find in the “Threat to Earth” file.

  •  The Poles are melting. Rivers are drying up. Crops are shriveling. Species are disappearing. Oceans are rising. Island nations are threatened. Whole populations are seeing their way of life disappear. World conferences end in stalemate. Years of warnings by experts and scientific organizations are ignored.
  • Science shows that humans are governed by two impulses: emotions and rational risk analysis. Of those, the strongest is emotions. The latter, the human ability to weigh the relative risks, gives us the ability to make judgments regarding such relatively easy matters as auto safety and life expectancy. But when it comes to once unpredictable weather patterns and longer-term matters like ocean rises and overfishing, our emotions, anti-science bias and financial interests kick in.
  •  The planet’s human population is increasing from today’s almost seven billion to a predicted nine to ten billion by mid-century. Some concerned experts say the carrying capacity (ability to support the population) of Earth is just two billion—less than half of today’s population—while optimists say Earth can support as many as forty billion inhabitants.
  •  In 2009, Scientific American reported that Earth’s food supply was failing to expand sufficiently thereby threatening many with starvation. Still others warned of the diminishing of plant diversity brought about by monoculture, that is, by the more profitable planting of just one type of vegetation, e.g., palm oil trees or soy beans, among other reasons.
  •  Weather extremes are more frequent. Hurricanes are bigger. Temperatures all over the world are increasing at a faster rate than predicted causing crops to shrivel from lack of moisture, winter storms arrive earlier and are colder, rain in some locales falls in greater amounts leading to flooding, some rivers and lakes are shrinking to dangerous levels, underground aquifers are falling as expanding communities and farms demand more water than is produced by changing weather patterns. What underground water that isn’t disappearing is being polluted.
  •  Species unable to adapt to the climate change are shrinking to endangered levels. Modern technological giants like Monsanto produce chemicals that eradicate weeds but threaten migrating species of birds and insects like the Monarch butterfly or the bees necessary to pollinate many of our foodstuffs.
  •  Oceans are rising, becoming warmer and are heavily polluted by plastics, heavy metals and nuclear runoff. Intelligent species like dolphins are unexplainably dying and their meat, eaten by humans, is tainted with mercury. Whales are hunted to near extinction for food under the pretense that they must be killed for scientific purposes. Island nations like Tuvalu and the Seychelles complain that rising oceans are threatening their centuries-old civilizations.
  •  Nearly half of the planet’s coral reefs, the breeding grounds for 25% of the ocean’s species, are already dead or dying from acidification and oceanic warming. Carbon dioxide, which is higher than it has been in over three million years, is acidifying the ocean even as it warms Earth’s atmosphere.
  •  Politicians dawdle or are ignorant of the implications of the abundant evidence of unprecedented climate change. Fundamentalist religion, anti-science bias and pecuniary self-interest in the United States bears a large responsibility for the danger that threatens the world. If America were to throw its long-overdue weight behind an effective effort at dealing with climate change, China and the rest of the world’s nations would join in the effort for fear of being left behind. The likelihood of that happening, however, is vanishingly slim.

These are just a few of the items in my “Threat to Earth” file, but they are more than enough to lead me to believe that humanity and a goodly number of our fellow species have a no better than a 5% chance of surviving this century. And I have not even discussed the displacement of human populations that are rightly expected to result in conflicts with more established populations.

As much as I admire the scientific community, not only are they battling a well entrenched anti-science bias that has dominated America for too long, they are arriving too late to head off extinction. Neither will God come to the rescue. The universe will continue on its way without us, unaware that humanity ever existed.

I will not live long enough to witness the outcome of my prediction, but our grandchildren will. My guess is that the living will envy the dead. If you disagree with my views, by all means tell me, and why. I will give you facts that may change your mind and you might change mine, but let me hear from you.

A Reading Assignment—

By the way, I recommend you read The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert for a picture of the damage humans have caused and are causing. I consider that book one of the most important books ever written.


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  1. Well….Mr. Bay…. isn’t this a charming little piece…. 😉
    Your observations of the fate that this planet may be facing are well documented, despite the fact that folks who could be leading the fight against all these preventable issues have their heads either in the sand or up their own asses. It’s easier for me to envision the latter, so I’ll go with that.
    Allow me to offer this scenario, however, based only on my own gut feeling and very little real science.
    Humans are very adaptable creatures and have, during their long habitation of the planet Earth, adapted to broad and brutal climate changes. Also I prefer to believe that the planet will be forced to, as water does, seek it’s own level, so to speak. That is to say, as populations grow and their ability to produce adequate food falls behind, people will not be able to survive. Populations will drop and level off when the supplies of food and water are adequate to sustain them at a finite level. This is happening already.
    Wars and conflicts, possibly over diminishing food and water, will also reduce populations, as will disease when the growth of Third World nations especially, out-pace their ability to provide proper health care. This is happening already as well.
    One must remember that the catastrophic event about which you speak will not just happen on a given day in the near future. But rather, will take place over a long period of time allowing humans and some animals to adapt to some degree, as our very ancient ancestors did. Perhaps adapting to a degree that will allow them more time on the planet.
    I think that your estimation of “a 5% chance of not surviving this century” may be a bit extreme. 76 years is not long enough, in my estimation, to end life as we know it. But, the earth IS circling the drain, no question. Perhaps the rate of decline will accelerate as one system fails and causes the next to faultier, and so on. But I believe that will take longer than 76 years in any case.
    But, I will say this; I’m glad that I have lived on this Earth during the times that I have….polio, threat of nuclear annihilation, stupid wars, AIDS, senseless criminal acts, and the collapse of Democracy as we know it notwithstanding.
    I’ll be exiting this mortal coil in a few years and it won’t be a minute too soon. Whether I agree with your approaching ‘end times’ estimation or not is beside the point. The point is, that if it all keeps going as it is, with seeming human indifference to the facts, governments inability to come to a consensus, and runaway corporate greed, this planet will not be a fun place to live on in a relatively short time I fear.
    So, while the time line may be Debaytable, the outcome will be the same.
    It was fun while it lasted!

      • Don Bay on June 29, 2014 at 13:32

      Wow! Your comment is considerably more than I expected, but largely parallels my own thinking. As I have said, I still have that optimistic 5% view that mankind may survive, but the evidence today is certainly scary.

      You state that mankind is adaptable. While that may appear to be the case to a limited degree, the research shows that human adaptability is really quite limited. I invite readers to check that out for themselves. The evidence on which I make my pessimistic gut estimate is not based on adaptability but on the conditions we find ourselves having to deal with today.

      About two years ago, I read a couple of books by Jared Diamond and Joseph Tainter on the collapse of civilizations at different times and in different places. The collapses did not result in the total extirpation of the populace but did result in thinning, movement to other areas and reduced physical circumstances. Mankind survived. The difference today, however, is not local, it is global and the population is considerably greater. My collection of data is global, not local as in earlier civilizations. The data I have collected is very real and very scary.

      I have my fingers crossed that mankind will get its act together in time, but as said, I am not sanguine about many of our fellow creatures. You and I will not be around to see if my prediction will come to pass, so my pessimism may be all wet. Let’s keep those fingers crossed.

      1. Thank you for being kind enough NOT point out my math error.
        86 years not 76 to centuries end…..but still too short a period of time in my opinion to render the planet barren.

          • Don Bay on June 30, 2014 at 13:34

          Your point was well made despite being off ten years until the turn of the century. Besides, I didn’t even notice the error. Regardless, it could be that my pessimism wants events to happen faster than history tells us they will happen. Your point, and Jim’s, is that the year 2200 is not long enough for the depredations of global climate change to play out. Fingers crossed that mankind awakens to the threat in time to head off the worst. We all need to make our own efforts to stem what now appears to be inevitable. Let’s do what we can.

  2. I agree with both Dave’s and Don’s responses to a large degree. There is no doubt in my mind that the game is up, but along with Dave I think there is a possibility that scattered populations may find ways to survive for awhile. Having read some “after the bombs” kind of books where a few survive I think there is some hope there. Rising seas, etc. alone will not kill all of us off as long as there is enough oxygen and survivable temperatures. People do live where the temperature reaches 50 degrees + Celsius. This assumes that we have not passed the point of no return and temperatures will not rise to unsurvivable levels. If those scientists are right who say that we have passed that point, then we are all dead.

    My other comment refers to the nature of human nature, and here I believe the pecuniary interest issue is far more important than anti-science and fundamentalist religion, though the latter two are factors. Only the pecuniary interest of greedy corporations has a major impact on climate change. It only requires changes in corporate behavior, or the courage of governments to rein them in to change the game. I think there is little hope here, but courage on the part of governments could still slow the process if not turn it around. Again, see the final two sentences of the previous paragraph.

      • Don Bay on June 30, 2014 at 13:16

      You make a good point, as did Dave, when you say that it’s unlikely that mankind will be wiped out. I tend to agree but must add that I believe that science and technology will largely be absent and that most effort will be put into simply surviving. Your experience in Africa allows you to see certain benefits in small, isolated communities that do with much less than fully developed nations of comparably pampered citizens. Besides, I am a pessimistic person who reads too much.

      As for the rich folk and the wealthy corner office inhabitants, until they can figure out a way to profit from global climate change—and they wii at some point—mankind and a goodly number of our fellow creatures are cooked geese.

      I haven’t even mentioned viruses evolving quickly and overcoming the attempts of science to come up with cures quickly enough. That’s happening even as I write this. Add that to to my small collection of bad news and matters look even worse.

      Once again, we come to human nature. We humans have a strong tendency to keep on doing what we’ve spent lifetimes doing. It’s easy to think that my efforts are not enough to counteract the billions who make no effort or who haven’t even gotten the relevant information. How do we get everybody to realize that their effort, no matter how small it may seem, is important, too? And governments? Look no further than the American Congress, the Harper government in Canada, the Maliki government in Iraq, the Israeli government and so on. Is there a chance that they can be turned from their present path? I have often said, If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. But we have to try. Failure to take even a small step will doom us all.

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