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Questions for the future of humanity: Can the human race avoid extinction?

If we act wisely, we can become a long-term stabilizing force on Earth.

In order to survive for millions of years, humanity must find ways to protect the Earth. Source: Don Davis.
In order to survive for millions of years, humanity must find ways to protect the Earth. source: Don Davis.

By David Greenspoon, the article is published with the approval of Scientific American Israel and the Ort Israel Network 20.11.2016

  • The Anthropocene, the geological period in which humanity is a dominant force driving global change, has just begun, but it will likely last only as long as we exist.
  • To avoid extinction, we must overcome existential threats such as population growth, resource scarcity, asteroid impacts, climate change, and even the gradual aging of the Sun.
  • If the Anthropocene endures, it could propel our planet into a new fundamental state, the "Spazoic Era" whose length will be measured in billions of years, in which the collective intelligence of our culture will stabilize the Earth's natural systems and expand the biosphere towards new cosmic spaces.

The biggest disagreement between the experts andAnthropocene It is a question of when, exactly, our geological period began, the stamp of which is human influence. As an astrobiologist studying major historical shifts in planetary evolution, I am more interested in another question: when and how will the Anthropocene end?

periods are relatively short periods of time bThe geological time table. The boundaries that separate the longest units of time on a geological scale, the chunks of history called epochs and measured in billions of years, have a much greater meaning. The transformations between the ages left behind a world that changed deep and permanent changes. The earth passed from the hell that reigned in the world in the age ofthe sill, to the relative coolness and silence of the eraan archaic icon under whose wings life developed. During the era ofProterozoic, some of the single-celled creatures created in the previous era became a driving force capable of changing the face of a planet when they flooded the atmosphere with photosynthetic oxygen. This change in atmospheric chemistry poisoned most of the biosphere, but also led to the flourishing of complex, multicellular life, which paved the way for our era: thePhanerozoic.

It is possible that the Anthropocene period is the beginning of another fundamental change. This fifth age can be defined by a revolutionary new type of global change in which cognitive processes – the thoughts, actions and creations of human beings – assume a decisive role in the functioning of our planet. I propose to call this possible new age the Sapiezoic eon, meaning "the age of intelligent life." For the first time in Earth's history, a self-aware geological force is shaping the face of the planet.

However, a geological period becomes an era only if it lasts hundreds of millions of years or more. In order for this to happen - we need to hold out for this time. Can we meet the task?

How do we avoid extinction?

The most pressing challenges facing us in the next hundred years are to stabilize our population and build energy and agricultural systems that can sustain us without destroying natural systems. There is no doubt that we will put behind us the mineral fuel, but the rate at which we do so may determine whether the amount of suffering and migration that the climatic disturbances will bring to the world in the 21st century will be equal to the amount that the 20th century brought with its wars, revolutions and epidemics, or exceed it.

Anthropogenic global warming forces us to recognize that we involuntarily have responsibility on a planetary scale, for better or for worse, but it is not the only large-scale long-term challenge we will face. For example, over the next few hundred years, we will need to build effective defenses against dangerous asteroids and comets. An object much smaller than the rock that wiped out the dinosaurs, which was ten kilometers in diameter, could destroy human culture. Soon we will have a list of most of the dangerous asteroids whose orbit crosses the Earth's orbit. But a dark and dangerous comet can always emerge from the outskirts of the solar system and dash towards us without giving sufficient warning. We must prepare in advance to intercept such trespassers.

On longer scales, tens of thousands of years, we will have to learn how to prevent natural climate changes that can be much more extreme than the current jump in temperatures. Human civilization evolved during what was effectively a 10,000-year summer, a period of several thousand years of unusually warm and stable climate. This situation will not continue - unless we decide to act in a different way. During tens of thousands to many millions of years, the Earth goes through cycles of glaciation and global warming. A new ice age will wipe out most of our agriculture and therefore our culture, and at the same time will also cause the extinction of countless other species. Climate engineering methods that could artificially cool (or warm) our planet could free the Spazoic Era from these devastating climate fluctuations.

Most discussions of climate engineering focus on desperate, short-term fixes for self-inflicted climate woes, but our ignorance of the intricacies of Earth's climate makes these attempts extremely dangerous. The best way to use climate engineering is to see it as a long-term project aimed at the distant future, when we will know much more about the Earth system and when this system will be pushed to the edge, whether due to domestic climate fluctuations, or - further in the future - due to the aging of our sun.

Stars like the Sun get brighter as they age, which means that in a few billion years from now, our oceans will evaporate, just as Venus' oceans did billions of years ago. Fortunately, this is a very distant future. Assuming we manage to overcome the existential threats in the short term, we will have plenty of time to deal with this problem. It is possible that we could in some way renew the days of the sun as before, move the earth into a more distant orbit or cast a partial shadow on our planet. Alternatively, we may decide to migrate to another, younger solar system.

The world is in our hands

If intelligence can materialize as a self-aware geological force here, it is likely that it can also materialize elsewhere. If we look further into the depths of the universe, we may discover that there are three types of worlds: dead, living and intelligent. It is understood that our world may be the only intelligent world in a still and vast cosmos. If this is the case, then not only do our choices shape the well-being of all future life on Earth, they also dictate the fate of all conscious life in the universe. A heavy burden is placed on our shoulders.

Looking at the past strengthens the hope that we can face these challenges. One of the most distinct and earliest characteristics of humanity is our ability to respond to existential threats. We seem to have escaped a genetic bottleneck about 75,000 years ago, when climate change, apparently caused by a "volcanic winter", resulted in the death of most humans. Earlier, between 160,000 and 200,000 years before our time, anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa after a devastating ice age nearly wiped out all those who came before us. The secret of our ancestors' survival was probably our use of language to develop new modes of social cooperation.

Right now we are struggling to make our way through an increasingly explosive anthropocene. However, if we persevere, we can learn how to protect the Earth's almost limitless biosphere. In the long run, we may turn out to be the best thing that happened to the planet we call Earth.

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11 תגובות

  1. Miracles

    I agree with what you wrote, but there is something less happy happening in the world - radicalization. It is true that the percentage of those who come down has decreased over the years, but there is a sharp extremism in their "level of filth". Unfortunately, this is also happening in the USA: today there is a fall of moles that look exactly like the shaved heads in Germany, including full turbans even for little girls. It seems to me that the effect of radicalization is greater than the effect of reducing the number of freckles that fall.

    The brain of those who descend, the fall of Nemusoth is like a temperature - there is a lower barrier, but there is no upper barrier. There is no limit to psychics….

  2. Discharged ink
    I agree with what you wrote, but there is something less happy happening in the world - radicalization. It is true that the percentage of religious people has decreased over the years, but there is a sharp extremism in the "level of religiosity". Unfortunately, this also happens in Judaism: today there are ultra-Orthodox who look exactly like the Taliban, including full coverage even for little girls. It seems to me that the effect of radicalization is greater than the effect of reducing the number of religious people.

    You may be looking at an average, but an average is not something that exists in reality. I guess secular countries, like Australia, England and Northern European countries are becoming more secular. I am sure that religious countries - Arab countries, the USA and Israel are becoming much more religious.

    Religion is like temperature - there is a lower barrier, but there is no upper barrier. There is no limit to psychics….

  3. Yosef, I want to focus on your last sentence: "We give birth to many offspring without control from a religious and demographic motive, we are strengthened by his belief, which weakens our ability to make objective decisions."
    Who are you talking about humanity or half a small nation living in the middle east?
    If you are referring to all of humanity then you are happily wrong in your entire claim in this beautiful sentence.
    1) The birth rate in the world has been in free fall for thirty years and in most of the world the birth rate has fallen to around 2 children per woman. In a large part of the world, the process has already ended, like all of Europe (Eastern and Western) and Southeast Asia, where each woman has an average of 1.5 children, which means that the population is expected to shrink in the long term, and in some parts the process is in full swing, such as in other Arab and Muslim countries, where the birth rate fell in thirty years from 7 to 2.5 children and the trend is For the continuation of the fall when some of these countries like Lebanon and Iran the birth rate is already at a European level of 1.7 children per woman. The European situation is also true for North and South America where the birth rate is a little less than 2, but the trend is for continued decline in fertility.
    2) There has never been such a large percentage of secular people in the world who put scientific truth above religious beliefs. ever And there has never been so much scientific research based on facts and experiments as today and the results are clear scientific and technological progress that is only accelerating. In short, happily, your whole sentence is one big mistake. I don't know where you came to these conclusions, but the facts point to a completely different and much happier reality. I suggest you read a little about demography in the world and secularism and religiosity in the world, especially in the Western world where most of the progress in scientific research and technology in the world takes place (for a simple reason because this culture has adopted scientific research to its core)

  4. Without underestimating the self-esteem that humans attribute to themselves, it is clear to me personally that the purpose of our existence (including all animals and plants) on Earth is to serve and regulate the temperature on the globe's shell. If we were to look at ourselves in the time dimension of the life of the ball itself, then when we cannot fulfill our role, the ball will annihilate us as it has done at least several times in the past. The religious/divine image that humans have created for themselves, the religions, wars and uncontrolled industrialization bring life as we know it to the brink of extinction.

  5. Answer to my father,
    I agree with you that the more long-term the forecast is - the less accurate it is to the point of complete nonsense in ranges of more than a few decades. Regarding the exact repetition of history after a new big bang - it will not happen in the same way since the basis of things are quantum effects which are statistical in essence.
    Besides, it has recently been found that the distance of galaxies is only accelerating. That is - there will not be a collapse and a new big bang, but a long decay of the universe to absolute zero...

  6. Perhaps we will reach the level of being able to save ourselves from catastrophes in the dimensions of the "Earth", and perhaps from a guest in the dimensions of the "solar system" and continue our existence "a little".
    But in the end we won't be able to stop catastrophes of galactic or cosmic dimensions... and then we will become extinct - there is no escaping it.
    In the future, one way or another, the entire universe will disappear or collapse back to its initial state.
    It is possible that with the collapse of the universe with it the time dimension will also stop, and then with the next big bang time will start again.
    And maybe if time stops and repeats itself - the events will repeat themselves just as energetically and again everything will repeat itself just as energetically as before...
    or not.
    To this day, all the forecasters and prophets - from the prophet Ezekiel through Nostradamus to Asimov have given us beautiful forecasts, but just as weather forecasts cannot predict more than three days, the further away the variables increase, and the reliability decreases, the events always surprised and will surprise the forecasts...

  7. Today we hate and fight on the basis of words written in ancient books and some of them by humans (regardless of whether there is/is no God). We exclude women on a non-business basis. It is not a direction of a species that survives for years.
    We give birth to many offspring without control out of a religious and demographic motive, we are strengthened by his belief, which weakens our objective decision-making capacity.

  8. To usher in world peace, we need state leaders at the globe level. Those with wisdom and intelligence, and farsightedness. They will be able to talk to each other and understand each other. (Gorbachev, Clinton, Obama...)
    Unfortunately, at the head of the two leading powers today there are no people. Trump who thinks global warming is a Chinese conspiracy and Putin the macho, unrestrained killer.
    And with such leadership we are in a bad situation.
    The democracies have not been able to find the formula for bringing smart and statesmanlike people to leadership. "Leaders" like Trump, Putin, Hitler. Erdogan and Stalin come to power and behind them ego and paranoia.
    With them, the vision of world peace and cooperation cannot be realized.
    I remember from last year a sad picture in which Obama tries to talk about Putin's heart during one of their meetings. It was easy to see in the body language of the two that there was no communication.

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