Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

The Legacy of a Star

I like Stephen Hawking, but someone needs to have a little chat with him because today’s comments are simply ridiculous. In fact, his comments make me wonder why humans won’t do the right thing for a change, by doing what is necessary now to avert disaster on earth, our only home, instead of following Hawking’s suggestion to evacuate the planet? It disgusts me to know that some people — yes, even scientists, who should know better! — think it is acceptable behavior to abandon earth after we have finished trashing the place, rather than changing our behavior to prevent things from worsening and also trying to fix the mess that we created — just as our mommies wanted us to do when we were wee brats.


According to Hawking’s scenario, I envision humans as the rats of the universe; filthy, violent, rapacious, traveling from one planet to another just as rats hitchhiked on ships from one oceanic island to another, destroying everything until the last habitable island (planet) within reach has been ruined. Is that the sort of legacy that we, as a species, want to be known for? At least rats did not actively plan out their next conquest, as humans seem to be doing.

I think Hawking’s idea is absolutely stupid!

Further, besides being the right thing to do, it would be a lot cheaper to change our ways and would also save millions of deserving animals and plants (which have unwisely shared their home with us — I’ll bet the predatory animals out there are wondering why they didn’t eat all our ancestors when they had the chance).

[Image: NASA (Apollo 17). Click the image itself for a reasonably sized version, or click “image” link and you can get a monstrously huge version of the earth picture of Africa for your desktop!]

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Comments

  1. #1 river2sea72
    June 14, 2006

    Guess he never read The Wump World by Bill Peet.

  2. #2 Joshua
    June 14, 2006

    I don’t think that Hawkings is completely stupid in what he said. After all, Earth is doomed; once the sun expands further, earth will be toast. I think the only way for our species to avoid being toasted is to find another home. Yes, we have trashed the planet, but our need to move out is of reasons beyond our control. What if a mamoth asteroid collides with out planet?

  3. #3 ArmchairAnarchist
    June 14, 2006

    I take your point, but I think you may be over-contextualising slightly. At no point does the article mention him saying we should abandon Earth, though he does suggest moving out beyond it.

    I reached my creedo of ‘human race off-planet NOW’ a few years ago, and some of my arguments for the idea are the same as Hawking’s. But another one of them is that it will be a whole lot easier to fix the problems we have created on Earth by unburdening it of ourselves and working on it from the outside (except maybe a small cadre of custodians/wardens, perhaps).

    And therein lies a point that I think Hawking has realised. In addition to climate change, there is another timebomb ticking for the human race – and that is the population bomb. Very few politicians, pundits and scientists seem willing to come out and say that, unless we curtail population growth massively and soon, getting off the planet will become an even greater imperative for survival than it is now.

    Mentioning population control is never popular (as no one wants to be told they are having a basic biological freedom encroached upon), but any realistic look at scenarios of the next few hundred years of humanity must take it into account, and the debate over its necessity (and on potential methods for convincing people of the common sense logic of us all breeding less) must be brought center-stage very soon.

    Whoa, side-rant. Back to your original point; I think Hawking has definitely stepped out of his jurisdiction, and I can understand your upset at the implications of what he suggests. But I think we should be glad that a respected and media-popular scientist has the guts to come out in public and make bold and un-rosy speculations regarding the future of the planet and the human race. I know very few people listen to me (or other futurists) when I talk about the need for the way we live to change – if they’ll listen when Hawking speaks, that’s got to be something to be thankful for. Even if he is painting a little too dark and space-opera!

  4. #4 GrrlScientist
    June 14, 2006

    so .. we can’t be bothered to spend the time, effort and money to fix the mess that we made NOW, while it is still affordable, and to curb our destructive behaviors, but we CAN afford to move the entire human race — every single one of us, from the most geniusy of geniuses to the stinkiest of the homeless — off the planet so we can fix things while living somewhere else .. yeah, right, think again!

    don’t you think there will be some sort of grossly unfair method for choosing who is worthy of relocation and who is not? don’t you think that those who relocate will be filthy-rich while the rest of us schlubs will simply be abandoned to wallow and suffer in the mess that was created by ALL of us — especially, disproportionately, by the RICHE$T of us. yeah, i thought so: egalitarianism went out the window long ago, this fictional relocation will just formalize this for all to see.

  5. #5 Thomas Palm
    June 14, 2006

    Hawking seems to have missed that there is nothing we can do, global warming or total nuclear war, that still won’t leave the Earth far more hospitable than any other place in the solar system. If we can’t live here there is no chance we will be able to survive anywhere else!

    Trying to make a self sufficient base on Mars might be a good way of driving that point home, and some of the technology might be useful on Earth, but that’s about it. Saving on resources, recycling and avoiding polluting air and water would be essential when you don’t have what appear to be an infinite supply as here on Earth. Guth has a good point, however, in noting that you building under Antarctica would be a lot cheaper and easier, and still give the same practice. Or we could build on the ocean floor. Or we could just choose to be a bit smarter in using the land we already have…

  6. #6 dave42
    June 14, 2006

    he sys noting about trashing the Earth or abandoning it. he is only pointing out the fact that the Earth could be destroyed by any one of a number of natural disasters, of which Humanity is only one, and at any time, so therefore we need to keep our eggs in more than one basket. Space is the only place to do that.

    I don’t know why there are so many people who think it is a waste to spend on Space research and exploration. After all, that money is not actualy going into space, it is going into scientists’, engineers’, and contractors’ pockets here ion Earth, and from there out into the general economy. Nor is it really that expensive – about two weeks of Iraq per year is the budget. And every time we mount one of these efforts we learn stuff that spins out benefits for us all. We would not be having this conversation had it not been for space research.

  7. #7 GrrlScientist
    June 14, 2006

    don’t misinterpret my comments; i have no problem with astronomy nor “space research”.

  8. #8 Tabor
    June 14, 2006

    Come on guys…I CANNOT move again. I am getting all this new furniture to fit with the new floorplan…We all know that everyone has super modern furniture on ‘Fartha’ and they only go with the color purple.

  9. #9 ArmchairAnarchist
    June 14, 2006

    don’t you think there will be some sort of grossly unfair method for choosing who is worthy of relocation and who is not? don’t you think that those who relocate will be filthy-rich while the rest of us schlubs will simply be abandoned to wallow and suffer in the mess that was created by ALL of us — especially, disproportionately, by the RICHE$T of us. yeah, i thought so: egalitarianism went out the window long ago, this fictional relocation will just formalize this for all to see.

    On the contrary, the rich would be the last to leave; a space-based life would be no picnic, and the rich love their luxuries as much as they hate change.

    In a way, we’re arguing two polar extremes of the same viewpoint, namely that the planet needs saving, and fast. I think space would rapidly become the new ‘new frontier’, attracting the poor and the risk-takers and ideas-people before the lazy and comfortable, much as the Wild West once did. Of course, my scenario assumes the development of some cheap non-rocketry route to orbit like the space elevator, and is also admittedly constrained by the fact it would require the entire planet to start working together, instead of arguing over who’s to blame for the mess we’re in as it steadily gets worse.

    But to be honest, your ‘stick it out and fix it here’ idea suffers from the latter problem too, and doesn’t deal with the increasing problems that a captive and growing population squabbling for diminishing resources will cause. No one will be thinking ecologically when they’ve not had a decent meal for three days…which may, of course, lead to a solution to the problem of the rich that Marx would find most satisfying! (And no, I’m not an advocate of violent revolution or killing the rich, just speculating like the science fiction geek I am.)

    PS I hope you’ve not taken this personally; I respect you as a writer and as a scientist (neither of which I can lay claim to being), and I’d hate to think I had offended you with my views.

    Good debate old Hawking has kicked off though, eh? ;)

  10. #10 theRidger
    June 14, 2006

    Hawking seems to have missed that there is nothing we can do, global warming or total nuclear war, that still won’t leave the Earth far more hospitable than any other place in the solar system. If we can’t live here there is no chance we will be able to survive anywhere else!

    ummm… no. He didn’t.

    “We won’t find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we go to another star system,” added Hawking

    I didn’t read his comments as advocating trashing Earth and moving everyone somewhere else, either. I read them as advocating a “get your eggs into several baskets” idea.

    Nothing about being the rats of the galaxy…

    It’s just us. What we do. We go out there.

    I’m not in favor of giving up on (I can’t resist) Earth-that-was, but I get excited at the thought of going Out.

  11. #11 GrrlScientist
    June 14, 2006

    it is one thing to “go out there” and to explore, but it is completely another to put our eggs in several baskets. it is my opinion that if we, as a species, cannot take care of what we already have, then we don’t deserve to have a second planet to wreck, nor do we deserve to put our eggs into more than one basket.

  12. #12 Vincent Noel
    June 15, 2006

    Joshua:
    > After all, Earth is doomed; once the sun expands further, earth will be toast.
    Well, if we pursue this line of thinking, the solar system is doomed, the galaxy is doomed, the universe is doomed. What’s the point of delaying the inevitable ? ;-)
    All of this stuff will happen in billions of years though. Inter-stellar travel, save for a revolution in physics, will also happen (if at all) well beyond our life-time, and that of our grand-grand-grand-children.
    I’m with grrlscientist on this one: considering the time constraints, a better use of our resources here on Earth seems like the practical thing to do.

  13. #13 Jose
    June 15, 2006

    I think the bone of contention is rather one sided. I don’t see how or why manking expanding his civilization into space would somehow entail the destruction of earth.

    We can expand our civilization out into space *and* safeguard the environment. The resources we expend in space science and travel is actually quite insignifigant in the grander scheme of things. If you want an environmental villain to rally against than the manned space program.

  14. #14 Alex
    June 15, 2006

    @AA: Population is a solved problem. In essentially all developed societies, everyone’s worrying about not having enough people. China is slated to go through a whopper of a demographic transition in the next few years.

    Even the poorest countries are seeing rising median age. I can’t work out why the sustainability types and the demographics types don’t seem to interwork at all..

  15. #15 island
    June 15, 2006

    What an arrogant bunch both sides are…

    It is a well established fact that ecosystems are self-regulating, so you’d have to prove that humans are greater than any other contributing member of the ecosystem that we **belong to** before you assume that we can possibly ever truly violate the ecobalance. Evobiologists are quick to point out how insignificant humans are when compared to other critters, like, bacteria… or rats… so now is your chance to prove that you walk the walk.

    yeah.right.

    Like sqirrils that instinctively bury nuts for the winter, there is no precedence that indicates that our tendency to warm the climate, etc… isn’t a higher manifestation of this survival instinct.

    Only human arrogance can enable that kind of unfounded leap of brain-dead faith…

  16. #16 island
    June 15, 2006

    > After all, Earth is doomed; once the sun expands further, earth will be toast.

    Well, if we pursue this line of thinking, the solar system is doomed, the galaxy is doomed, the universe is doomed. What’s the point of delaying the inevitable ? ;-)

    With logic like that, you’re welcome to help yourself to the rat poisoning under the sink… ;)

  17. #17 island
    June 15, 2006

    > After all, Earth is doomed; once the sun expands further, earth will be toast.

    Well, if we pursue this line of thinking, the solar system is doomed, the galaxy is doomed, the universe is doomed. What’s the point of delaying the inevitable ? ;-)

    With logic like that, you’re welcome to help yourself to the rat poisoning under the sink… ;)

  18. #18 CaptainMike
    June 15, 2006

    I definitely think we should try to minimize our impact on our home planet, but I also think we should expand into space. Our only other choice is extinction.

    Planets are a nice place to grow up on, but they simply aren’t a good proposition for anythign long term. Oort Cloud, here I come!

  19. #19 CaptainMike
    June 15, 2006

    I probably should have finished reading the other comments before I jumped in with my earlier post, because now I have read them and I have more to say.

    “it is my opinion that if we, as a species, cannot take care of what we already have, then we don’t deserve to have a second planet to wreck, nor do we deserve to put our eggs into more than one basket.” – Grrl Scientist.

    The term “we, as a species” sounds to me to be very similiar to “we, as a society.” Both terms refer to something that does not exist.

    I don’t like being lumped in with the people who believe the Earth is something to be used and abused for pleasure or profit. Trying to save our species from extinction has nothing to do with whether we “deserve” it or not. Giant rocks from space and/or periods of massive vulcanism don’t know or care whether we live or die. But I do.

  20. #20 Thomas Palm
    June 15, 2006

    theRidger, Hawkings said that he didn’t expect us to find anything as nice as the earth is now, but the claim that we need to start colonies elsewhere to survive implies that there might be something that would make Earth more impossible to live on than other planets like Mars. Hawking’s claim that life could be wiped out by global warming is ludicrous. I just have trouble imagining a problem that would out humanity on Earth while leaving a Mars colony intact and that couldn’t be avoided a lot simpler than sending people to Mars.

    dave42, there is nothing wrong with space research, but compare the Hubble telescope or Mars explorer with ISS, which has given the most scientific results for the dollars spent? It is very hard to justify sending people permanently into space for scientific reasons.

  21. #21 uni verse
    June 15, 2006

    If we think about the technology (read -bombs) we will have 200 years from now its obvious we need to spread out to survive as a race. This doesn’t mean its better than saving our planet, its just a hard fact.

  22. #22 jason
    June 15, 2006

    I just want to know if anyone leaves home to go to work while there is still laundry to do, dishes to clean, carpets to vacuum, and other “necessary” activities left undone.

    You see, we need not ignore what is for what could be; we absolutely must not betray advancement in scientific knowledge and human advancement based solely on the premise that there remain tasks unaddressed at home.

    Hawking never advocated a “cut and run” approach to human longevity; he didn’t say “we made a mess here so let’s get the hell out of Dodge”. What he did advocate is the heretofore declared truth of knowledge: We must betray the Earth-centric approach to advancement if we are ever to survive and get beyond our own tired little corner of the universe.

    Based on the “there’s more to do here” mentality and “Hawking’s idea is stupid” approach, here’s what you’re advocating:
    – Stop all research and investigation into diseases; choose one and focus on that until it’s resolved; until then, ignore every other possibility and idea.
    – Never expand your investigation and quest for knowledge beyond what you have identified and observed.
    – Ignore the possibility of extraterrestrial threats and consider only those for which we as humans can claim responsibility and might possibly rectify.
    – Declare as ignorant and “stupid” any idea which could advance our understanding of the cosmos.

    Our understanding of the universe can only benefit from such offworld colonization. The survival of our species can only benefit from offworld colonization. Our scientific knowledge can only grow from offworld colonization. Our attempts to better the situation here on Earth can only benefit from offworld colonization.

    I see the promise. I don’t see the problem.

  23. #23 dzd
    June 15, 2006

    growing population squabbling

    Are you a time traveler who came here from 1970 or something? The population bomb is as discredited as global cooling, and population growth rates throughout the first world (hint: that’s the rich people) are dropping. Parts of Europe and Japan already have negative population growth. Why do you think Europeans are so terrified of being overrun by Muslim immigrants?

    The best way to curb population growth is to raise standards of living worldwide. Period.

  24. #24 John
    June 15, 2006

    This is all fantasy. We are not going anywhere. We may, at great expense, send a few professional adventurers to Mars for a few months, but that’s about it. Any move off the planet is so far in the future that our contemporary problems will no longer matter.

    Nor can we imagine any solution to the earth’s problems that involves removing ourselves from the picture. There will be billions of us here for as far in the future as we can see.

    The earth is our only home, now and for a very, very long time.

  25. #25 Belathor
    June 16, 2006

    Are you a time traveler who came here from 1970 or something? The population bomb is as discredited as global cooling, and population growth rates throughout the first world (hint: that’s the rich people) are dropping. Parts of Europe and Japan already have negative population growth. Why do you think Europeans are so terrified of being overrun by Muslim immigrants?

    Last time I checked, Global population is still expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. Just because the developed world isn’t producing babies is not a very good reason to say population growth isn’t a problem. Europe + Canada + United States is roughly 1,030,000,000 people ~300,000,000US, 30,000,000CA, 700,000,000EU). That’s less than 1/6 the population of humans on the planet. And as you said, that is decreasing, but the forecast for population growth is the same. Either those census people are complete dimwits, or they have taken declining developed world populations into account.

  26. #26 Belathor
    June 16, 2006

    alex says:

    “Even the poorest countries are seeing rising median age. I can’t work out why the sustainability types and the demographics types don’t seem to interwork at all.”

    > If you have any links that could back this up, I’d like to see them. I am interested in seeing data on this as I haven’t been able to find any so far.

    Thanks!

  27. #27 Belathor
    June 16, 2006

    “Well, if we pursue this line of thinking, the solar system is doomed, the galaxy is doomed, the universe is doomed. What’s the point of delaying the inevitable ? ;-)”

    In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, they constructed planets… in 2,000,000,000 years life might figure out how to construct universes. (-;

  28. #28 pjw
    June 16, 2006

    >it is one thing to “go out there” and to explore, but it is completely another to put our eggs in several baskets. it is my opinion that if we, as a species, cannot take care of what we already have, then we don’t deserve to have a second planet to wreck, nor do we deserve to put our eggs into more than one basket.

    Posted by: GrrlScientist
    >
    Only life and in particular intelligent life can talk about worth or merit. Our existence is worth preserving simply because as of yet we are unique in the know universe.

    Humanity is currently the only species which holds hope of transporting life off planet. Not only would this help ensure our own long term survival but also that of many animal and plant species that you are concerned with. Perhaps more importantly it allows for future species intelligence or not to exist and evolve.

    If humanity has a misconceived notion of its own uniqueness, our intelligence, and more importantly or worthiness to exist then I am sure that will pointed out one way or another by our galactic neighbors.

    Until then however, earth is a limited resource no matter how well we conserve and it is foolish to let our continued existence depend on when the next extinction level event occurs.

  29. #29 TokyoTom
    June 16, 2006

    Hawking is right that at some point it makes sense to start putting our eggs in different baskets, but moving outside of the Earth’s gravity well and trying to maintain a fingernail hold in the convenient but clearly hostile extraterrestrial environments will be fantastically expensive and prone to failure – particularly if led by governments. [Just look how fantistically expensive and wasteful the space shuttle program has been. If we want to see any feasible and low-cost development abroad we should leave the frontier open, and get government out of the ways, other than in ensuring clear and protected property rights. We simply need to harness the energies of self-interested homesteaders.]

    As an expenditure of public funds to minimize risks to mankind, extraterrestrial investments pay extremely low dividends. It is really much cheaper to spend some money on cleaning up our own act first, for which we don’t need to change human nature, but simply to solve obvious institutional failure problems resulting in local, regional and global “tragedy of the commons” phenomena. Solutions to these problems have been frustrated by (i) special interests who have benefitted by cheaply exploiting “public” or ineffectively owned resources while passing off costs onto others and (ii) the fact that most third-world governments are hopelessly corrupt, with very little meaningful rule of law.

  30. #30 DV8 2XL
    June 16, 2006

    And exactly when did this become an ether/or choice? The argument is a False Dilemma now, just as it was during the days of the Apollo Program when media coverage of a mission wasn’t complete without an indigent editorial or comment about ‘solving the more important problems first’ from some outraged activist.

    No culture is going to care enough about dealing with internal issues if it doesn’t have a certain amount of pride and self respect for itself. Big projects, like the Space Program give us just that.

  31. #31 Matt McIrvin
    June 16, 2006

    A few remarks:

    1. Space colonization could never, by itself, be a solution to overpopulation, except for the people who go (and then only temporarily!) Even if by some miracle we found or constructed a good place to be, the notion of getting settlers off-planet faster than we can make new ones is absurd, especially if people were to then use it as an excuse to reproduce exponentially.

    2. Earth is always going to be easier to terraform than some other planet. We may end up having to do it to some degree.

    3. It’s true that the global population growth rate is declining (something many people don’t seem to know, having been raised on 1970s population-bomb rhetoric). Many projections have world population leveling out somewhere below 10 billion. However, there’s still the problem of giving a decent standard of living to the people who are already here without running out of resources or completely destroying the environment. I think we need to get birthrates even lower in advance of rising standards of living.

    Fortunately, the means to do this are well-known: if you have readily available contraception, education of women, and (maybe most important) some degree of social security for the elderly so that reproduction isn’t the only way to ensure you’ll be taken care of, people will want and have fewer children. Unfortunately, leaders can’t always be induced to sign on to this.

  32. #32 Matt McIrvin
    June 16, 2006

    I’m also skeptical of claims that private-sector homesteaders will colonize the universe if government just gets out of the way. The private space industry has had a hell of a time even getting a workable business plan going, and the obstacles are not all regulatory. It’s a really hard problem.

    That said, I agree with DV8 2XL’s comment about false dilemmas. Not putting your eggs in one basket also means not committing to one and only one strategy for a human future. We may not be able to carry out reasonable space colonization for hundreds or thousands of years, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth studying for the long term, that we have to banish even the thought from our minds. I’d like us to do some of it just as a precondition for further exploration. Considered rationally, it doesn’t have the slightest impact on our need or, really, on our ability to fix our mistakes.

    And it’s not really about what the species collectively deserves. I worry about these kinds of issues a lot, but in the end, I can’t see that a bunch of babies born this year or in future generations deserve to be punished for my behavior. That way lies madness.

  33. #33 Benjamin Franz
    June 16, 2006

    You are way over-reading. Hawking isn’t advocating trashing the Earth – he is advocating not putting all of our eggs in one basket. Statistically, humanities odds of long term survival go up tremendously if we don’t insist on staying in a single target for disaster. There are a number of disasters ranging from comets (we could easily have as little as mere months notice of a large comet) to supervolcanos to simple ‘super-flu that are not human caused and we cannot prevent that will threaten the survival of the species sooner or later if we don’t anchor ourselves in multiple places in the universe.

  34. #34 Tristram Brelstaff
    June 16, 2006

    If the dinosaurs had managed to colonise Mars 65 million years ago then they wouldn’t have all been wiped out by a single asteroid impact.

  35. #35 Angus McPresley
    June 16, 2006

    >Space colonization could never, by itself, be a solution to overpopulation

    I think the person who mentioned overpopulation as a reason to colonise space was not talking about putting the extra people into rockets and blasting them off. Rather, they were saying that, with overpopulation, the chances of a disastrous humanity-ending war/disease/accident are increased, so Hawking’s suggestion to get all of our eggs out of this one basket applies.

    Anyway. GrrlScientist, I have to say I’m disappointed with your post and subsequent comments. You need to see with better eyes; humanity has its problems, but I resent the implication that we are rats who deserve to stagnate and die on this planet. With the colonization of space comes the opportunity to maybe try new and better systems of government; to discover new non-polluting energy sources; to figure out how sustain life with limited resources. And to respond to one of your more (I’m sorry) ridiculous charges, it won’t be the filthy rich who zoom off laughing over the heads of the wretches left to eke out their existence on a ruined Earth; life in space will be a hardscrabble fight to survive that will be considerably worse than life on Earth for many centuries. Only by drawing on the best and wisest of our human instincts and ingenuity will colonies in space even survive.

  36. #36 Burrow
    June 17, 2006

    I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly (with Grrrl Scientist). Although I would love to go into space and do study it-there’s no way in hell that I want other people up there. Look what we did to this planet, we’ll just do it to another planet and that’s just plain selfish. We are a plague to this planet, but when we eventually kill ourselves through our misuse of the environment then at least the planet will be able to heal and grow back in some way.

  37. #37 GrrlScientist
    June 17, 2006

    speaking of disappointment, with few exceptions, i am disappointed with my fellow humans.

    i am disappointed that people value money and possessions more than other people. i am disappointed that there are thousands of people who work hard every day but cannot afford health care. i am disappointed that people with limited incomes have to choose between eating properly or purchasing medications that are necessary for their continued health. i am disappointed that there are homeless people sleeping on the streets and in dumpsters that are in the shadow cast by extravagant dwellings owned by the wealthiest (and the fattest) people in the world. i am disappointed that there are people in america who go to bed hungry while wheat is stored on the ground in the west. i am disappointed that CEOs make 10,000 times as much as the janitors they hire, and that these same CEOs steal their employees’ retirement accounts, and then, after these CEOs — common thieves — are caught, they end up with less punishment than a kid carrying an ounce of marijuana, while their loyal employees pay for those CEOs’ crimes with their futures and their children’s futures.

    i am disappointed that people value “development” over the environment and over the animals and plants for whom those “developed” areas are their only home. i am disappointed that factory farming has caused so many health, social and environmental ills. i am disappointed that corporations dump their dangerous chemicals in waterways and open spaces, causing damages that will cost many millions of dollars to clean up — if they are ever cleaned up at all. i am disappointed that our forests are being destroyed to create yet more factory farms, golf courses, and cookie-cutter housing tracts. i am disappointed that so many people refuse to make even the simplest changes to their everyday lives so they reduce their demands on the environment; changes such as eating meat for only two meals per week, recycling or refusing to use styrofoam drink containers, for example.

    i am disappointed that people refuse to use their brains to think rationally about issues, who instead persist in their ridiculous, malicious belief in a magical “god” who condemns people to hell for daring to seek answers to “threatening questions” such as where humans really came from, or whether the earth circles the sun or vice versa, and other important questions. i am disappointed every time i hear a person denigrate another human because of his or her skin color, sexual orientation, gender, income, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), job, reproductive status, or based on the quantity of their possessions. i am sick that people act like rats or apes when they clearly have the intellect to understand the consequences of their excessive behavior and the capacity to control their behavior, but they refuse to do so.

    all because they don’t care about anything or anyone except themselves.

    with rare exceptions, intellect was wasted on humanity.

  38. #38 Angus McPresley
    June 17, 2006

    I am disappointed by all of those things too, GrrlScientist.

    I just don’t think that the entire human race deserves the death penalty for the actions of a selfish few.

  39. #39 ArmchairAnarchist
    June 17, 2006

    GrrlScientist:

    i am sick that people act like rats or apes when they clearly have the intellect to understand the consequences of their excessive behavior and the capacity to control their behavior, but they refuse to do so.

    To paraphrase the late great Douglas Adams:

    Human beings are a unique race of Earth beings for two reasons, firstly in that they have the ability to learn not only from their own mistakes but those of others, and secondly in their absolute failure to do so.

    I concur with all your disappointments, wholeheartedly. I sincerely hope that we can turn this planet around in the very near future, but I can’t help my innate cynicism. And that cynicism impels me to consider what might be necessary in a worst case scenario.

    dzd:

    Are you a time traveler who came here from 1970 or something?

    Damn, rumbled again. Curses…

    The population bomb is as discredited as global cooling, and population growth rates throughout the first world (hint: that’s the rich people) are dropping. Parts of Europe and Japan already have negative population growth.

    Numerically, yes; the proportion of people who are employed, well fed and cared for, and not ignored and excluded due to their age is certainly shrinking.

    Why do you think Europeans are so terrified of being overrun by Muslim immigrants?

    I hadn’t realised that (a small proportion of idiotic tabloid-media-junkies aside) we were. Thanks for pointing that out; now I know who to blame for everything!

    Maybe I *am* a product of the seventies (after all, I was born in them). But I remain to be convinced that there will be some magical ‘levelling out’ of population figures. This happens in nature with animals, granted, but animals don’t have greed, capitalism or politics telling them what to do. I sincerely hope to be proved wrong.

  40. #40 Alon Levy
    June 17, 2006

    I was raised on the same population bomb myth, even though I was born in 1988.

    One good piece of evidence that human population is flattening is a table of annual population increases from, say, 1950 to the present. The rate of increase went up more or less continuously from 1950 to 1989; since 1989, it has decreased, so that in 1989 population increased by 88 million compared with 74 in 2005. Human greed isn’t out of the ordinary by biological standards; what’s exceptional is homo sapiens’ ability to check its own growth before resource constraints kill off a significant number of specimens.

  41. #41 TokyoTom
    June 20, 2006

    GrrlScientist: I’m an idealist like you, and we certainly have serious problems to deal with – largely because we are thinking and sometimes clever animals, but not particularly wise. The result has been that so far we (generally) have been able, through the use of technology and political organization to beat the Mathusian game. With the big and looming exception of microbes, our populations are no longer held in check by predators and we have been able to wrest a growing share of the world’s biomass from our competitors.

    But we remain much as we were before we developed all of this technology – tribal, short-sighted, greedy, jealous, venal and prone to factions, mutual suspicion, opportunism and war. Sorry, we aren’t going to change human nature.

    The West has learned the hard way (largely from exhaustion) to cooperate, integrate economically and avoid internal wars, but we still fight amongst ourselves and have problems keeping our governments from turning into kleptocracies. However, we are much better managed than the rest of the world and our populations under control and our impact on the domestic environment is receding – largely because we have effective property rights and public institutions, so there is no longer a race to strip the environment (except to some degree with respect ot resources that are “publicly” owned).

    The problem is with rest of the world and with the parts of global and regional environmental systems that are not owned or regulated. To stop environmental destruction outside of the West (fueled by demands from Western markets, population growth in developing nations, and the desire to catch up), we need to apply the solutions that we have already learned in the West to the institutional failure problems that so far lie outside of our control right now, in the oceans, atmosphere, important global assets such as tropical forests and reefs, and in third-world countries that are hopelessly corrupt and in many senses lawless.

    To bad that the current Administration would rather feed tax dollars to its friends and to create enemies for partisan political advantage rather than focussing on the future, but then we all have very short time horizons, and the problems outside of our own country take patient cooperation and diplomacy, for which there is very little domestic political reward.

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