Message no. 901[Branch from no. 892] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on
Nicely argued Pat.
Surely we WILL one day find the human race extinct (or rather, something will, since if we are extinct we won't be around to find anything! :)) The question is, will our offspring be able to evolve into something better adapted for the world to come, or will the extinction take our genetic line by surprise and simply hurl it into a dead end? If it does, will some other animal evolve self-reflective intelligence?
It always makes me feel lonely to think that we are the only truly self reflective and communicative and creative beings in the solar system, and that therefore the fate of intelligent life depends on us! David Brin writes a lot about the evolution of intelligent machines and the enhancement of intelligent in other animals and his speculations give me some hope. But you are quite right in extrapolating this trend of destructive population growth into the future.
Paul Ehrlich, in his classic book "The Population Bomb" and his subsequent books, argued that at the current rate of expansion there would be, in a few thousand years, more people than there are stars. This is the trouble with geometric growth.
Lester Brown wrote a book called "The 29th day" in which he asked the question, "if you place a Lily pad in an empty pond and it divides to become two lily pads the second day, and 4 lily pads the third day, and 8 lily pads the fourth day, and you know that the Lily pond will be completely filled with Lily Pads on the 30th day, on which day will the pond be half full?"
The answer, of course, is the 29th day.
Brown suggested, back in the 1980s when there were only about 4 billion of us on the planet, that the earth was already half full. He said it was our 29th day.
Ecological footprint analysis shows us how many earth's it would take for all 6.5 billion of us to live the way you or I do. For my lifestyle it seems it is about 4 earths. However, if we switch to renewable energy and recycle and compost, we might get down to the Egyptian average (1.5 earths) or to the African average (about 1) without any loss in quality of lifestyle. Once we do that, of course, it will still mean we can't grow any more (if it takes 1 planet earth to sustain all 6.5 billion of us we certainly can't grow without others being less well off or killing ourselves -- this is called "Pareto Optimality").
So we will still have to look for other planets if we want the dream of an ever increasing quality of life and an ever increasing population.
Will we then fill up the entire universe, as Ehrlich predicted?
Or will we use virtual reality to increase our quality of life without increasing our consumption?
These are deep deep ideas for us to speculate on.
Thanks for bringing up these heuristic, if troubling, notions!