Jun 07 2012

It’s the end of the world as we know it

The end of the world as we know it is fast approaching, according to some scientists, and it may be close enough now that millions of people already alive will live to see it happen:

(Live Science) — The results are difficult to predict, because tipping points, by their definition, take the planet into uncharted territory. Based on past transitions, Barnosky and his colleagues predict a major loss of species (during the end of the last glacial period, half of the large-bodied mammal species in the world disappeared), as well as changes in the makeup of species in various communities on the local level. Meanwhile, humans may well be knotting our own noose as we burn through Earth’s resources.”These ecological systems actually give us our life support, our crops, our fisheries, clean water,” Barnosky said. As resources shift from one nation to another, political instability can easily follow.

Pulling back from the ledge will require international cooperation, Barnosky said. Under business-as-usual conditions, humankind will be using 50 percent of the land surface on the planet by 2025. It seems unavoidable that the human population will reach 9 billion by 2050, so we’ll have to become more efficient to sustain ourselves, he said. That means more efficient energy use and energy production, a greater focus on renewable resources, and a need to save species and habitat today for future generations.

It’s frightening listening to people who think Young Earth Creationism is a plausible alternative to every branch of physical science make bold predictions about human influence on a system as complex as climate. It reminds me eerily of a line in the sci-fi remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still when Keanu Reeves character was discussing the fatal impact of human activity and whether or not to smoke the entire human race with another alien in human form: “They seem to sense it, but they can’t do anything about it.


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  1. 1
    Hank Fox

    What’s been weird to me — for something like 10 years — is how not even OUR community is talking about it.

    I figured out something like this had to happen something like 40 years ago, but …

    It’s like we’re all sleepwalking to the edge.

    Earth Day 2012: Thoughts Life Falling Leaves

  2. 2

    at Do the Math blog, the author points out that our energy use growth rate is NOT sustainable due to simple thermodynamics. it will make the earth unihabitable in about 400 years.

    “But let’s not overlook the key point: continued growth in energy use becomes physically impossible within conceivable timeframes.”


  3. 3

    Hasn’t this already happened?

    I saw something on the tube last night about the fact that humans and its domesticated animal and field-crop cohort now represent something on the order of 94% of the biomass of the Earth.

    Seems to me that kinda crowds out ‘non-useful’ species.

    BTW: 1% of the remainder is apparently poison ivy. It’s everywhere these days.

  4. 4
    Shawn Smith

    Kevin said,

    I saw something on the tube last night about the fact that humans and its domesticated animal and field-crop cohort now represent something on the order of 94% of the biomass of the Earth.

    I am extremely skeptical of that claim. Although the effects of our technology can be quite substantial, the Earth is REALLY, REALLY big compared to us. Hell, bacteria occupy just about every possible place on the planet that they could possibly occupy and no one would count them among the “humans and its domesticated animal and food crop cohort.” And what about the oceans? How many food crops or domesticated animals live there? Where on the “tube” did you see that figure? The Discovery Channel? TLC? It would be just like them to say something like that would be so easily verified to be wrong.

  5. 5

    Robb @2:

    Tom Murphy’s “Galactic-Scale Energy” post ought to be required reading for every literate human on the planet. The present growth rate in world energy consumption would, just from the waste heat given off into the environment, raise the temperature of the surface of the earth to the boiling point of water in 450 years, and to the same as the surface of the sun in 950 years. It would require that the human race capture or produce as much energy as the sun in 1300 years, and as much energy as the entire galaxy in 2500 years.

    So it ain’t gonna happen. In reality, the level of human energy consumption will probably peak around 2030 or so and then begin to go into decline. And THAT will be the end of the world as we know it, if nothing else is.

  6. 6

    The end of the world as we know it is fast approaching…

    except in North Carolina, where climate change is limited by law to a linear progression and tipping points are illegal.

    Stephen, I’m confused about the YEC reference in the last paragraph. I’m not familiar with Live Science — is it a creationist site or something?

  7. 7

    The biggest source of the problem is us. We put ourselves outside of nature, refusing to admit that overpopulation is a problem. Instead, we’re searching for “solutions” to accomodate an ever increasing number of people. If the total population were the same now as a century ago, the environmental problems would be negligible, even with the same levels of consumption.

    Inevitably, whenever I or someone else points out the elephant in the big blue room, the person saying it is either:

    (a) falsely accused of advocating genocide, or

    (b) is asked, “Why don’t you kill yourself if overpopulation is a problem?”

    Human population is going to decrease in 30 years, the only question is how, voluntarily or involuntarily. It will either be from a lack of arable land, a lack of fertilizer (commercial fertilizer is made from oil), disease, or war over food. We could do it voluntarily, but that requires admitting the problem, and that means cutting into our “lifestyles”. People keep looking for “technology” to solve the problem caused by overpopulation instead of simply controlling the population, which is easier, cheaper, and guaranteed to work.

    Nobody wants to take responsibility to reduce population and consumption, so a crash is inevitable. I don’t and won’t have kids not just to reduce population, but also because I wouldn’t want to subject them to what’s coming.

  8. 8
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    I don’t see how the biomass could be anywhere near that. Think of blue-green alga in the oceans alone.

  9. 9

    We recently saw the documentary “Earth 2100″.
    It was very scary stuff. I wish that more people would actually watch this, and actually believe it.

  10. 10

    insects alone outmass humans 10 to 1.


  11. 11

    There is something to that but I’m tired. The money, and power, and controllers of the media don’t want to talk about our ever more tenuous role in this ecosystem and anyone pressing home that point is immediately attacked as, variously, a communist, moonbat treehugger, anti business, anti development, anti progress, and having a preference for living in cave.

    And it doesn’t matter how well researched, scientifically supported, and eloquent the argument is because the powers that be are deeply invested, entirely dependent, on things staying the way they are. They seek, and have so far been able, to avoid any actual debate by discrediting the notion and its advocates so that any debate is out of the question.

    As with most issues around a power elite it is going to take a disruption big enough to shake their confidence to get the foot in the door long enough to have the evidence heard. Until that time making the argument makes one feel noble and socially conscious but it accomplishes nothing. Which would be, outside the loss of time, a break-even proposition except that the power that be likes punching hippies and will hold progressive positions against you. It can cost you your job.

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