Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Apocalypse Soon?

Is it just me or does this seem just, y'know, a tad alarmist?:
It is considerations like these that have led risk scholars — some at top universities around the world — to specify disturbingly high probabilities of global disaster in the future. For example, the philosopher John Leslie claims that humanity has a 30 percent chance of extinction in the next five centuries. Less optimistically, an “informal” survey of experts at a conference hosted by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute puts the probability of human extinction before 2100 at 19 percent. And Lord Martin Rees, co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, argues that civilization has no better than a 50-50 likelihood of enduring into the next century.

To put this number in perspective, it means that the average American is about 4,000 times more likely to witness civilization implode than to die in an “air and space transport accident.” A child born today has a good chance of living to see the collapse of civilization, according to our best estimates.
   I wonder how common such apocalyptic beliefs are, on average, in a randomly-selected time period? However, they do give a nod to one of my many idees fixes:*
Furthermore, studies suggest that civilization will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in all of human history, which stretches back some 200,000 years into the Pleistocene epoch. This is partly due to the ongoing problem of overpopulation, where Pew projects approximately 9.3 billion people living on spaceship Earth by 2050. According to the 2016 Living Planet Report, humanity needs 1.6 Earths to sustain our current rate of (over)consumption — in other words, unless something significant changes with respect to anthropogenic resource depletion, nature will force life as we know it to end.
   Meh, except for that last part. I'm concerned about overpopulation bringing about a state of extreme overdependency on industrial food production and distribution. We're overpopulated to such a point, even in the U.S., that certain kinds of not-terribly-unlikely interruptions in that system would kill an enormous number of people and lead to social and political collapse. It's not going to kill us to throttle back a bit on the population...but not doing so just might. But I tend to worry less about resource depletion and the extinction of all humans...
   Anyway. Alarmist, right?


Blogger Pete Mack said...

I don't know about extinction. But the possibility of civilization collapse is certainly non-negligible, just by the historic record--let alone the threats unique to modern society (overpopulation, atomic weapons, bioengineered disease, global warming, or a combination thereof.)
50% in 500 years looks roughly the Bayesian maximal likelihood. Jared Diamond is pretty convincing on this.

11:31 AM  

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