Research Round 1 - Cycle 3 - Will human civilization ever come to an end and if so what will be the cause of it?

My inquiry question for this cycle is “Will human civilization ever come to an end and if so what will be the cause of it?”  In this round of research I will look at if it is likely that we will go extinct based on patterns since we were first on earth, and different potential causes.

There was a time we almost went extinct

-studies say there was a time we were down to about just one thousand reproductive adults

-one study claims “40 breeding pairs”

-unknown for sure how low our population got, however-these are just theories

-the decrease in population was due to

Toba the Supervolcano

-around 70,000 B.C. a volcano called Toba in Indonesia went off

-blew approximately 650 miles of vaporized rock into the air

-dropped about 6cm of ash over South Asia, Indian Ocean, Arabian, and South China Sea

-according to the Volcanic Explosiivity Index, Toba eruption was an 8 - mega-colossal, the largest volcanic eruption we know of

-this caused the 1816 “Year without Summer” in northern hmisphere

-Sam Kean, writer, says Toba "dimmed the sun for six years, disrupted seasonal rains, choked off streams and scattered whole cubic miles of hot ash (imagine wading through a giant ashtray) across acres and acres of plants." due to the ash dust and vapor in the air

-not hard to imagine population would have plummeted, as food would have become scarce, the Earth would have gotten even colder

-evidence that temperature dropped upwards of 20 degrees in some areas

-but we (obviously) did not go extinct

-our population grew to 1 billion in 1804, then rapidly increased from then on - past 7 billion now

-writer David Quamman writes in Spillover: “We're unique in the history of mammals. We're unique in this history of vertebrates. The fossil record shows that no other species of large-bodied beast — above the size of an ant, say or an Antarctic krill — has ever achieved anything like such abundance as the abundance of humans on Earth right now.”

-however, we are vulnerable to...

viruses that were once isolated, but are now arising

climate change

armies fighting over scarce resources

So will we go extinct?

(1)

 

-in last half billion years, life on earth has almost been wiped out 5 times

-causes include climate change, ice age, volcanoes, and a space rock which smashed into the Gulf of Mexico 65 million years ago, destroying dinosaurs and other species

-these are called Big Five mass extinctions

-took the planet several million years to fully recover, back to its original state, after these events

-there are signs that we are nearing a sixth mass extinction

-new study estimates that up to three quarters of animal species could be extinct...within several human lifetimes

-alarmingly close

-it is likely that we will be responsible for the sixth extinction

-this is backed up by the fact that there are very few extinctions that we are aware of in the last 100 years that would have happened without human activity

-these extinction rates are not a natural thing that would have happened without humans

-some ways we have caused the extinction of animals are

-hunting, bringing in invasive species, changing the oceans and the surface of the planet by cutting down trees, overfishing, etc

-there is also climate change, which affects humans as well as animals

-we have been able to survive the loss of so many animal species, as we are adaptable

-but humans could be the victim of our own mass extinction


(2)

 

-many different possibilities for the end of humanity

-international team of scientists philosophers and mathematicians at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute is looking into the biggest dangers we are facing

-director of the innsitute Nick Bostrom believes the following:

-though pandemics and natural disasters may cause mass loss of life, it is likely that humanity would survive

 

-as a species, we have survived though thousands of years of disease, famine, flood, earthquakes, etc.

-risk of extinction caused by asteroids and super-volcanic eruptions is minimal

-neither losses in the 2 world wars or the spanish flu epidemic stopped global population from rising

-nuclear war may cause a huge amount of destruction, but there would be enough people that would survive to allow the species to live on

-Dr. Bostrom believes the technological era we are in could threaten our future like never before

-He says

Advance of technology = lack of control

-synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and machine intelligence are going towards the “unintended and unpredictable”

-synthetic biology (biology + engineering) has great medical benefits

-concern is possible unpredictable consequences in manipulating the “boundaries of human biology”

-nanotechnology (molecular / atomic level working)

-could be extremely destructive if used for warfare - difficult to control misuses

-concerns about artificial/machine intelligence in the world

=computer driven intelligence can be a good tool in industry, medicine, etc

-never know the damage it may cause

-already taking over jobs

-what if computers were able to create more powerful generation of computers

-where the “accelerating power” of computers becomes less and less controllable and predictable - an “intelligence explosion” US expert on machine super-intelligence Daniel Dewey called it.

-artificial intelligence puts “more and more power into smaller and smaller packages,” Mr Dewey said

(3)

 

-easter island = most isolated piece of inhabited land in the world

-2,250 miles northwest from chile, about 2 x the size of Manhattan

-first Polynesian settlers arrived on this tropical island around middle of the first millenium AD

-covered in trees, with at least 31 species of birds

-population grew to around 10,000-20,000 people by middle of second millenium

(4)

 

-when settlers first arrived there, they had begun to farm

-they practiced “slash and burn agriculture”

-soon, with the increase of population, the island had too many people, and too few trees

-eventually, there were no trees at all

-Easter Island = example of a society that overexploited its resources and effectively destroyed itself

-if we don’t change the way things are going, we could end up like Easter Island

(5)

 

Also the very real threat of climate change

According to Australian microbiologist Dr. frank Fenner, “Humans will be extinct in 100 years due to overcrowding, declining resources and climate change”

-he said this in 2010, and science writer and engineer David Auerbach emphasized the same points more recently

-says that 21st century civilization could face a fate similar to that of the inhabitants of Easter Island

-International Energy Agency said that as we are failing to cut down greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature will rise by 2.6 degrees by the end of the century

-simply cutting down emissions, though good, will not cut it

-need to find the technologies to reverse the negative effects climate change already has had on the Earth

-dangerous climate change is already here, but can catastrophic climate change be avoided?

-”widely agreed” goal to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees by the end of the century

-2 degree increase is predicted to result in over a metre rise in sea levels, which would be enough to displace millions of people

-by 2100, its predicted for the temperature to have risen 5 degrees

-this would result in flooding, famine, drought, mass extinction

-current targets

US suggested cutting emissions up to 28% from 2005-2025, EU 40% from 1990-2030, China unspecified

-these targets “simply not enough to keep under this 2degreesCelcius target

-ultimately, huge investment in research of new technologies is needed to reduce the coming effects of global warming

-UN’s work is good, but more is needed

(6) Sources:

1. https://www.npr.org/sections/k...-earth-in-70-000-b-c

2. https://news.nationalgeographi...ation-science-world/

 3.  http://www.bbc.com/news/business-22002530

4. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/e...f-easter-island.html

 5. https://www.npr.org/sections/k...ven-scarier-scenario

 6. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sci...ge-warns-expert.html

 

 

Original Post

Hey Inaya, 

Wow, what an in depth and insightful post! It is crazy how careless we are being with our planet in general but it is also interesting to note that several natural disasters have occurred in the past that have put humans close to extinction. I did not know that this may be the sixth near extinction (if indeed we are headed down an irreversibly destructive path). I definitely learned a lot and enjoyed reading your post! I'm interested to see your future research!

Great job,

Ben 

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