Friday, December 5, 2014

#340 / Extinction Is Forever

As I mentioned in this blog yesterday, the latest edition of the Living Planet Report, published by the World Wildlife Fund, makes the startling claim that more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish have declined by 52 per cent since 1970.

This march towards the extinction of species of all kinds is largely human-caused, and our own species may be next. 

Or maybe not. 

There is a major debate about whether human beings are bound for extinction. If you'd like to read the arguments, an article by Dahr Jamail, published by Truthout, contains an energetic recitation of the views of Guy McPherson, who pretty much thinks we are doomed. McPherson's blog, called Nature Bats Last, puts his views right in the headline: "Our Days Are Numbered."

Speaking for the more optimistic side of the debate, Scott K. Johnson, who describes himself as a geoscience educator, hydrogeologist, and freelance science writer, and who writes a blog called Fractal Planet, does his very best to ridicule McPherson's claims

I will never admit the inevitability of anything caused by human action, because human beings have the gift of freedom, and we can change what we do. Of course, the fact that we "can" change what we do doesn't mean that we "will" change what we do, or that we will make necessary changes fast enough. 

On the other hand, while a McPhersonesque "Our Days Are Numbered" determinism doesn't strike my fancy, we  act at our great peril if we ignore the laws governing the Natural World. Whether we survive as a species ultimately depends on the World of Nature, and the World of Nature does have rules and laws quite unlike the rules and laws that we promulgate to guide our own conduct. In our world (and precisely because of the reality of human freedom) our laws are  always "prescriptive." They tell us what we think we ought to do, not what we "have" to do. In the World of Nature, the laws are "descriptive," and they state exactly what will happen under the conditions they specify. You can't break the law of gravity, but there is no human law that can't be ignored. Or even changed.

So, maybe we are marching towards human extinction as McPherson suggests (he has some pretty good arguments), but it's always possible to turn around, and to start heading in a different direction. Since that is true, and we retain always our freedom to change what we do, I suggest we might want to consider what renewable energy advocates used to call a "no regrets" policy

Supposing that McPherson might be right, and that to continue what we are doing now will drive human beings into extinction, but admitting that Johnson may have good counters to McPherson's arguments (and Johnson, too, does seem to have some good arguments on his side), let's do things to change our behavior for which we will have "no regrets," even if we end up concluding that we actually didn't need to do them. 

Three examples of such "no regrets" policies: (1) consuming radically less; (2) shifting as quickly as possible from all forms of energy derived from the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, and (3) engaging in massive forestry plantings, everywhere. 

These are all things we could do, and do quickly.

We could do them whether we "need to" or not. 

No regrets if we did them, and we just might save a species.

Our own!

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  1. 1. Consuming less of what?
    2. Like nuclear?
    3. How would you go about planting trees on land in use by others i.e. slash & burn farmers in the Amazon?

  2. The "Living Planet Report" [1] is propaganda masquerading as science. It's not peer reviewed. It shows that just as many of the studied populations are increasing as are in decline [2]. Don't you think it's a little convenient they changed the algorithm to double the estimate from 28% to 52%? Don't you think measuring populations of animals living in and around human settled areas is a biased way to assess global vertebrate populations?



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