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IEET > Security > Biosecurity > Eco-gov > SciTech > SpaceThreats > Vision > Futurism > Staff > Mike Treder

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Human Extinction Up For Grabs


Mike Treder
By Mike Treder
Ethical Technology

Posted: Jun 23, 2010

Is it really possible that Homo sapiens could go extinct in this century?

In his 2003 book Our Final Hour, the eminent British scholar Martin Rees estimated that the probability of human extinction before the year 2100 is around 50 per cent, based on the possibility of malign or accidental release of destructive technology.

imageNow a distinguished Australian scientist, Frank Fenner, who won awards for his work in helping eradicate the virus that causes smallpox, has predicted that the human race will be extinct within a hundred years.

He has claimed that the human race will be unable to survive a population explosion and “unbridled consumption.”

Fenner told The Australian newspaper that “Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years.”

“A lot of other animals will, too,” he added.

“It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.”

Of course, people have been predicting the demise of humanity for, well, for almost as long as humanity as existed.

But is it different now? Are we entering into a new era where our very survival as a species truly could hang in the balance? Or is it all just a lot of meaningless doomsaying?

We want your opinion. Tell us whether you think nuclear war, nanotechnology, artificial superintelligence, the rise of the robots, pandemics, genetic experimentation, climate change, or even an overdue strike from a comet or an asteroid could spell the end of us before we see the year 2100.

We’ve just posted a new poll for IEET readers. Please have your say!


Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.
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COMMENTS


Now these words sound kind of familiar? Yet before you dismiss all this as totally unscientific, have a read yourself and see what you think?

“Why is everyone talking about the year 2012?”

Quote - “The 2012 date indeed marks the completion of this World Age Cycle. Rather than something to fear, we can understand the 2012 prophecy as signalling us that we need to awaken and realize that these times on Earth are auspicious; we are living in land-mark times in the history of our planet. We are collectively in a cross-roads moment that is calling out to us to participate in our fullest capacity. We are each being summoned to bring our inspiration and empowerment to the fore, as we must all take our places in transforming our human culture to be one of Harmony - with ourselves, with each other and with all of Nature.

Together we are in a great initiation process, living in times of unprecedented challenge, transformation and opportunity. This planetary moment has never existed before as it does right now. Our human population is climbing off the charts, accelerating by the day, as is our environmental crises and the vast whole-system struggles of peoples worldwide, both physically and spiritually. The old world mentality, founded in separation, greed, ignorance, and unconscious consumer materialism, has reached dangerous peaks. Simultaneously, there has never been so much possibility at our fingertips as there is right now. A new paradigm is trying to emerge in our world, through our hearts and minds, like a flower trying to grow through the cracks in the cement sidewalk. New comprehensions and new solutions are emerging in our collective journey - from new sciences, to new economic models, new healing modalities, new energy technologies, new educational models, new forms of conflict resolution, etc. These times of crisis are unifying us and catalyzing us to awaken to our personal and collective responsibilities in this one planetary equation.”

>> http://www.13moon.com/prophecy page.htm





Each of us has access to information needed to answer this question, so we can make our own estimates of the probability that we will go extinct within 100 years. Martin Rees estimates 50% chance: maybe so, maybe not. Frank Fenner says 100% chance: we’re past the point of no return.

If our own estimate is above 50%, I think we should ask a second question: “What’s the probability that we will collectively make the changes needed to avoid ecological collapse and our involuntary extinction?”

Applying this to our procreative choice: “How much certainty of a livable world would you require before sentencing another human to life?”

Predictions are hard to make, especially about the future, but we can see where we’re going and unless we change course, we’ll likely get there.

For many of us, the choice is clear: the intentional creation of one more of us by anyone anywhere can’t be justified today. Our best personal contribution to avoiding collapse is to refrain from adding more of us to the billions.





“Of course, people have been predicting the demise of humanity for, well, for almost as long as humanity as existed. “

This oft quoted statement is true, but it serves to diminish an appreciation of the threats that have faced humanity ever since coming into existence.

The truth is that humanity has faced and continues to face extinction threats almost daily, both from natural and man made causes. In fact, on many occasions we only made it by the skin of our teeth.

People are generally unaware of many of these risks since we are caught up in our day to day lives and take some of the work being done to preserve our existence for granted.





“In his 2003 book Our Final Hour, the eminent British scholar Martin Rees estimated that the probability of human extinction before the year 2100 is around 50 per cent, based on the possibility of malign or accidental release of destructive technology.”

No he didn’t.  Read it again.





I think we are past the point of return. Changes are being made for cleaner air etc., but progress is slow while the human population continues to grow. The wheels of bureaucracy are turning slow and not even the little man does much to preserve the planet we desperately need to survive.  Consumerism, turning a blind eye on scientific facts in “hopes that god will take care of us,” rapid population growth, climate change, oil spills, monoculture, in short, the unsustainable lifestyle of so many people.  Homo sapiens are doomed and the sooner it ends, the better for so many plant and animals species. Nature can take her course and balance herself again and starting to heal from the terrible abuse we inflicted on her.





Mike Treder writes: “In his 2003 book Our Final Hour, the eminent British scholar Martin Rees estimated that the probability of human extinction before the year 2100 is around 50 per cent, based on the possibility of malign or accidental release of destructive technology.”

Tim Tyler responds: “No he didn’t. Read it again. “

Perhaps Mr. Treder got his information from wiki:

wiki writes, in the entry, “Our_Final_Hour”, “Rees discusses a range of existential risks confronting humanity, and controversially estimates that the probability of extinction before 2100 CE is around 50 per cent, based on the possibility of malign or accidental release of destructive technology.”

Given the similarity in wording, I hope that Mr. Treder wrote that wiki entry.





Tim, can you tell us what he did write? I know I should just read the book.

This review of _Our Final Hour_ seems to say basically the same thing that Mike wrote: http://www.curledup.com/finalhr.htm

According to this review, Martin Rees ends with hope that we will change our ways before we wipe ourselves out. Jared Diamond and just about every other author warning about our future does the same. This delusional thinking keeps us creating more humans to suffer through whatever disasters we are creating.

Instead, we could voluntarily go extinct by peacefully phasing ourselves out: http://vhemt.org





As none of us knows the future with certainty, it would be deluded to categorically rule out the possibility of human extinction. Given the sheer numbers, genetic diversity, and spread of the species, I doubt the odds are too high. Of the listed options, only a malicious genie would be likely to get the job done.





In Our Final Hour, Rees writes (2003, 8):

“I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will survive to the end of the present century. Our choices and actions could ensure the perpetual future of life [...]. Or in contrast, through malign intent, or through misadventure, twenty-first century technology could jeopardise life’s potential, foreclosing its human and posthuman future.”

So, it’s not clear to me what Tim is objecting to.

I strongly agree that, although existential risks have always been around (one apparently *almost* occurred as a result of the Toba supereruption, as Mike points out), there seems to be something quite unique about our present epoch. For one, the present period has witnessed the very first existential risks of human origin. And by most accounts both the number of existential risk types and the probability of one being actualized are growing quite steadily. Empirically speaking, there seem to be good reasons to be pessimistic. (Maybe there are additional a priori reasons for pessimism too, if one accepts the Doomsday argument.)

I’m inclined to agree with Nikki that the Rubicon, so to speak, has been crossed. Nonetheless, I think that, since we can never know *for sure* whether or not extinction looms in the near future, it behooves us to work hard to make the world a better, and safer, place. One source of hope (for me) is the apparent change in our collective awareness of the consequences our actions have. As David Brin notes, “we now have a new, tentative value system that’s arisen in the most recent generation of the Modern West, wherein some initial signs of self-restraint and satiability have started to appear.” Hopefully, we can continue to foster this value system.

It is certainly humbling : and it makes the possibility of extinction a bit more real : to note that, on the hominid branch, Homo sapiens are the *only* remaining twig. (And there were quite a few twigs : including some relatively recent critters, such as Homo neanderthalensis and Homo floresiensis). I’ve also found it worth noting that mammalian species survive on average for roughly 2.2 million years. Sometimes I wonder why we think that our species *won’t* go extinct!





I think that it’s near certainty that humans will be extinct by the end of the century. I do not claim to know for sure what is going to cause it - it could be a global pandemic, either natural or one created in a laboratory and either escaping or being used in bio-warfare, nuclear war, nuclear accidents, chemical accidents, carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide levels becoming so high that there is insufficient oxygen to maintain human life, lack of clean water (won’t cause *extinction*, but would be likely to cause havoc in wide areas), genetic engineered crops cross-pollinating other plants and destroying the food supply, or (remotely possible) global dimming, caused by excess smoke in the atmosphere or going through a “cloudy” area of the universe, the random comet/meteor strike, a period of extreme volcanic activity, and so forth which are completely out of our control. Each of these has some probability, but as MANY of them as there are, it’s a matter of which one happens first.

The population explosion - suddenly going hyperbolic - may be explainable by looking at human history and watching plants. In much of human history, when many people were dying or in danger of dying, that could be offset by having lots of babies to replace those who had died. In this case, the population boom is making matters worse, rather than better. If I watch the peas and the tomatoes in my garden, I notice that when these plants are stressed by high heat, high water, or little water, that they produce a LOT of small fruit (peas or tomatoes) that become ripe very rapidly. I also see that there are a lot of premature births, or babies of low birth weight. How many people do you know who have had an 8 lb baby in the past 20 years, as compared to those who had a 5 or 6 pound baby? IMX, doctors nearly panic now when a baby is anything over 6 pounds.

Given all of the ways that humanity could go extinct, I will take some sort of an accident over something ill-thought-out (genetic issue? CO levels depleting the O2 levels? Nuclear power accident)?  over warfare.

Headcynic - cynics4bettertomorrow.org

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explainable by stupidity - Heinlein.





I don’t know if y’all realize how difficult it would be wipe out a species as widespread and diverse as we are. With our genetic differences, no plausible disease could manage 100% morality. With the many ecological niches humans occupy, even a total collapse of civilization wouldn’t kill everyone. Life would go on as normal for certain groups.





“or even an overdue strike from a comet or an asteroid”. Overdue? not pleasant to read. Then there’s volcanic activity.





Mike,

Fenner’s forecast mirrors in some respect a warning issued last year by John Beddington, England’s chief scientific advisor, who said that climate change, population growth, and the world’s rising demand for food, energy and water, constituted a “perfect storm” that could strike by 2030 or sooner.  Expanding upon that warning, the Population Institute (www.populationinstitute.org) today released 2030:  The “Perfect Storm” Scenario, which examines in more detail the challenges that we face over the next few decades. Accompanying the scenario are two scenario planning exercises, designed for use by universities and policymakers.  For more information, go to: http://www.populationinstitute.org/newsroom/news/view/37/





Dear Mike Treder:
  Human population is a little over 8 billion in 2010.  You can add about 1 billion every 13 years.  You can figure human deaths around 2.2 % (high) per year from disease and natural causes.
  You still have a plus no matter how you figure it. 
  By the year 2100 you can figure (losely) on a world population of arount 14 - 16 billion more or less.
  A population of say 3 - 5 billion would be ideal.  The ecology would re balance and repair itself and life would be very aggreable for the human race.
  To obtain this human population figure you have to unload a lot of people…one way or another.
  I believe an engineered disease of some kind or possibly a virus, or plague like the black plague in the past will be let loose.  Manufactured death!
  Nobody of course will know the who, what, or why information.  It will just happen in some mysterious fashion.
  Leadership of the world is not going to let human population shit can the world…you can take that to the bank.
  Underground cities are being built around the world now.
  If you are smart you and your families will stay away from the cities and find a “hide hole” to wait it out…just like the survivors did during the time of the black plague.
  Have a nice day.
  Best of Wishes,

  David J. Chambers,
  American.





The probability of large-scale wars in the Mideast is high: more to be concerned about IMO than asteroids, volcanic activity, climate change, etc. Weapons go down in price but up in quality; more bang for the buck—literally.





“Our Final Hour” on Wikipaedia is also inaccurate.

Martin Rees’ actual words were:

“I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will Earth will survive to the end of the present century without a serious setback.”

What would count as “a serious setback”?  That is left to the reader’s imagination.  This is futurism that is compatible with practically any outcome - and is therefore of little value.





One thing to note.

A CIVILIZATION is NOT THE SPECIES.

The fall of Rome did not doom the human race.

If, and I would say that is a MIGHTY BIG IF, we go to full scale Nuke, we might conceivably do as much damage as a large asteroid impact to the world, which would likely kill off 80% of humanity, but that still is not extinction. The Northern Hemisphere might get wiped, but the South is likely to survive intact.

It does however constitute a “serious setback”

Do I think this is likely?  No. While there may indeed be exchanges, in all likelihood the sole three regions to be affected will be the middle east, India and the Korean zone. Why? because these are the sole regions with minimal connections to the world marketplace, minimal infrastructure, and artificially elevated levels of world attention.

Nor do I foresee any other extinction risks. Despite AGW’s rabidly evangelizing faithful, I don’t see sufficient evidence to believe we are “destabilizing the climate”. Polluting the hell out of it? Yes. Poisoning ourselves and our biosphere? Yes. In desperate need of eco-friendly technology and non fossil fuel based power systems? Without a doubt. But we have yet to even warm to the point that the earth was prior to the “little ice age” when Greenland was inhabited by the Norse. The glaciers haven’t even returned to their HISTORICALLY RECORDED PRIOR LIMITS.  So “warmer” does not automatically translate into “We’re doomed.”  So sorry. And that is ignoring the fact that it was even WARMER during the Roman era, and even WARMER during the Egyptian era.  Somehow humanity managed to thrive during those much warmer times, even though they couldn’t make massively variable computer models, so I seriously cannot buy into the “Doomsday” religion that AGW has become. Being a supporter of green technology does not mean having to join what I see as a cult. Is the planet getting warmer? Yes. Is carbon helping that, yes. Does Warm = Doomsday? No.

Regardless, I don’t see any “foreseeable” threats to EXTINCTION, but I do see an enormous number of threats which could cost massive loss of life.

We need to be working now to minimize those losses by supporting research into technologies which will neutralize those risks, by ensuring that the needs of every human on the planet can be met and thus reduce the likelihood of war by removing the most common causes.  We also need to focus on practical methods of switching to alternative power sources, rather than trying to enforce ridiculous and guaranteed to fail prohibitions on carbon emissions. History has shown time and again that PROHIBITION DOESN’T WORK. It only, and ALWAYS, makes things WORSE. Keeping hard liquor available in your home 24/7 was unheard of prior to the Prohibition. Drugs would not be so rampant and promote so much violence it they weren’t illegal. Carbon bans will simply result in “Carbon hiding” and likely an INCREASE in emissions from developing nations.

I want this planet to survive as much as anyone else, but we need to focus on strategies which will actually produce solid tangible improvments, not waste our efforts with political BS that cannot be enforced and which will stress an economy already overstressed as we shift from an economy of material resources to one of non-material resources.





Southern Hemisphere might survive relatively intact? no wonder Mayans looked forward to 2012, they’ll be winners; “The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012”. Just in time for Christmas: ‘twas the night before Christmas, and all the through the North, not a creature was stirring, not even a sloth.





“This is futurism that is compatible with practically any
outcome - and is therefore of little value”. Big bull’s eyes make good targets. Do you ever get the impression that, say, 60 percent or more of futurology might be merely to fill the blank pages of manuscripts?





Yes, Rees and Fenner are right,
It is becuase all the polulation explosion, unbridled consumption, and new technologies are caused by “invalid happiness”, which is very destructive to ultra high sensitive mankind.

(See more: Amazon Kindle book “Is Your Happiness Valid?”, 2010)





We have two quotes from Martin Rees:
Neither of these quotes sound to me like he’s saying the “probability of human extinction before the year 2100 is around 50 per cent.”

“I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will survive to the end of the present century. Our choices and actions could ensure the perpetual future of life [...]. Or in contrast, through malign intent, or through misadventure, twenty-first century technology could jeopardise life’s potential, foreclosing its human and posthuman future.”

“I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will Earth will survive to the end of the present century without a serious setback.”

Those are very iffy projections, as Tim and Postfuturist point out: not much use. We can make our own projections and make choices based on those projections.





Mark my input, The year 2100 is light years away from now I think that our species will be out of date as is by then. There will probably be humans though. They just will not be the most sophisticated intelligence anymore. I predict that some humans will be enhanced and some will not and there will be many other forms of being by then. There is a good chance that we will have evidence of other life on different worlds too. 2013-2021 hyperbolic exponential increase in computational capability.





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