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IEET > Security > Biosecurity > SciTech > Life > Access > Innovation > Health > Vision > Bioculture > Contributors > Roberta Scarlett

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Hyperdiversity for the Future


Roberta Scarlett
Roberta Scarlett
Ethical Technology

Posted: Sep 15, 2013

Alarmists say we are losing our biodiversity and that our ecosystem will be destroyed because of human activity. This will cause mass extinctions that will eventually lead to our own. It’s true, that our species has had a profound effect on the ecosystem, but there is no evidence that our environment is changing such that it won’t continue to support human or other life.

The rate at which species go extinct versus the rate of speciation (divergence of lineage to a new species) would be difficult to arrive at, considering that our knowledge of those species that existed in the past and present is still incomplete. Similarly it would be difficult to figure what net effect the amount of extinctions human activity is directly responsible for versus the ones we prevented by breeding species for farming and other purposes. 

For the most part extinctions and speciation are natural events from a geological perspective. Climate change and habitat destruction can be part of this natural process. There is no evidence to support that habitat destruction due to human activity will cause a significant amount of extinctions, or that this has caused permanent damage to the ecosystem.

Life continues to thrive on earth and it is more diverse than ever. After all 4.5 billion years ago there was no life on earth, 3.5 billion years ago there were only Prokaryotes. Earth’s history shows we've had much climate change and ever changing conditions defining ecosystems. It's these conditions that allowed for evolution of the species and allowed for the level of biodiversity we have today.

We are the only species on earth with the ability to manipulate and recreate our physical environment to such an extent. It’s for this reason that we have a more profound effect on the ecosystem than other species. We have transformed Earths landscape and have made it more accommodating to human life. The power to transform our environment will very likely extend to the ability to manipulate the ecosystem so that any negative impact on it due to human activity will likely be reversed by the same means. 

“Our whole evolution up to this point shows that human groups spontaneously evolve patterns of behavior, as well as patterns of training people for that behavior, which tend on balance to lead people to create rather than destroy. Humans are, on net balance, builders rather than destroyers.” Julian Simon

The record shows that in 6 million years existence that we’ve continually improved the human condition.  It seems in a geological ‘blink of an eye’ that Homo Sapiens went from pushing the limitations of their environment by migrating to colder climates after the invention of the needle and thread - to traveling beyond the limits of the planet itself.

Scientific and technological progress since the first use of tools has been exponential. Advances in science and technology promise even more control over our environment. If the trend continues we will likely experience a level of biodiversity that dwarfs anything experienced in the past.

 In the coming years, we will continue to explore beyond the earths limits. We will build more space stations, create artificial habitats, inhabit and terraform other moons and planets. We will propagate life from earth in these other environments and use our knowledge to synthesis new forms of life. We will encounter vastly different environments which will cause evolutionary divergence as a result of regional isolation. We will introduce complimentary species to other environments and they will adapt and speciate. 

Extending the biosphere beyond its natural habitat will create a level of biodiversity that could never be realized on earth or without human intervention.

What about diversity within the human population? It might seem as if the human race is ‘losing’ its genetic diversity. After all at one time several hominid species inhabited the earth, and now only Homo Sapiens remain with only 0.1% genetic diversity. This was dictated almost entirely by natural selection and climate change. Over the past few centuries that has changed. Man is gradually taking control of his own evolution. 

We have become transhuman by augmenting our bodies with enhancements like prosthetics, pacemakers, and cochlear implants. Through these and many more innovations we have already managed to extend and improve quality of life. If Life expectancy is a fair measure for environmental sustainability and quality of life, then consider that over the past 200 years, we have doubled our own life expectancy.

Even in poorer countries life expectancy and standard of life is continually on the rise. Advances in Biotech promise new ways of combatting disease and further extending life span. If our control over our evolution continues we will very likely gain more diversity than ever before within the human population.

After we eliminate disease and increase longevity our next transhuman endeavor will be enhancements that accommodate different environments.  This will cause a divergence in human evolution. Having this much control over our state of being will cause ‘hyperdiversity’ among human populations. Biological and technical enhancements will reflect personal preference and chosen environment. It’s even possible that one day it might be difficult to find two people with exactly the same enhancements.

Sadly today it’s popular opinion that we will reduce quality of life and die out and that it’s already too late! We have exploited the earth for our own selfish wants and poisoned it with our pollution. Species will continue to die out one after another until our ecosystem begins to collapse. But fears of losing biodiversity and man-made environmental destruction are misplaced. We have a better chance of getting hit by an asteroid or a catastrophic volcano erupting than we do of losing biodiversity. 

I'll feel a lot better when Humanity gets over its self-loathing period. We should ask ourselves if this continued exponential progress is actually all about survival, because up to this point is always has been.

“Every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring…for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.” -Carl Sagan


Roberta Scarlett describes herself as a techno-anarchist and a promoter of radical open source education, technology and science. She is a supporter of DIY, hacking, bio hacking, the maker movement, transhumanism, and off grid energy systems.
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COMMENTS


How many species do humans cultivate?  Let’s suppose they are 10,000
plants, and a hundred animals.  (These are species, not varieties.)
Let’s suppose the parasites we unintentional preserve amount
to another 10,000 species.

I’ve seen an estimate that 200 species are going extinct each day.
That’s around 70,000 a year, and it will accelerate as global heating
speeds up.  Thus, the diversity we are destroying dwarfs what we
preserve.  This should be no surprise.  The tendency of agriculture
and civilization is to replace variation with uniformity.  A few more
decades of CO2 emission and we may acidify the ocean enough to kill
all coral, and most of the species of sea life.

The long-term trend of biodiversity over billions of years is a red
herring.  It does not prove we can’t cause a mass extinction.  Mass
extinctions have happened before; the long-term trend didn’t stop it.

Past events suggest that biodiversity will increase again over
millions of years.  So what?  Is that a reason to continue causing a
mass extinction in this century?





Thanks for reading the article!
Where did you get these estimates? I’d really be interested in where those numbers come from.
Chapter 31 of Julian Simons ‘Ultimate Resource 2’ details where some of these estimates come from.
http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Ultimate_Resource/TCHAR31.txt
The article doesn’t mention that man is not capible of mass extinctions.  I don’t see loss of biodiversity as a threat but I don’t see that as a reason to ‘coninue causing a mass extinction in this century’ as you put it.





Hello Roberta.  Interesting viewpoints. 
Where you say “The power to transform our environment will very likely extend to the ability to manipulate the ecosystem so that any negative impact on it due to human activity will likely be reversed by the same means. ” is very optimistic at best. 
Maybe I’ve misinterpreted? I am open minded and I very much welcome your feedback.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an alarmist and all for optimism but our environment and the ecosystem is both very great and fragile.  Manipulating the ecosystem or the environment in a positive fashion is much more challenging than in a negative way. Repairing mistakes is always harder than making them.  For example Mankind has managed to pollute our rivers, lakes and oceans but I am at a loss to find an example where he has bettered these precious resources.  Oh sure he has fixed up a few of his mistakes along the way but in no case has the fix ever equaled the negatives.  Once something is dead it’s dead. He has exploited our resources at alarming rates in the quest for a better life for our species at the detriment of all else.  Agreed that geological events have also affected the environment and the ecosystem negatively but those events also sometimes produce positive effects to the environment like fertile valleys from erosion and clear water mountain lakes from tectonic action.  What has mankind done to actually better the environment or the ecosystem?
 
Yes I do enjoy all the benefits mankind has awarded me but sometimes I wonder if life would be just as good and maybe even better if we all live a simpler life with less stuff.
 
My biggest fear is mankind’s potential to do real damage.  Our environment and the ecosystem are like a beautifully woven rug.  If you pull on a loose thread it might only affect those threads closest to it but it may also unravel the whole carpet.

Everything is simple and nothing is simple.

 





Hi Diesman! Thanks for reading the article!
I don’t see our ecosystem as fragile and unchangeable as some might.  I feel that when we manipulate our environment the ecosystem evolves or changes into something different, rather than collapsing and or becoming toxic to life. 
Our environment has been getting cleaner, not dirtier…there is lots of empirical data to back this up.  This is across the board.  Infant mortality has gone down world wide, life expectancy has gone up, standard of living has gone up world wide…we’ve ‘improved the environment’ by eradicating small pox, typhoid, and other microorganisms, which at one time were the worst killers.  Particulates and emissions are going down not up, some like lead are declining very sharply. This is in developed nations. Less developed countries have horrific amounts of pollution but no money to clean it up.

Here’s an excerpt from Julian Simons ‘The Ultimate Resource 2’

‘The combination of affluence and improved technology tends
toward greater cleanliness.

  Contrast a major Western metropolis today with London of 1890:

    The Strand of those days…was the throbbing heart
of     the people’s essential London…But the mud! [a    
euphemism] And the noise! And the smell! All these    
blemishes were [the] mark of [the] horse….

    The whole of London’s crowded wheeled traffic -
which in     parts of the City was at times dense
beyond movement - was     dependent on the horse
lorry: wagon, bus, hansom and     `growler’, and
coaches and carriages and private vehicles     of all
kinds, were appendages to horses…the characteristic    
aroma - for the nose recognized London with gay
excitement     - was of stables, which were commonly
of three or four     storeys with inclined ways
zigzagging up the faces of     them; [their] middens
kept the cast-iron filigree     chandeliers that
glorified the reception rooms of upper-    and lower-
middle-class homes throughout London encrusted    
with dead flies, and, in late summer, veiled with
living     clouds of them.

    A more assertive mark of the horse was the mud
that,    despite the activities of a numberous corps
of red-    jacketed boys who dodged among wheels and
hooves with pan     and brush in service to iron bins
at the pavement-edge,    either flooded the streets
with churnings of `pea soup’    that at times
collected in pools over-brimming the kerbs,    and at
others covered the road-surface as with axle grease    
or bran-laden dust to the distraction of the wayfarer.   
In the first case, the swift-moving hansom or gig would    
fling sheets of such soup - where not intercepted by    
trousers or skirts - completely across the pavement, so    
that the frontages of the Strand throughout its length
had     an eighteen-inch plinth of mud-parge thus
imposed upon it.    The pea-soup condition was met by
wheeled `mud-carts’ each     attended by two ladlers
clothed as for Icelandic seas in     thigh boots,
oilskins collared to the chin, and     sou’westers
sealing in the back of the neck. Splash Ho!    The
foot passenger now gets the mud in his eye! The axle-   
grease condition was met by horse-mechanized brushes
and     travellers in the small hours found fire-hoses
washing     away residues….

    And after the mud the noise, which, again endowed by the horse, surged like a mighty heart-beat….and the   hammering of a multitude, of iron-shod hairy heels…,  the deafening, side-drum tatoo of tyred wheels jarring     from the apex of one set to the next like sticks dragging along a fence; the creaking and groaning and chirping and rattling of vehicles, light and heavy, thus maltreated; the jangling of chain harness and the clanging or jingling of every other conceivable thing else, augmented by the     shrieking and bellowings called for from those of God’s creatures who desired to impart information or proffer a request vocally - raised a din that…is beyond conception. It was not any such paltry thing as noise. It was an immensity of sound….

  Compare that picture with the results of England’s cleanup campaign:

    British rivers…have been polluted for a century
while     in America they began to grow foul only a
couple of     decades ago…. The Thames has been
without fish for a     century. But by 1968 some 40
different varieties had come back to the river.
    Now to be seen [in London in 1968] are birds and
plants long     unsighted here….The appearance of
long-absent birds is     measured by one claim that
138 species are currently     identified in London,
compared with less than half that     number 10 years
ago….Gone are the killer smogs….

    Londoners…are breathing air cleaner than it has been for     a
century…effect of air pollution on bronchial patients     is
diminishing…visibility is better, too…on an average     winter day…about 4
miles, compared with 1.4 miles in     1958.’


The data is contrary to what the media and the Green political or activist groups are claiming.  Economist Julian Simon tackles all of these issues, by looking at past trends and data around the world and they clearly contradict popular opinion. The world is getting cleaner, standard of life is getting better.  There is no reason why the trend should end.

I’ll link you up to the free ebook, but if you want I’ll send you the paperback. Let me know. It was written in the 90’s, but there’s a more recent one available called “The Improving State of the World” Indur M. Goklany, I can send that one to you as well but I have to read it first. Another is Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist. http://www.rationaloptimist.com/
http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Ultimate_Resource/





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