IEET > Rights > J. Hughes
Misanthropic deep ecology, existential risks and TechnoGaianism
Apr 3, 2006  

In Citizen Cyborg I point to misanthropic deep ecologists as the core, and creepingly influential, ideologists of the Green axis of bioconservatism, joining hands with their ideological opposites, the human-racists. Some commentators have scoffed at the the idea that nature-lovers who see humanity as the enemy are a significant group, apparently unaware of the debates that have roiled groups like EarthFirst! over the “beneficial” effects of AIDS.

While consistent and vocal mysanthropy is still rare among bioLuddites, we have another example of its presence from a speech given by Professor Eric Pianka of the University of Texas, accepting an award as 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist from the Texas Academy of Science.  Forrest Mimms, Chairman of the Environmental Science section of the Texas Academy of Sciences, in a report in The Citizen Scientist, notes that Pianka “enthusiastically advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth’s population by airborne Ebola.”

One of Pianka’s earliest points was a condemnation of anthropocentrism, or the idea that humankind occupies a privileged position in the Universe. He told a story about how a neighbor asked him what good the lizards are that he studies. He answered, “What good are you?”

Pianka hammered his point home by exclaiming, “We’re no better than bacteria!”...

Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number..

AIDS is not an efficient killer, he explained, because it is too slow. His favorite candidate for eliminating 90 percent of the world’s population is airborne Ebola (Ebola Reston), because it is both highly lethal and it kills in days, instead of years. However, Professor Pianka did not mention that Ebola victims die a slow and torturous death as the virus initiates a cascade of biological calamities inside the victim that eventually liquefy the internal organs. [Thanks to blog.bioethics.net for the tip]

Curiously, the Texas Academy officials turned off the videotaping as Pianka’s speech started…

Fortunately in today’s Alternet we have a much more positive article from David Shariatmadari on why environmentalists should expand their moral horizons beyond climate change and toxics to begin considering “existential risks” - risks to the future of human life - as part of the “hard Green” agenda.

A lot of environmental discourse is couched in terms of “humans vs. the planet”—as if Earth, like a Christmas bauble, will simply break if played with too recklessly. Human settlement poisons or destroys the natural world wherever the two come into contact. It’s become a cliche, and it’s certainly an easy concept to grasp, but might there be another way of looking at the situation we find ourselves in?...

Despite what you may read in the papers, we’re in absolutely no danger of extinguishing life on this planet. “We can surely destroy ourselves, and take many other species with us, but we can barely dent bacterial diversity and will surely not remove many million species of insects and mites. On geological scales, our planet will take good care of itself and let time clear the impact of any human malfeasance,” says Gould…

What would Hard Greens on the lookout for existential threats worry about most? They might do well to seek the advice of thinkers like Nick Bostrom, director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute.

In his 2001 paper “Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards,” Bostrom sorts the various possibilities for human extinction into bangs, crunches, shrieks and whimpers, according to the precise character of our journey down the toilet. Bostrom’s a philosopher, and some of his doomsday scenarios are a little abstruse (I particularly like the possibility of “take-over by a transcending upload”), but those classified as “bangs” are easy enough to grasp. The roll call includes asteroid impact, pandemic or runaway global warming. Several are the result of unchecked scientific innovation.

Technological development has always posed a thorny problem for mankind. On the one hand it brings benefits that are labor-saving and life-prolonging—on the other, potential dangers. Nuclear power crystalized this debate for a long time. Dreams of an almost endless supply of cheap clean fuel were marred by the prospect of accidental leaks, weapons proliferation and long-term contamination. Newer technologies—in particular those that harness the power of natural processes—need to be monitored just as carefully. Link

Of course, we completely agree. But Shariatmadari should note the pro-active nature of IEET Chair Bostrom’s vision: technology is not just a potential existential risk-maker, it is also a necessary risk-preventer. Only a robust, enhanced and space-faring transhumanity has any chance of preventing or surviving risks like asteroid strikes, wandering black holes and gamma ray bursts. TechnoGaians need to embrace both regulation of technological risks, and the aggressive pursuit of emerging technologies that allows humanity to remediate the damage its done to the planet, and avoid the random whack from an indifferent universe. To the universe, we are no more significant than bacteria, and its up to us to make sure we and the bacteria make the most of this precious opportunity we’ve been given.




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