Stephen Hawkins thinks we will probably go extinct on this planet if we don’t find a new one within 1000 years. Science writer extraordinaire Julian Cribb wonders whether we will make it past 2100.
His book Surviving the 21st Century: Humanity’s Ten Great Challenges and How We Can Overcome Them poses the ten existential challenges facing Homo sapiens, and answers each one. It is a book of solutions, severally and collectively.
- ecological collapse,
- resource depletion,
- weapons of mass destruction,
- global warming,
- global poisoning,
- food insecurity,
- population and urban expansion,
- pandemic disease,
- dangerous new technologies
- and self-delusion.
I haven’t yet read the book, this positive review says I must.
Apparently it has plenty ‘Hey Martha, listen to this!’ moments, for example:
What consumes 10 kg of topsoil, 800 litres of fresh water, 1.3 litres of diesel, a third of a gram of pesticide and causes 3.5 kg of carbon dioxide to enter the air? Answer: the last meal you ate. Now multiply that by all the meals you’ve consumed and all the people on Earth. No wonder we have a problem. As Cribb puts it, ‘the human jawbone is among the most destructive of implements on the planet’.
- Over a lifetime each of us uses 100,000 tonnes of fresh water, 750 tonnes of soil, 720 tonnes of metals, five billion energy units and emits 300 tonnes of greenhouse gas.
This one shocked me:
- Every day, every child on our planet is poisoned by man-made toxins. We, and indeed all life on Earth, are mired in a toxic swamp of 250 billion tonnes of annual chemical emissions from human activity. They are in our food, water, the air we breathe, our homes, vehicles, schools and workplaces, in wildlife, the oceans, in our bodies and even in our genes. Medical evidence is piling up of damage to human intelligence, gender, reproduction and health.
China in particular has poisoned its air, its soil and its water, but there is no escaping this chemical bath anywhere on the planet.
- There is an answer, though not an easy one: it is for consumers worldwide to reject toxic goods and foods, and to reward only companies and farmers who produce clean, safe products.
Countering entrenched commercial interests will not be easy. As with the 90 companies that produce most of the CO2 that will give us temperatures of +5-10 degrees centigrade, they exert influence and even pay off politicians.
Ostensibly the solutions are not that hard. For example, we need to:
- move half the world’s food production into cities and recycle nutrients and water, and then “re-wild” about half the land mass under the wise management of indigenous people and farmers. It is to gradually replace mining with mineral recycling, and cease releasing toxins. It is to replace fossil fuels with renewables.
He says the biggest problem is in our minds. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, has shown that religion can be re-dedicated to human survival. Now it is essential that money, politics and the human narrative are similarly reinvented.
He identifies two extremely hopeful developments.
- The first is the emerging ability to “think as a species” by sharing knowledge, values and solutions through the internet This is reshaping, for all time and for the better, our ability to co-operate around the planet.
The second is the emergence of women as leaders in all walks of society. Women, as a rule, do not start wars, dig coal, ravage landscapes, plunder the oceans, obliterate other species and knowingly poison their offspring. They think about the children, the grandchildren, and their future needs. Women have already started to curb future population growth by reducing the birthrate worldwide. Feminine thought – by males as well as females – is a key to our future survival.
So there you have it. A lot of Cribb’s articles seem to appear at Online Opinion, where you can find them collected, at least up to 2013.
George Monbiot has also identified 13 challenges facing us, starting with Donald Trump. Here’s a ‘Hey Martha’ from George:
- According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, at current rates of soil loss we have 60 years of harvests left.
Back to Stephen Hawkins, scientists have found thousands of earth-like planets, so-called ‘exoplanets’, including one dubbed Proxima b, which orbits the star Proxima Centauri, a little more than four light years away from our sun. Current rocket technology would take us 76,000 years one way, but Hawkins thinks that we can improve on that, given another 100 years. Meanwhile, he says, take care.