Free Newsletters - Space - Defense - Environment - Energy - Solar - Nuclear
..
. Earth Science News .




ABOUT US
The Longevity of Human Civilizations
by Leslie Mullen for Astrobiology Magazine
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Oct 16, 2013


Symposium participants and moderator David Grinspoon. Image Credit: The John W. Kluge Center at Library of Congress.

A question often asked by those involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is, "How long can advanced civilizations last?" The search for intelligent aliens is much less likely to succeed if cultures inevitably destroy themselves when they reach a certain level of technology. So the Drake Equation, which tries to estimate the possible number of intelligent alien civilizations in the galaxy, includes a factor for longevity.

Cultures on Earth rise and fall for various reasons; the Fall of Rome is the most famous, but scholars are still debating exactly why it happened. With modern technological threats like nuclear weapons, climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, and genetically-engineered viruses now at hand, our current culture's downfall might seem inevitable to students of history.

Yet astronomers tend to be more optimistic, and dream of a far-future society where we re-engineer the solar system or travel to the distant stars.

The longevity of our civilization was the topic of a symposium recently held in Washington DC. The symposium was organized and led by the holder of the NASA/ Library of Congress Astrobiology chair David Grinspoon, in an ornate room that would not have been out of place in ancient Pompeii -- before that city was destroyed by an enormous volcanic eruption.

The complexity of answering the question of our longevity was evidenced by the far-ranging discussion that ensued among the panelists and the audience. Beyond science and technology, they discussed the current state of economics and politics, the fate of the environment, and even McDonald's plastic cups, which were designed to be used for 20 minutes but might outlive us all.

Never before has human civilization so greatly impacted our planet. Our sheer numbers -- over 7 billion and growing -- are a strain on Earth's natural resources, and add to the increasing pollution of the ecosystem. Also, our science and technology have grown so advanced and wide-spread that we can fundamentally alter the natural functioning of our planet, whether we intend to or not.

This time in human history has been labeled "The Anthropocene," and Grinspoon is currently writing a book on the topic.

"The Anthropocene Era is a time where humans are influencing the functioning of Earth," said Grinspoon. "But is the Anthropocene merely another geological era, or are we on the cusp of a transition into a profoundly new stage of Earth's existence?"

The natural world and our impact on it was one of the main topics debated during this symposium. Odile Madden, a materials scientist and engineer at the Smithsonian Museum, said that we often consider Nature as some pristine realm separated from human influence, and we pollute that natural world by our mere presence (as well as our plastic products, like those McDonald's cups). She said this is a sterile attitude, preventing us from ever being able to truly interact with Nature.

While our modern experience is to be disconnected from Nature, Rick Potts, paleoanthropologist and director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program, said the Native American way of thinking is that Nature and human culture are "one."

This attitude may have helped humans survive and adapt to changes in the past, for the one constant about Earth is that it is a system always in flux. The panelists agreed that keeping the world "as-is" was not possible, or even desirable.

But since we have such an impact on our planet, often altering the world merely by living in it, we should take care about the changes we impose. As one panelist noted, we may create so many new species through biotechnology that we generate a burst of new lifeforms like in the Cambrian Explosion... but should we?

So then comes the challenge: how do we not impose our view of how Nature "should be" in our attempts to preserve it? The discussion amongst the panelist revealed there is not yet a global "we," and the different cultures around the world make it difficult to make decisions about what's good for us and the planet. Potts noted that environmentalists in North America promote wilderness, but those in Germany, India and elsewhere have different priorities.

"What do we mean by 'saving the world'?" asked Grinspoon. "We have to better define our values before we can answer that."

Looking beyond our world, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson stated, "Humans shouldn't go to Mars to save ourselves, but because it is a project of great interest and beauty." At the same time, we should preserve our own planet because, in his view, it is fundamental to our longevity -- we simply cannot live without it. "We are bubbles of Earth," he said.

Robinson also was very concerned about the state of current world affairs and what that meant for our future. "Our economic systems are unjust and inefficient," he said. "We must think of ways to improve them if we are to survive. The one-percent profit from the complexity of the financial system; confusion is a political act. So is simplicity."

"We can't just muddle along anymore," he added. "It's either utopia or catastrophe."

Artificial intelligence was discussed as a possible route toward a new way of being. SETI astronomer Seth Shostak predicted we will soon develop a machine with the functionality of our brain, even if we don't quite understand how it works. Many sci-fi movies look to the development of A.I. as our downfall, when the machines achieve consciousness and destroy the human race.

But futurist Ray Kurzweil has suggested that, instead, when "the singularity" happens and we are able to merge with our newly intelligent machines, a glorious new phase of existence may begin.

But Robinson said he doubts the singularity will happen, or even that we will download ourselves into machines, because we just don't understand consciousness. "Ray Kurzweil is telling a science fiction story", he said. "The singularity is not based on an understanding of the brain."

Of all the threats to our survival, Grinspoon said that in his view, global warming is the most imminent. But even without that looming over us, Earth will always be presenting us with new challenges to overcome.

Our planet is ever-changing, either due to the activities of man or through other means, and there will come a point when we can no longer adapt to those changes. So geo-engineering and other advanced technology, as scary and potentially threatening to our longevity as they sometimes seem to be, may actually be the key to helping us survive long-term.

Summing up, Grinspoon said, "We need technology if we want to live well with 9 billion people on the planet. We can't go backwards."

The symposium participants were David Grinspoon, planetary scientist and 2013 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, journalist David Biello, atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira, astronomer, historian, and next LOC Astrobiology chair Steven Dick, planetary climatologist Jacob Haqq-Misra, professor of English Ursula Heise, materials scientist and engineer for the Smithsonian Odile Madden, paleoanthropologist and director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program Rick Potts, science and environmental writer Andrew Revkin, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, and SETI astronomer Seth Shostak.

.


Related Links
Astrobiology Magazine
All About Human Beings and How We Got To Be Here






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





ABOUT US
New theory of synapse formation in the brain
Julich, Germany (SPX) Oct 16, 2013
The human brain keeps changing throughout a person's lifetime. New connections are continually created while synapses that are no longer in use degenerate. To date, little is known about the mechanisms behind these processes. Julich neuroinformatician Dr. Markus Butz has now been able to ascribe the formation of new neural networks in the visual cortex to a simple homeostatic rule that is ... read more


ABOUT US
Italy launches sea patrol as Sicily declares emergency

Italy deploys drones, warships after refugee tragedies

Walker's World: Is France turning racist?

India, US trying to hamper Pakistan quake relief: top militant

ABOUT US
British engineers hope to reboot 50-year-old computer

Circadian rhythms in skin stem cells protect us against UV rays

Northwestern Researchers Develop Compact, High-Power Terahertz Source at Room Temperature

Thousands march in Romania against Canadian mine plan

ABOUT US
Predators vs. alien: European shrimps win predatory battles with an American invader

Rising Sea Levels Threaten Everglades Freshwater Plants

Complex relationship between phosphorus and nitrogen removal in lakes

Want ripples on your icicles then add salt

ABOUT US
The tundra a dark horse in planet Earth's greenhouse gas budget

Australia Antarctic mission focuses on penguin poo, warming

Greenpeace boss admits surprise at harsh Russian response

Russia keeps Greenpeace ship captain behind bars

ABOUT US
Unregulated, agricultural ammonia threatens national parks' ecology

Badgers ultimately responsible for around half of TB in cattle

France's Dumex pledges change after China bribery claims

Conflict and clashes over China's prized caterpillar fungus

ABOUT US
Hopeless search as Philippine quake death toll hits 151

Water and lava, but - curiously - no explosion

Storm Octave on Mexico Pacific coast weakens

Devotees weep as Philippines loses Church treasures

ABOUT US
U.S. builds up military bases in Italy for African ops

Mali ex-coup leader moves out of army barracks

Islamists step up attacks in north Mali

Ethiopia says no plans to withdraw troops from Somalia

ABOUT US
New theory of synapse formation in the brain

The Longevity of Human Civilizations

Hunters and farmers lived side-by-side for 2,000 years

Study suggests women, not men, created much of ancient cave art




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement