We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

We’re the only game in town

A small reminder to people who are fond of referring to the human race as a plague on the planet (or as a disease, or as a danger to the “natural order”) and who think life would be better off without us and our technology:

The only long term hope of survival life has is humans and our successors moving it through the cosmos.

In the “natural order of things” C3 photosynthesis will become impossible on earth in 600M years, and by about 800M years from now there will be no more multicellular life. Eventually the last evidence that there ever was such a thing as life on Earth will vanish without a trace. That is presuming, of course, that a gamma ray burst doesn’t sterilize the planet much earlier. (There is increasing evidence gamma ray busts that energetic happen more frequently than one might think.)

The universe is hostile to life. Every species you see around you, and every last sign of that species ever having existed, will disappear forever without intelligent life preserving it and carrying it elsewhere. At the moment, absent any evidence of life elsewhere, that means us.

Maybe you believe you are a long term thinker, that those around you are short term thinkers and you really, really know what’s “sustainable”, but if you don’t consider this seriously, if you think it is somehow silly to pay attention to it, you’re just a short term thinker with a slightly but insignificantly longer time horizon.

39 comments to We’re the only game in town

  • Mr Ed

    In the “natural order of things” C3 photosynthesis will become impossible on earth in 600M years, and by about 800M years from now there will be no more multicellular life

    Says who? Is there a mechanism indicated? I’d like to know, not that I expect to be around.

    And does that mean that the UK’s National Debt isn’t quite the problem it appears to be as it edges towards £1,500,000,000,000?

  • Russ in TX

    The Medean Hypothesis is a real bitch ain’t she?

    There are worse legacies than “helped to preserve life in the cosmos.” Laying one’s bones down on an alien world is a small price to pay for taking life to where it isn’t.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Mr. Ed: See Wikipedia’s “Timeline of the Far Future”.

    For the specific mechanism, I’ll present a quote here to save a bit of clicking:

    [600 million years from now] The Sun’s increasing luminosity begins to disrupt the carbonate–silicate cycle; higher luminosity increases weathering of surface rocks, which traps carbon dioxide in the ground as carbonate. As water evaporates from the Earth’s surface, rocks harden, causing plate tectonics to slow and eventually stop. Without volcanoes to recycle carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere, carbon dioxide levels begin to fall.[38] By this time, carbon dioxide levels will fall to the point at which C3 photosynthesis is no longer possible. All plants that utilize C3 photosynthesis (~99 percent of present-day species) will die.[39]

    and also:

    [800 million years from now] Carbon dioxide levels fall to the point at which C4 photosynthesis is no longer possible.[39] Free oxygen and ozone disappear from the atmosphere. Multicellular life dies out.[40]

    We can expect even trace unicellular eukaryotes to die out a few hundred million years later. Prokaryotic life may remain for far longer, but eventually of course the planet is going to get swallowed by the Sun regardless.

  • “but eventually of course the planet is going to get swallowed by the Sun regardless” … regardless of the almost inevitable fact that in a tiny fraction of those six hundred million years, probably in a few hundred years at the most, we will be able to move the earth where we want. Let’s not be pessimistic; it’s just an engineering problem. Sure, we should colonise the rest of the universe, but our good old original planet has sentimental value and I think it will be looked after.

  • James Strong

    This is certainly an interesting website at times, partly because there are some posts that I can’t see the reason for posting.
    Maybe I am a short term thinker, but I just don’t care what will happen in 600,000,000 years time.
    Why should I care about it?
    Bear in mind that it is completely unpredictable what technology will be available in 500 years time; why can’t we just leave it all to them?

  • Mr Ed

    But Perry, a huge asteroid might drag the Earth away from the Sun by sheer force of gravity so as to increase the Earth’s orbital radius, compensating for increased solar luminosity, albeit with some tidal disruption, a small, transient price to pay.

    I fear that the IRS will get humanity first, as Medicare and Medicaid go bust.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Graham Asher writes: “probably in a few hundred years at the most, we will be able to move the earth where we want” — the operative term here is “we”, meaning “humans or our successors”. The world’s salmons or egrets are unlikely to be doing any such thing in a few hundred years.

    Keep in mind that I’m responding to the litany of “humanity is evil, and should vanish or abandon its technology for the sake of the other species” memes one finds circulating among certain members of the lumpencommentariat. Ignoring, for purposes of argument, the sociopathy inherent in the idea, it is also not the case that the rest of the planet’s species would be safe if only we were gone.

  • Mr Ed

    James, I am guessing that Perry is being slightly satirical about the Climate Hoax Zealots, or Cheesies as I have just termed them.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Mr. Ed: I’m addressing the “humanity and its technology is evil and must be destroyed for its sin of harming the planet” religion in general — specific denominations don’t matter for purposes of this particular rant.

  • Laird

    “lumpencommentariat” Great word; I hope to see it come into common usage.

  • I very much recommend “Interstellar”, for those of you who has not seen it yet.

  • Paul Marks

    Interesting Alisa – I had not heard that the film was good.

    Mr Ed is doing what I tend to do – thinking of the human problems.

    However, Perry M. is correct – if we leave things to nature, the same random forces that created life will destroy it.

    Only by the use of reason (itself part of nature) can life be maintained in the truly long term…….

    And, by the way, only by the use of reason can those pesky human problems (such as the out of control Welfare States and the Credit Bubble financial systems) be dealt with.

  • RAB

    I have been saying for donkey’s years that if we want our species to survive and have a future, then we have to get off this planet and colonise others. To do that we need to use all the technology we have currently developed and a shed load more that we have yet to produce, and to use every bit of energy we can.

    We are certainly not going to effortlessly soar on to Alpha Centauri using bloody windmills and solar panels, though the solar panels will be of use in space.

  • NickM

    There are complicated problems (physics etc.) and complex problems (human stuff). The first seems much more tractable (usually) than the latter. Well, that’s my XP.

    Science has an inbuilt rationality. Pseudo-sciences don’t. What is “social inequality” for example? It’s like Humpty Dumpty whose words mean exactly what he wants them to mean and then reality is post-hoc fitted to it. I am not arguing that science is “pure” but it is a hell of a lot more pure. I could go on, at length, but I am tired.

    I will say one thing though. Throughout all the kerfuffle of late on EU migration to the UK and ways to stop migrants to the UK claiming benefits nobody in the MSM I have seen has cut toe Gordian (or should that be Gordon) knot of even asking about the root cause of this which is the very existence of – in particular “working” – these benefits. Nobody!

    I could go on but I’d need a powerful stimulant and I’m so tired having had a nasty bought of flu and malware. Both sorted.

  • 1st: http://erikwernquist.com/wanderers — enjoy the scenes of potential exploration of our solar system!

    2nd: Earth may have been hit by a GRB back in 775. No known damage to Earth’s biosphere from it: http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/01/21/earth_hit_by_a_gamma_ray_burst_did_a_cosmic_blast_hit_us_in_775_ad.html

    3rd: There really aren’t any stars of a type that can do a GRB close enough to hurt us (nor supernova either). The closest one that *might* is WR104 and it’s over 5000 LY away (possibly 8000) http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2008/03/03/wr_104_a_nearby_gamma_ray_burst.html

    So I wouldn’t worry about a GRB — stick with the Sun swallowing the earth in 600-800 million years from now instead 😉

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    Whilst ‘Interstellar’ is a great movie, why wasn’t the pesky wormhole/tunnel positioned so that it was in Earth’s path, and the whole planet got moved into that galaxy? (Not a plot spoiler- the existence of the hole is revealed early on, behind Saturn, placed there by some unknown agency.)
    And as for life on Earth, if there is any entity like Gaia, we would be it! We are the embodied collective mind of the planet. (If not us, what or who is it?)

  • I’m worried about the gamma ray bursts. We need to hurry!

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    pkudude99: “So I wouldn’t worry about a GRB” — your information is old. See, for example this recent paper on Arxiv.

    It is true that real extinction-level GRBs take place “infrequently”, which is to say, on the order of hundreds of millions of years apart, but that is more than frequently enough to wipe out interesting life on a planet. If the paper above is correct, we may be unusually lucky, and life may be quite rare indeed.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Laird: I coined “lumpencommentariat” about a year ago and I’ve been attempting to slip it in to discussions where I can. 🙂

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    pkudude99- We might already have gamma rays headed our way from stars that exploded nearer the galactic core! Or a killer asteroid might be heading for Earth! Even if it misses our planet, it might have enough gravity to pull us out of our orbital comfort zone! Quick, build those Space Arks now!

  • Ken Mitchell

    Wikipedia is not to be entirely trusted about anything, and the estimates there are based on very sketchy data and assumptions. Consider how much our theories about the universe have changed just in the last 50 years, and consider how much more change we might expect within the NEXT 50 – never mind 50 MILLION – years. Given that we have only the vaguest clues about how the Sun works or why it changes in millennial cycles, I would be suspicious about any suggestion that we know or CAN know what will happen in the next half-billion.

    Besides, the problem is easily solved, and the basic mathematics has already been performed. We just need 100,000 years of engineering improvements to be able to build the ram pulse fusion engine to fire up Ganymede and use it to drag the Earth into orbit around Jupiter. We’ll be fine out there.


  • Mr Ed

    Douglas Adams covered these scenarios off in the Hitchhiker’s Guide in the late 1970s, with the Golgafrinchams. Although for ‘telephone sanitizers and hairdressers’ read ‘bureaucrats, lawyers, welfare lifestylers, social scientists, anyone in the theatre and media types’.

    The real problem is economic.

  • Very retired

    One of the big reasons Rand was so thoroughly hated by both secular collectivists as well as religious believers was her emphasis on human life as the moral standard by which beliefs and actions should be judged, and the corollary tenet that the only truly valid purpose in life was the pursuit of happiness here on this earth, for which and from which humanity had developed.

    Neither the promise of a collectivist utopia, nor a heaven in a life after this earth, were sufficient reasons to violate human rights, and infringe on human liberty.

    Deep ecology, and a large part of its various permutations, is a projection of deep self-hatred upon the entire human species, and an obvious rejection of the concept of human value.

    A great part of religious thought is focused on another source for human value, and another realm in which happiness is possible, but only by the abandonment of an independent mind through absorption into some universal consciousness.

    It is one of the great mysteries of human history that beliefs so inimical to ordinary human life and happiness became so powerful in so many variations across so many cultures. It is not a mystery, however, given these beliefs, that human history is such an endless tale of poverty, sickness, ignorance, and gruesome death.

    Reality will not be denied.

  • hennesli

    Many nominally ‘athiest’ thinkers, Ayn Rand and Nietzsche among them, do not do away with God but merely project him onto something called ‘Man’. Thus ‘Man’ becomes the unmoved mover, transcending biological and material reality. (Rand was suspicious of Evolutionary theory for this reason).

    the idea that humans will still be around in 600m years, while I suppose not impossible, strikes me as wildly optimistic. I suspect humans will go the same way as the 99.9% of other species that have ever lived long before then.

  • The only long term hope of survival life has is humans and our *successors* moving it through the cosmos.

    [emphasis mine]. Hennesli and others: for ‘humans’ read any form of applied intelligence on a level similar to ours or higher, including “robots”.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    It’s not life they hate, it’s intelligence.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Contradicting myself, I’ve no doubt that most of these people who drone on about humanity being a plague better gone rediscover the desire to preserve one particular human organism pretty damn fast if anyone pulls a knife on them.

    On a purely practical point, our best bet for preserving and spreading some form of consciousness which has something like human ethics and personalities (which seems to me to be the core of the desire to “keep humanity going”) is probably to take the form of pure information, which can then be sent around the galaxies at the speed of light, easily outpacing any conceivable catastrophe. Whether that could be done by downloading human personalities or by creating artifical life which bore the imprint of its human creators in its initial programming, I do not know.

    That wouldn’t preserve the animals and plants, true. Would a perfect “recording” of them in some sort of holodeck program do?

    I’ve read too much SF. Any time I think of these things I also think of a dozen nightmarish ways it could All Go Horribly Wrong.

  • Mr Ed

    It’s not life they hate, it’s intelligence.

    Indeed, I was struck many years ago by a documentary (which one long forgotten) in which a Pole was talking about life in Poland in the 1940s. He said that the Soviet regime post-war was worse than the Nazis, and he also said ‘The Nazis always hated the intelligent‘.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “hennesli” writes: “the idea that humans will still be around in 600m years, while I suppose not impossible, strikes me as wildly optimistic” — That’s not relevant. The point was not that the human race would be around in 600M years, but rather that if the human race vanished, all multicellular life would become extinct 600M years from now.

  • It’s not life they hate, it’s intelligence.

    I think you are on to something there, Natalie. Indeed. If they hated life itself, they would not put animals or even plants above humans – but as we all know by now, ‘Hitler loved his dogs’ and all that.

    On further thought, it’s not about mere intelligence either, more like about consciousness, as you noted, or maybe more precisely, self-consciousness – which, come to think of it, is the prerequisite to individualism.

  • Russ in TX

    I think there’s further benefits from the play.
    For instance, if one is to have a secular religion (and any secular person will at minimum have a “collection of mores,” so why not?), why not use ideas like this to proselytize a love of space, nature, and mission-to-preserve-life-in-general among those who we might consider seriously enviro-mental?”

  • Kevin B

    I’ve always maintained that if the deep greens, (or some other catastrophe), wipes out mankind, then some other primate will evolve intelligence pretty damn quick. Maybe as little as 100,000 years but at least by a million years.

    And if they destroy every primate down to the last tiny lemur on Madagascar the pigs or dogs or bears will take our place within ten million years.

    My contention was originally meant to indicate the futility of trying to protect poor Gaia from those nasty intelligent creatures, but it probably helps in the process of eventually moving our genetic remnants off earth and maybe outsystem.

    So, I hear you ask, if intelligent life is so easy that even dogs can do it, where are all the other intelligent races in the Universe?

    Beats me, but maybe it’s the life bit thats hard. Or maybe getting from star to star. Or maybe God only wants one lot to look out for at a time.

  • Forty five years from now, when the Singularity occurs on a vampire cyborg sentient intelligence from a Second Life emulator on a quantum multicore written by a grade school student, that Entity might become a competing “Game In Town.”

  • Tedd

    Yes, they definitely don’t hate life, they fetishize it. They’ve transferred sentiments that used to be applied to saints, souls, and angels to Life. According to this theology, the purpose of intelligent life is to serve Life. Since, in their judgement, we’re doing a crap job of that, we need to be disposed of.

    This is the exact opposite of my personal theology, which is that if life does have a purpose it’s to support intelligent life. Along those lines, I’ve long enjoyed this TED talk by David Deutsch.

  • Laird

    “And as for life on Earth, if there is any entity like Gaia, we would be it! We are the embodied collective mind of the planet.”

    A great point.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)
    December 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    I believe the greens want to advance the timeline from 600 million years to next Tuesday.

  • Nico

    Eventually the laws of thermodynamics will win out. Life is a constant struggle against entropy, seeking to lower it locally by consuming lower entropy resources, and this is true of all life at all levels of complexity (on Earth surely, and if we believe the same fundamental laws of physics apply elsewhere, then elsewhere).

  • Nico

    And, of course, if we value life, then we must fight entropy as long as we can. Gigayears if possible, megayears at the very least (I hope). Screw the malthusians.