Aug 21 2008

What the planet needs?

Category: GeneralDave @ 15:21


Absolutely nothing. I’m forever hearing “What the planet needs is…” and it's nonsense.

The planet will go on existing no matter what we do.

Our Earth is a non-sentient ball of molten rock and iron with a thin solid crust and a tiny but very significant (to us) splash of water. It is unstable, as are the the oceans and the atmosphere. On human timescales they look relatively stable but on anything longer than ten thousand years or so they aren't.

The biosphere may change dramatically and may evolve into something totally different to the one we know but, save completely poisoning the place with an all-out nuclear war (and even then...), there will be a biosphere.

There is a huge concern about loss of biodiversity - we must prevent species extinction at almost any cost; we are currently in the midst of a major Mass Extinction event and this is a Very Bad Thing. But wait a minute, there have been several of these before in the history of the planet and the biosphere has recovered from them. If the gene pool is reduced by extinction, then evolution will produce new species, with different genes of course, to fill the ecological niches vacated by the extinctees, thus re-expanding the gene pool. So, although in the short term the current human-caused mass extinction is not a good thing, at least from the human point of view, in the long term it really makes no difference to life as a whole.

Now down to specifics: the survival of the human species.

What does the planet need to provide to enable that?

  • a/some place(s) where humans can survive in sufficient numbers to not go extinct - I'd guess a few hundred thousand.
  • The temperature mustn't exceed the limits of human endurance - modified by our ability to regulate the local environment to some extent
  • there needs to be enough fresh water or they must retain enough technology to desalinate sea or brackish water
  • there must be sufficient usable land to grow food or sufficient wild plants available to feed the population.

What I am describing is, at the minimum, a subsistence existence with little or no technology, a return to prehistoric living. Such a scenario could be the result of global warming causing catastrophic changes in the weather, rising sea levels etc. If this were to happen in a short timescale - say 50 years - then massive loss of life (and not just human) would probably be the result. Current civilisation would collapse. One might well see a dramatic, temporary rise in the number of scavenging animals. In some parts of the world the number of predatory animals may also rise. However, once stricken populations stabilise at their new, much lower numbers, the scavengers and predators would quickly fall back again as their food source dries up.

It is possible that a human "rump" population may start to grow as it adapts and learns to cope with the changed conditions. Over time, it may also evolve to cope with the new state of the planet. It may climb back up the scale of civilisation, perhaps this time with a better ethos for living. Or it may not - it may stay there for ever, until the planet changes again, as it surely will. Then again, it may hang around a while and then slowly fade away. And no, that would not be "good for the planet". The planet, my dear, doesn't give a damn.

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2 Responses to “What the planet needs?”

  1. avatar Nicholas says:

    I finally found a spare moment to read your excellent article above. One thing missing from the equation. Where did all of the building blocks of the earth come from? Evolution has been proven to have a flawed precept, that given a pot of mush, the pot of mush will evolve. Without the underlying design, there will be no life. If the complexity in the design of an an airplane can just ‘happen’ out of raw materials, then how does it manage to build-itself and then learn how to fly. There first had to be a designer, and then with knowledge of the specific requirements of the task, a design. I have been a Senior Systems Design Engineer for Sony and Verizon, and believe me. The seven-hundred channel fiber-to-the-premises project nationwide was just about the most challenging thing you could take on, short of a NASA project to the moon..

    In the final analysis, no matter what man does, the powerful and mysterious engines that run our planet will most certainly continue to operate without our ‘input’. Respectfully nachase –

  2. avatar Dave says:

    Thanks for the comment Nicholas.

    I have to disagree with you though – there is nothing missing from the equation. Where all the building blocks came from is well known. Evolution has not been proven to have a “flawed precept” – the argument that because we do not yet have the knowledge or technology to reproduce what happened that it did not happen is obviously nonsensical. Also, do not confuse “evolution” with “the origin of life”. They are quite separate subjects. Evolution is a proven theory – it is still happening all around us if you care to look. The origin of life is certainly not yet an open book and yet there is no concrete evidence that it was created by a Designer, intelligent or not. In fact, there is a good argument against the idea which goes something like this:

    So the universe and its contents are so complex and wondrous that they couldn’t possibly have arisen without some Intelligent Designer being involved. So this Intelligent Designer is all encompassing, capable of designing a universe and yet we can’t actually find any trace of it. Wow! What a complex and wondrous creature! Who designed it?

    And so ad infinitum (or ad nauseam, if you prefer 🙂 ) Although some may dismiss this as sophistry there is a large helping of Reason in that argument.

    If you understand fibre optics then you presumably understand quantum physics and therefore the rest of the physics that leads inexorably back to the big bang. If you don’t then I suggest you read Steven Hawkings “A Brief History of Time“.

    So I say that there is no underlying design of life – it really did just happen.

    Please don’t confuse our little human projects (which last maybe 10 or 20 years) with the evolution of the universe (13 billion years) or even of the Earth (6.5 billion years). Although it may be difficult to get one’s head around, on such timescales the unlikely does happen because of the sheer number of opportunities. I have also worked on large projects – the International Space Station and the replacement for the UK’s military paper tape communication system with computers for example – but these are tiny and insignificant on the cosmic scale. It is also true that they (and your aeroplane 🙂 would spring into existence unbidden, given sufficient time: that’s quantum physics for you! A lot of it is really counter-intuitive but the cellphone in your pocket is the proof that it works. By the way, did you know that amino acids have been found in interstellar clouds? See
    for starters.

    And for the record, no I don’t necessarily agree with Dawkin’s: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because I can’t see any evidence of an “intelligent designer” doesn’t mean to say there isn’t one. But let’s not confuse faith with evidence.

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