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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