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5/5/04

Home______The Fate of Earth

Archeological studies indicate that whenever people can expand beyond the limits of their environment with the technology to harm it, they will do so.

  • Jared Diamond is a physiologist at UCLA. Recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award, he is a man of many interests and passions. In a 1995 video interview for Discover magazine, he revealed their range and depth. Here are some of his comments during that interview.

  • Overpopulated and deforested, Haiti is already so badly damaged environmentally that it won't be able to reverse itself. Look at Somalia and Iraq. Areas that breed war are also areas of environmental damage. The two situations contribute to one another, and this is no accident.

  • Easter Island was settled by Polynesians in 500 C.E. Unlike the Roman or Sumerian empires, which arguably could have collapsed from either internal or external forces, or both, Easter Island civilization had no neighbors, so it had to collapse from within.

    In 500, fossil evidence indicates a large pollen forest existed. By 1600, the forests were extinct. This meant no trees. All land prey had been hunted to extinction. Because of deforestation, erosion rendered soil infertile for crops. Nor did people have wood to build boats to catch fish. A population crash occurred, 7000 dropping to 2000. They could go nowhere else. Out of this environmental catastrophe cannibalism arose. People were killed for meals.

  • 99.9 percent of plants and animal extinction today is caused by human society. This figure is based on rates of extinction in the past.

  • Human population is doubling every 35 to 42 years. Jared Diamond pegged the present population at 5.5 billion. With regard to plant and animal extinction, most environmental changes will occur in the next 50 years.

    Of the energy fixed by plants, 40 percent is used by people. If the population doubles in 35 to 42 years, 80 percent of plant energy would be needed then. This would be energy commandeered from other life forms. In sixty years, nature would have nothing left to take, nor to give.

  • During the cold war, the risk of nuclear holocaust had our attention because it could wipe out hundreds of thousands in a few seconds. While the risk of it has receded, the risk of environmental holocaust increases dramatically but does not get our attention because it happens slowly. The human brain is wired so it can turn away from the evidence. ( To better understand this, our human predicament, see Descartes' Error: Antonio Damasio, Somatic Markers, As-If Loops, and Moral Dilemmas, 11 April 2004, as well as Evolutionary Psychology and Moral Dilemmas, 12 March 2004.)

    Reason for hope. The Easter Islanders had no recorded history, no way to learn. We have books, a way to learn.

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