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Somehow I hadn't considered this precise thought before: what happens when the scientific consensus concludes that we're past the point where we could have prevented our own auto-demise? So far science is telling us that we maybe, just barely, have a chance to avoid a terminal fate if we exercise a realistically unachievable level of collective restraint, but that provides us, politically and intellectually, with an escape clause. Hope. Emotional salvation.

What happens when that escape clause is gone? I don't like the implications.

Gil Smart

Fantastic stuff, Dave. Your blog needs WAY more readers and fans...

It's frustrating because we know humans/governments will never do anything to reverse these trends. This is happening and it will continue to happen simply because we're incapable of facing it, of tailoring our collective behavior to the precautionary principle. It's always balls to the wall, full speed ahead - right over the cliff.

I often like to imagine the arguments that raged as Easter Islanders cut down their very last tree. OF COURSE we need to cut this down, why are you trying to infringe upon my freedom to do so, don't you realize the economic harm conserving this tree would inflict upon the islanders. We're simply hardwired for shortsightedness, I guess.


Will the final indignity to the oceans be the release of Fukushima Daiichi's hideously radioactive waters?

Shoppers in Tokyo have been received expert advice to avoid fish caught off the coast of Honshu from Aomori down to the Kii Peninsula (Nagoya way), for now. That affected area is bound to widen with further spills and the inevitable bioaccumulation issues.

Apart from that concern, however, the level of awareness of the perils facing the oceans in Japan is as low as it is in North America. The cult of maguro (tuna) is distressing to observe. The last tuna will no doubt be in eaten in an upscale sushi restaurant in Ginza. From then it will be all jellyfish all the time.

Your views on human nature, DC, are exactly right and apply to humans everywhere, sadly.

John D

rumor- I believe a large number of scientists think we are already toast. I see blogs where they argue among themselves as to whether mankind will go totally extinct, or whether a small amount of humans will survive to repopulate.


Life has existed for 3.5 to 4 billion years. Humanoids 1 million years. Civilization 10,000 years. Industrial society 200 years.

Therefore our little experiment with a big brain and fossil fuel lasted about one 20 millionth of evolutionary time. A vanishingly small slice of time.

I find it amazing to know I lived to experience the peak of 4 billion years of replicator natural selection to capture the biggest share of energy.

I imagine the fish will return after we are gone, but it may take a few tens of million years.


"We are watching a sixth mass extinction take place in the oceans."

Actually, we are watching a sixth mass extinction take place ON LAND too. But unlike the fishing industry, the lumber, oil and agricultural industries are much better at concealing the evidence. It's only a matter of a (very) short time before the same "We are shocked at the speed of decline" rhetoric emerges publicly from foresters and farmers.



John D: Yes, I agree, it's merely uncertain at this point whether things are reversible or even salvageable, but there's still some *possibility* of repreive, at least in technical terms (if not so much in realistic terms of human psychology and history). I'm not so much talking about what reality is but what the effect of perception is on the collective human pscyhe. When science tells us clearly that we're past the tipping point, how are people, collectively, going to behave? Now at least we are constrained by our beliefs or hopes or wishes that perhaps there is a technotopian solution or a sudden shift in collective will to act in restraint. When that no longer becomes possible or relevant - when, in other words, we can no longer delude ourselves so easily - how will people act, en masse?

There's an outside chance that it won't change a damn thing, I suppose. That people will go on ignoring uncomfortable scientific predictions insofar as they urge a change in behaviour, much as we do now. But I think there's a much larger chance that things will turn very ugly, very fast.


@John D and rumor: I'm starting to drift back to my way of thinking that if humans are to survive on this planet, it will be as hunter-gatherers. When I thought that a few years ago, it turned into something of a Hofferian True Believerism, so I certainly hope I don't start lapsing back into that silly habit. (Not in the least because *way* too many self-styled neo-primitivists are, like college-campus radical-leftists, socially-maladjusted idiot-losers who do *not* even remotely have what it takes to put their utopian vision into practice.)


I feel like you turned the thoughts in my head into much better words than I could. I, like you are very interested in science. Mine is just a hobby but I have kept up with all the data from various fields that talk about the past and our current situation. I actually predicted about a decade ago that our climate would change much faster than the predictions back then and even now. To me it was pretty easy to see but I guess I tend to put things together better than most. When I think about our future, economically and environmentally it scares the crap out of me.

Edward Boyle

I recall the film Deep Impact, where he poeple have date for destruction and slowly all hell breaks out and social order disintegrates. That can't happen here. Shit happens (Katrina, Fukushima, Russian drought) and then people get shocked then go back to a sort of normal after a while. Boiling frog syndrome. It doesn't happen fat enough to jump out. The Japanese are not closing all their nukes, nor the Russians stopping oil pumping nor USA doing anything seriously to stop mass housing directly on coasts, for example.

LeRoy Murray

I've been saying for years much to the consternation of my friends, that the best thing that could happen to the earth is the extinction of the human race, all of us, not some. If as is alleged to have happened in the past, a few survive, in a few thousand years we'll be right back where we are. I know it means me too, assuming I'm still here, but I sincerely hope the Mayans and the others are right about 2012, and hope its the end of the world and not the end of the age, humans don't deserve another chance.


@LeRoy: I doubt we would be back here again in another few thousand years. The resources simply won't exist to build another industrial civilization. See "Olduvai Gorge theory".


Here's what my kids (and we) have to look forward to:
- Ocean's devoid of most things but thriving jelly fish, which will have cascading effects in the whole web of life
- Melted arctic sea ice with corporations clamoring for the newly exposed resources, which will have cascading effects in the whole web of life
- A destabilized, chaotic climate with floods, droughts, fires...
- A rapid rise in superbugs, and other health emergencies
- Rising oceans, millions of environmental refugees
- Too little food production for our rising population
- Peak oil and its consequences

Yet people don't seem to care enough to change, except possibly replace a few light bulbs... Most of the reporting always ends with: but it's not too late to change things (i.e. tune out, scientists and politicians will make things right). Headlines should be "hundreds of millions of people will die, and billions will die without immediate, large scale actions".


I just wanted to say your blog along with Naked Capitalism are my two favorite sources of information. I'm 26 and but it feels like when I read these comments on these sites, only older folks are interested in these issues. It seems like people in my age group just want to ignore it all and indulge in escapism whether it be video games or TV.

Now, I'm not a scientist but I can see a general ecological decline in my local community. Keep in mind this is just your average American suburb. There are no big factories or toxic waste sites yet everything seems to be in decline. When I was a kid, I used to collect and document various types of local plants and insects as well as fish recreationally. I guess you could say I was an amateur naturalist. Although, I no longer collect specimens, I do keep track of what I observe and it is very disheartening.

In 10 years I have noticed that the rich diversity of dragonfly species has gone from 30-35 (depending on the season) down to only 8. The ponds and lakes now only hold tiny, sickly looking catfish. Common pollinating insects like bees and butterfly are no longer common. Even the famed Monarch butterfly is beginning to be a rare sight in these parts. And this is only in an average American suburb. I can't imagine what is happening in industrial centers or areas of the planet blighted by intense human activity, like Eastern China.

Of course, I'm sure most people using these parks and preserves for their weekly jogs or bike rides even notices or cares about these things. The only other person I knew who was even remotely interested in the ecological health of these areas was an old World War II veteran who passed away years ago. It seems like the majority of Humans aren't going to do anything unless it directly affects them.

I suspect that human race won't go extinct but our ancestors will live on a planet that has been diminished greatly. Once industrial civilization has spent its lifeblood, humans will likely return to a pre-industrialized state and the dreams of a civilization stretching into space will be but a forgotten memory and our fate will tied to the planet's to the very end.

It's depressing to think that our final legacy would be a layer of broken plastic between the Burgess shale and a eons worth of mud and the few man-made objects existing in the vacuum of space. Makes you wonder what the point of it all is.

Lucas Wheeler

Dave great as always. But, may I make a suggestion? Why not follow the lead of Dave Foreman in his wonderful new work on human population "Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife" -- stop using the term "The Sixth Mass Extinction". Let us all from now on call it what it is: "The First Mass Murder of Life on the Planet". The other "mass extinctions" were the result of inanimate forces of nature -- asteroids, volcanism what have you. This time it is different. This time one form of life is deliberately killing off mass numbers of other lifeforms for it's own shortsighted self-interest. I honestly do not know if humans or "we" meaning "Industrial Society" will survive the slaughter. What I do know is that Prof. Eileen Crist was right when she stated "... it is not our survival and well-being that are primarily on the line, but everybody else's".

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