The Future of Humanity

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Intentional Ignorance

November 6, 2012

I wrote this essay to offer some essential information about our world and the future of our species, adding my voice to the many cries of alarm over the environmental crisis (lately reaching criticality). [More...]


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Phasing Down Fossil Fuel Emissions

James Hansen 20 OCT 2014

The essential spur required to phase down fossil fuel emissions is a rising carbon fee.  Only a few major nations must agree, e.g., China and the United States.  Most of the world would follow, induced by the desire to avoid border duties and modernize energy infrastructure.  

Other things are needed, especially technology development, but those things will be hastened by a rising carbon fee.

So why is an agreement on a carbon fee at [the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21]* in Paris in December 2015 not a foregone conclusion?

The old excuse, that it would be costly, has been shot down.  A steadily rising carbon fee, if it is revenue neutral via 100% dispersal of the funds to the public, stimulates the economy, increasing jobs and the GDP (see REMI study commissioned by Citizens Climate Lobby).

(For more, go to this link.)


*The 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP 11) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol**. The conference objective is to achieve alegally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. Leadership of the negotiations is yet to be determined.

**The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. There are currently 192 Parties to the Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol implemented the objective of the UNFCCC to fight global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to ‘a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. The Protocol is based on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities: it puts the obligation to reduce current emissions on developed countries on the basis that they are historically responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

40% of Wildlife Exterminated by Humans Since 1970

In my 6 November 2012 blog posting titled “Intentional Ignorance,” I quoted something Julia Allen Field said in Miami around the time of the first Earth Day Teach-In in 1970:

“We are using the Earth as if we were the last generation.”

In that piece I offered my own version of her statement:

Humanity is systematically taking apart the life-support system of Planet Earth for humans.

Now comes a measure of the depth of this action from the World Wildlife FundWWF logo‘s Living Planet Report.

That report is the world’s leading, science-based analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity. Knowing we only have one planet, WWF believes that humanity can make better choices that translate into clear benefits for ecology, society and the economy today and in the long term. From the WWF web site on the new report comes this summary:

“[The] latest edition of the Living Planet Report is not for the faint-hearted. One key point that jumps out is that the Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52 per cent since 1970. 

Continue reading

Interesting Links on the Consequences of Overpopulation

Some direct and indirect consequences of overpopulation have grabbed attention on the web recently.

Check these out:

2014-09-06 Joe Bish compilation of consequences of overpopulation

2014-09-02 Population Growth Leads to Booms, Busts, and Spiraling Costs, not Economic Sustainability

2014-08-05 Groundwater Depletion in the Colorado River Basin

2014-07-11 Two out of three countries ‘ecologically overshot’ 

Humanity in a Nutshell

When I awoke this morning, something simple popped into my head. It was this brief explanation of what Alan Weissman’s book Countdown is all about: How humanity went wrong with the Earth and what we’ve learned to do about it.

As is my want, I decided to elaborate a little.

When humanity first arrived as a distinct species, we were like infants, having to explore our world and learn how to get along in it. This took a very long time, but was successful. We became hunters and gatherers, roaming the countryside, mostly looking for food, and learning how best to find, prepare, and eat it. Life was not that easy for humans and our numbers remained quite low for a long long time.

About 10,000 to 15,000 years ago some of us first learned how to plant seeds, water them once in a while, and actively grow crops to feed ourselves. We found out which species in different climates were relatively easy to grow, tasted pretty good, and satisfied our hunger. Along the way we learned how to cook our food to make it more delicious, easier to eat, and have greater shelf life. Our numbers started to grow a little more rapidly, but still there were very few of us. Continue reading

Countdown by Alan Weisman: A Review


I draw your attention to the amazing book Countdown by Alan Weisman. It makes all the connections, anchored by the core reason for the human population’s current unsustainability: unrelenting population growth coupled with humanity’s also unrelenting propensity toward more food, more unsustainable resource use, and more fossil fuel extraction.

On page after page—as Weisman tours the world—he spotlights failed government policy (often going against desires of people to be more rational) and describes the terrible environmental and other consequences of those failures, culture after culture, region after region, and country after country. But he also chronicles, page after page, the experiences of countries and regions whose populations blew up last century now exhibiting substantially lowered fertility levels, in many cases below the replacement level of about 2.1 births per fertile female.

By the end of Chapter 4, seventeen percent of the book, I thought Weissman had written enough. It was comprehensive and overwhelming, but I continued reading anyway. I’m glad I did.

 Countdown Image Continue reading

Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth

Excerpt of comments to Population Connection’s Board of Directors, originally published in the organization’s magazine POPULATION CONNECTION, Volume 46, Issue 2, June 2014 and reprinted here by permission.

I don’t pull any punches in my new book, Countdown. We’re facing some serious challenges in this century, and much of it may be a wild ride through uncharted territory. The number of humans on this planet is far more than nature ever intended, and our demands are changing the atmosphere, seas, and soils in dangerous ways.

Nevertheless, I came out of writing this book far more encouraged than I was going into it, because I learned that there is an affordable solution that can make a huge difference, and there’s already a lot of momentum and precedence for it in nearly every part of the world.

Among the countries I visited that have discovered non-coercive, completely voluntary ways of bringing their fertility rates down is one that surprises a lot of people, because it’s a Muslim theocracy. The same year as its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran actually applied coercion in the opposite direction, charging every fertile female to do her patriotic duty and get pregnant to help build a Twenty Million Man Army to fight off the invading Iraqis. By some estimates, at one point Iran’s growth rate peaked at 4.2 percent, near the biological limits for fertile women and the highest rate of population increase the world had ever seen.

But once the war was finally over, the director of Iran’s planning and budget office realized they had big problems. All those males born to supply the Twenty Million Man Army would eventually need jobs, and the chances for providing them shrank with each new birth. He and others met with the Supreme Leader to warn of the instability of a nation filled with frustrated, angry, unemployed young men.

Soon thereafter, the country that had told its females to get pregnant for the good of the nation was posting banners across roads reading “One is good, two is enough.” A new Ayatollah—he’s still in power today—issued a fatwa stating that, “When wisdom dictates that you do not need more children, a vasectomy is permissible.”

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Human Place in the Antropocene

Quote for the day:

While not “silver bullets” able to guarantee global sustainability on their own,

near term population stabilization and subsequent consolidations are fundamental bio-physical steps in the global behavior change required to move towards a more sustainable future — and perhaps even more importantly,

acquiescence and acceptance of the necessity of these steps is a crucial mental turning point,

wherein a person moves

from allegiance to human-exceptionalism and human-entitlement

to a more humble and self-modest conception of human existence within the planetary whole,

wherein the primary driver of thinking is no longer centered on humans and our needs and wants, but rather is conscious of the entire eco-sphere and the rights of all the species that constitute it to exist.


—Joe Bish, Senior Population Communications Associate, Population Media Center,


Context: Dot Earth blog at the New York Times

A Global Uprising—Stopping Global Warming While Making Better, Healthier, Stronger Societies

In my most recent post to this blog, I pointed out a string of serious statements from scientific organizations and from the U.S. government, warning humanity and the U.S. people about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to planetary warming. To counter this, now certain, danger, I called for what amounts to a planet-scale uprising. We might call it a “Global Spring.”

Educated and sensible leaders around the world have now, finally, accepted the reality of global warming and the enormous threats it and other Earth-damaging practices have for the future of mankind. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently explained on MSNBC, “Our scientists are telling us to learn how to manage the unavoidable while avoiding the unmanageable.” Because global warming will continue even if we make the reforms, we must work now to accommodate the global warming consequences we cannot escape. We have to stay away from the red lines, the lines humanity might cross that we won’t be able to come back over. Clearly, if we want to “avoid the unmanageable,” those red lines, we have to get really serious about it.

Continue reading

If the World is Coming to an End, Why Don’t We Act?

Recently we have seen a string of serious statements from scientific organizations and from the U.S. government, warning humanity and the U.S. people about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to planetary warming. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas).

The Warnings

Other statements have also been issued concerning the larger and more general threats from a variety of additional environmental changes initiated by human civilization. Taken together, these threats indicate what can only be called a systematic taking apart of our life-support system, however unintended.  Such statements have been profiled in three recent blog posts on this site: Continue reading

UN Weighs in on Global Warming

Breaking News – Part 2

The major news media took little note of a dire report from the largest scientific society on the planet, news about which was posted here 18 March, but fortunately, they finally got the message when yesterday the United Nations issued a sweeping report on the same subject. The U.N. announcement took note of a landmark new publication by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The new report is filled with sobering facts about what is happening to our climate now and offers predictions of what is likely to happen in the future. Coverage of the announcement was extensive in the major news media and many announcements and stories were posted on the internet, as can be seen with a web search on “UN Report On Climate Change 2014.” Continue reading

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