Posted by: atowhee | March 30, 2018


It is not just climate change and forecasts by such scientists as Paul Ehrlich that give me misgivings about the future of our species.  It is our apparently innate need as a species to kill one another and to mistrust those not obviously in our tribe.  When things get bad, bad things happen more often.

A good, very smart, and life-long, friend (we’ve know one another for 65 years, since early elementary school) has this to say about my giving vent to misgivings:

“With regard to the big picture, I remain optimistic.  Life will survive.  Humanity may survive.  Civilization may be more of a stretch.

 “Two years of being a Geology student left me with the certainty (to quote Jurassic Park) that ‘Life will find a way.’  Life got its start in a reducing atmosphere, a completely toxic environment to what we have today.  There have been three major extinction events, and numerous minor ones.  Life always came back.  Species were lost (90% of all the species we can identify – from the fossil record – are now extinct), but something else evolved to fill the empty niche.

 “Consider the Mayan, who denuded their biome, and collapsed as a civilization. A thousand years later the rain forest had come back, and when Europeans first arrived in the Yucatan Peninsula, the ruins were completely covered.  All it takes is time.

 “No species gets a guarantee, including the human species.  But there are a lot of us.  If we lose 99% of the population, there will still be 70,000,000 – a large enough number for a breeding population.  One risk here is that the survivors will be in small, physically isolated, groups, and subject to inbreeding and genetic drift.  This appears to be what happened to the Neanderthals.

“Our civilization is dependent on fragile systems (e.g. the electric power grid) and the continuity of world trade.  No country is self-sufficient, least of all, the United States.  A large enough disturbance could produce a cascade of effects.  Once the global system goes down, bringing industrialization back will be difficult, because easily exploited resources have already been consumed.  Einstein said, ‘I don’t know how WW III will be fought, but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.’  We could be in the sticks and stones level of technology for a very long time.”

One thing I ruminate on…what, if anything, should those remnants try to save of our global culture?  What could be saved?  CDs and computers are likely to be worthless.

Stone sculpture?  Engravings on stainless steel?  Images on glass?  Glass sculptures? Some books on some permanent medium?  Oral stories that would change but carry some memories and meanings? Is there no way to keep even a shred of Mozart or Balzac? Brancusi or baseball?  Are rulers, slide rules, scissors, knives, glass containers, metal nails of any value when the civilization has collapsed?  Would even rudimentary agriculture be possible or advisable?  We see now where modern farming has led us–over-use of fossil fuels, over-population and oceanic pollution.  Was subsistence really a better idea?

What of the many other creatures we will have driven to extinction?  Any way to prepare and preserve fossils for some possible renaissance millions of years into the future?  Nature has now will, but she will have her way.

So many questions…



  1. Tribes will form, gods created, messiahs born, and we’ll have reasons to celebrate again we being those around to toil in the polluted soil of the next millennium, Greed will again take over, wars fought for gods, more destructive weapons, with redundant extinctions . . .

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