I know that not everyone believes in evolution through natural selection. That's okay, belief never changes proven, testable, facts. In my personal opinion, however, our evolution into the intelligent creatures (if you can call it intelligent), we are, is a curse of sorts. At first our evolving intelligence served us well, helped us survive where other creatures couldn't. But now our intelligence is killing us. It was our intelligence that has lead to, what I believe now, is irreversible climate change. We are on the road to extinction. How long that process will take I do not know, but there's no going back now. If I could wish for anything, it would be that we had never left the trees.
George Santayana is reported to have said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
A fuller version of the quote:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Anthony, In the context of your well written concern, this principle gives us cause for both hope and despair.
Starting with the despair, any history of the major civilizations of Homo sapiens will show gradual rise from the surrounding disorganized communities, buildup of a culture and civilization, then conquest, reach a pinnacle, then flatten out and decline. In some cases, that flattened area lasts a long time. In others, the fall is catastrophic.
We can see that with multiple Chinese empires, each a civilziation built upon the ruins of the previous. And the Mayans, the Incas, Aztecs, Egyptians, European civilizations, Greeks, Romans, the Byzantine empire, the Ottoman empire, the Spanish empire, the English empire, and now whatever we have, a global empire. Some civilizations conquered and absorbed others, some died in their own waste, or starved from depletion of their resources, or had no resistance to introduced diseases, or lost innovation - but all ultimately ended - up to our own.
The ultimate fate for all, is growth, stagnation, and decline. Stagnation and decline can be due to built-in conservatism - such as Chinese cultures, some of which were highly conservative after establishment, cultures overgrowing resources, or outside catastrophe - Aztecs, Incas, and also Minoan and others.
In biology, the growth phase of this principle is described by the Logistic Function Curve. The equation that described the curve can be derived from first principles, that rate of growth depends on concentration of critical factors necessary for growth, in a system where those factors have a finite supply. When critical factors are depleted, the rate slows, then stops.
In systems that require growth, if the critical element (or elements) is depleted, the curve ends with a plateau, then decline. In systems that do not dispose of their toxins, then the decline is expected to be faster, even catastrophic if toxins are above a lethal threshold.
All of which Malthus said in the 18th century. Science, medicine, and sanitation allowed far greater populations than Malthus would have expected, but we seem to be reaching the limit now.
This model, or more sophisticated variations, can be applied to bacterial cultures, plants, animals, and populations of homo sapiens. The human story, told repeatedly by history, and also derivable from first principles of population biology, tells us that this will happen again. And since our culture is now on a global scale, and the effects are global, our decline will be global as well.
Josse Lieferinxe St. Sebastian bittet für die Pestopfer via wikimedia commons
Time to watch "Road Warrier", maybe.
OK, that's the downer. Now for the optimism.
Homo sapens is remarkably adaptable and has explosive fecundity. Adaptability defines our existence. Past history also tells us that even after catastrophic decline, humans bottom out, adapt, and then have a resurgence. That means survival of the species, even if our culture does not. Who knows what would happen then. I imagine, our followers will forget the history of their antecedents, and once again go through the boom and bust cycle.
It's sad that our culture is so willfully ignorant and craven, that most don't see the impending disaster. But it's reassuring that our culture isn't the first self destructive one, and probably won't be the last.
I need to say, this may sound more authoritative than I really am.
A lot to think about in this post, but for the moment I only want to comment on the growth curve, which is a typical sigmoid growth curve showing a flattening of the population as it reaches the so-called carrying capacity of its envitonment. The presupposition behind this kind of growth is that the carrying capacity is fixed and unchanging during the growth and sets the upper limit on the size of the population. The fact is that we do not have a good idea of what the carrying capacity of the earth is, and it may not matter anyway. Here is the historical growth curve based on the best estimations of population long ago:
If climate change were not happening, this is the growth curve we would expect to see for the earth's population—a gradual slowing of growth and flattening as the carrying capacity is approached. With climate change we are likely reducing quite sharply the earth's carrying capacity, perhaps even below the actual current population. That is an entirely new problem. It means that instead of a population that voluntarily slows its growth as it approaches the carrying capacity of its environment, we will have a sudden and sharply reduced capacity, leading to desperate competition for resources. That means war.
Intelligence is a wonderful thing, but I think it has lead to the greed that pushes manking on today. The money grabbers push religion on the masses for control reasons while they say to themselves, "you only live once so get all you can." If they even realize that global warming or something else just as bad is happening they might say " we can fix it later because we have the money." Along the way they get blinded into thinking that all is OK because they are trying to fix it right now with some program that is just a bandaid. Those of us that really care set back and watch this because we can do very little.