The human race’s prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenceless against tigers than they are today, when we have become defenceless against ourselves.—Arnold Toynbee (1)
The human race probably faces a greater risk of extinction today than at any time in recorded history. The eminent cosmologist Martin Rees has put the human race’s chances of surviving this century at just 50%. (2) Nick Bostrom has found that academic risk experts generally give us an 80-90% chance of survival, which is better but hardly reassuring. (3) Before the development of modern technology, we faced a relatively low level of what Bostrom calls “existential risk.” But while our mastery of technology has increased our ability to protect ourselves against environmental dangers, it has also made us a much greater threat to our own survival. Now we have reached a critical phase in our development as a species: if we don’t learn to manage our growing technical power, we are in danger of destroying ourselves. (4)
We live in the Anthropocene. The age of humanity. It is the period of Earth’s history largely shaped by human activity. Over roughly the last 10,000 years we humans have changed the composition of both the planet’s atmosphere and its oceans, radically transformed its ecosystems—driving many species to extinction in the process—and have even begun to alter our own biology.
The transformation of the world is the result our collective activity but is not in its totality the product of some deliberate, careful plan. Our tremendous power to reshape the world gives us both an opportunity to make it a better place or to do it great harm. Although the benefits of human civilization are obvious, human civilization has also had a host of serious unintended consequences. It is not beyond our abilities to destroy either ourselves or the planet that is our home.
As the pace of change increases we have to consider as a species where we are heading. We can’t continue to use our power carelessly much longer. This blog will focus on the way we are transforming both the planet and ourselves. If there is anything that you think I should cover here, please don’t hesitate to pass it along. In particular, I would love to hear your suggestions for articles to read or books to review. Likewise, if you have any original photos you would like featured on the site, please let me know.
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