Human Impacts: Will We Survive the Future?

Session Date: 
May 15, 2015

I was asked to speak to the question: Will we survive the future? The answer, of course, is yes. With the world population at 7 billion people, it is exceedingly unlikely that humans, as a species, will go extinct any time soon. Humans are highly adaptable. We have faced and survived serious challenges before, and most of us are likely to survive the challenges of the coming century as well. However, with atmospheric CO2 now exceeding 400 ppm, and global fossil fuel usage continuing to rise, the reality of disruptive climate change becomes inescapable. This talk therefore shifts the question slightly to: How will we survive? And will other species survive us? The scientific evidence is overwhelming that humans, through our actions, are driving enormous numbers of species towards endangerment if not extinction. If we continue on our present course, the world of the future will be a biologically, and therefore spiritually, impoverished place. The dystopia of which Rachel Carson warned, of a Silent Spring—which we thought we had averted—may yet come to pass. But it will not just be a dystopia of monoculture. As disruptive climate change becomes more and more severe, and as the costs of dealing with climate change—already evident in California—mount, large numbers of people will be displaced. Our liberal democratic forms of governance will be severely challenged. In wealthy nations, we will increasingly spend our resources on managing climate change, and not on music or art or hospitals of universities. In poorer nations, we will be spending our resources on mere survival, as progress towards development—towards a decent standard of living for all—recedes into a fading and abandoned aspiration. Hence, the challenge of climate change is not so much the challenge of survival, but the challenge of preserving, protecting, and continuing to build the world that we want to live in.  

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