VII. Pedia Sapiens: A Genesis Future on Earth and in the Heavens
A. The Old Earth: Our Critical Life Support Condition
Costanza, Robert, et al, eds. Sustainability or Collapse?: An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007. The report of a 2005 Dahlem (Berlin) round-robin workshop by an international cast on how to comprehend and get in front of so many pressing environmental urgencies. In the vein of Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, the task was divided into three time spans: the last 10,000, 1,000, and 100 years. These historic spans provide a context to guide future remediations and globally integrated programs founded upon respectful human-biosphere interrelations. Typical papers are Climate, Complexity, and Problem Solving in the Roman Empire by Joseph Tainter and Carole Crumley; The Lie of History: Nation-States and the Contradictions of Complex Societies by Fekri Hassan; and A Decadal Chronology of 20th Century Changes in Earth’s Natural Systems by Nathan Nantua. But the whole effort goes on without any wonderment of an abiding, conducive cosmology whereof people have a phenomenal evolutionary role to intentionally take up and maintain a biosphere homeostasis.
Davenport, Coral and Kendra Pierre-Louis. U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy. New York Times. November 24, 2018. A front page headline about a penultimate document entitled the Fourth National Climate Assessment which details brute evidence from hurricanes in Florida and fires in California to every erratic weather event in between that an epic unmitigated peril is occurring in our midst. This is Volume II, after a 2107 Climate Science Special Report, as a mandated culmination of the Global Change Research Act of 1990. The 1500 page report, which can be accessed from this article, stresses that much more damage will be done to any economy by the longer it is denied and ignored. This large document appears concurrently with another noted in the November 2018 Nature Climate Change article by Camila Mora, et al herein.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
New York: Viking,
In this major contribution, the UCLA anthropologist roams across centuries and continents to find case studies of large and small civilizations that either failed to survive in the face of change and threat or did overcome through perceptive, agreed adaptation. Insightful contrasts are the opposite fates of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on their same Caribbean island or Norse and indigenous settlements on Greenland as forestation and climates changed. Past collapses such as Mayan culture or Easter Island sets the scene for modern societies variously exemplified by Rwanda, China and Australia.
Editorial, Staff. Crossroads for Planet Earth. Scientific American. September, 2005. A special issue of nine authoritative articles on the intersecting issues that need to be addressed if humanity is not to collapse but succeed and flourish. The Climax of Humanity by George Musser is followed by, for example, Joel Cohen on population trends, Jeffery Sachs on fighting poverty, pathways to renewable energy by Amory Lovins, and Herman Daly on sustainable economics. But the all writers are men, after this necessary analysis we still lack a common, meaningful vision of the cosmic phenomenon and purpose of human and earthkind.
Ellis, Erle, et al. Used Planet: A Global History. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 110/7978, 2013. As if a Whole Earth retrospective, University of Maryland, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, University College London, University of Wisconsin, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and Amsterdam Global Change Institute, environmental geographers view from our late 21st century the environmental effects of thousands of years of human migratory habitation from hunter/gatherer and agrarian to industrial civilization. It is then obvious that a novel phase of intentional remediation and organic sustainability is imperative.
Human use of land has transformed ecosystem pattern and process across most of the terrestrial biosphere, a global change often described as historically recent and potentially catastrophic for both humanity and the biosphere. Interdisciplinary paleoecological, archaeological, and historical studies challenge this view, indicating that land use has been extensive and sustained for millennia in some regions and that recent trends may represent as much a recovery as an acceleration. Here we synthesize recent scientific evidence and theory on the emergence, history, and future of land use as a process transforming the Earth System and use this to explain why relatively small human populations likely caused widespread and profound ecological changes more than 3,000 y ago, whereas the largest and wealthiest human populations in history are using less arable land per person every decade. Contrasting two spatially explicit global reconstructions of land-use history shows that reconstructions incorporating adaptive changes in land-use systems over time, including land-use intensification, offer a more spatially detailed and plausible assessment of our planet's history, with a biosphere and perhaps even climate long ago affected by humans. Although land-use processes are now shifting rapidly from historical patterns in both type and scale, integrative global land-use models that incorporate dynamic adaptations in human–environment relationships help to advance our understanding of both past and future land-use changes, including their sustainability and potential global effects. (Abstract)
Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet.
New York: Atlantic Monthly Press,
The Australian naturalist, finder of new species, environmental activist, author of clarion call The Weather Makers (2006), offers a grand scenario of our whole ovular world through space and time. The place, dream, and fate of the Earth is traced from galaxy to Gaia, a planetary vista to reconstruct how we all came to be here. Opening chapters set up a novel contrast between the dual discovers of evolution, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. While Darwin is now equated with individual competition, an attributed legacy rather than his actual view, Wallace, a spiritualist in later years, is aligned with cooperation. In this regard, it is life’s real recurrent tendency to join in symbiotic, mutual assemblies that should merit more attention. We people are emergent microcosmic composites of each prior stage, who today need aspire and ascend to a unified ecosphere, at once ethnic and earthling.
James Lovelock believes that Gaia is already very old, frail, and susceptible to human-caused upsets. But the Gaia that emerges from this study is more akin to a new born babe. All newborns have new-formed brains, nervous systems and bodies, but these are yet to be fully integrated so self-control and self-awareness remain rudimentary. Infancy is the most dangerous period of life, and the threats to our global civilization that must be faced during this century of decision will provide challenges enough. (279)
Flannery, Tim. The Weather Makers. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006. When we get our morning weather report, its extreme conditions are increasingly of our own influence. On a planet seen as an organic Gaian biosphere, its atmosphere and climate will presently spiral out of control if humankind does not take notice and deliberate moderate energy and material consumption.
Friedman, Lisa. Government Report Finds Drastic Impact of Climate Change on U.S. New York Times. August 8, 2017. A news notice about the latest 545 page U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report accessed by the NYT. Premier authorities from NOAA, NASA and each relevant agency, along with Universities from Columbia to Alaska have validated real, catastrophic effects in evidence or soon to come (notably the Texas monsoon). Fifteen chapters run from Our Globally Changing Climate to Droughts, Floods, and Hydrology to Potential Surprised: Compound Extremes and Tipping Points. While funded by taxpayers, a public access may yet be blocked by the Trump administration due to biases, cross purposes, misunderstandings and denials. But thanks to the NYT, it can be reached by a link in this article.
An Inconvenient Truth.
This is the website for the award-winning film by the former Vice President and renowned environmentalist. As the quote notes, we really ought to pay attention to percipitous global climate change, which no amount of political spin can disprove, undo or avoid. As I write this, record floods are inundating eastern Massachusetts, where devastated residents say they never thought this could happen to them. While Al Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance remains one of the best on the subject, some fourteen years later every alarm, such as disappearing glaciers, is now going off, if we only were not so easily misled and distracted. A book by the same title is available from Rodale Press.
Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.
Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992. Still one of the best assessments of the present ecological dilemma. A rare employ then and now of complexity science informs the argument that many climate and environmental systems are critically poised and can shift into unpredictable states. Gore contends the crisis is so deep that only a new spiritual and religious vision of nature will suffice.
Goudie, Andrew, editor-in-chief.
Encyclopedia of Global Change.
Oxford: Oxford University Press,
An authoritative compendium on every issue such as Hazardous Waste, Salinization and Acid Rain.
Haggstrom, Olle and Catherine Rhodes. Existential Risk to Humanity. Foresight. 21/1, 2019. In this Emerald Insight journal of future perspectives, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden and Cambridge University scholars introduce a litany of very bad potential threats to Earth, people, and all living beings. Some papers are Facing Disaster: The Great Challenges Framework by Phil Torres, Long-Term Trajectories of Human Civilization by Seth Baum, et al (search) and Predicting Future AI Failures from Historic Examples by Roman Yampolsky. A nexus for such studies revolves somewhat around the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University (Google).