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Cheer up, things could be worse.
November 10, 2002 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Cheer up, things could be worse. War hysteria and Republican triumphalism got you down? Contemplate the array of potential extinction-level events that Nature has seen fit to confront us with, no matter what we monkeys choose to do. What do you think? Are we approaching another evolutionary bottleneck?
posted by adamgreenfield (36 comments total)

 
If this can be averted and it will involve the minor extinction of Bruce Willis, I am all for it.
posted by y2karl at 8:20 PM on November 10, 2002


Ancient prophecy say: "When this afternoon's comments become this evening's front-page posts, big terror reign on earth!"
posted by staggernation at 8:55 PM on November 10, 2002


no matter what we monkeys choose to do.

You talkin' to me? What's this "we" business?

it will involve the minor extinction of Bruce Willis

I don't wish for extinction, but is there any way to get Alec Baldwin permanently exiled to France? Maybe Johnny Depp knows somebody over there.
posted by hama7 at 9:06 PM on November 10, 2002


Um, the Bruce Willis comment was a pop culture reference by a person who had the misfortune of watching a certain asteroid movie. I kinda like Bruce, though (especially after watching "Pulp Fiction" over the weekend for the first time in years), and would rather see Ben Affleck go instead.
posted by raysmj at 9:19 PM on November 10, 2002


and would rather see Ben Affleck go instead.

Before his imminent wedding to J-Lo!? Pop culture indeed.

I really liked Bruce Willis's "Born in the U.S.A." album; what a patriot!
posted by hama7 at 9:53 PM on November 10, 2002


So. None of you have any thoughts about the idea that events utterly beyond our ability to control or influence might end all LAWKI, within our lifetimes?
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:02 PM on November 10, 2002


hama7: Just steer clear of The Return of Bruno. Willis has more vocal talent than, say, Cybill Shepherd, but he doesn't quite have the conviction or skill of the Blues Brothers. Ouch!

As for events beyond our control that might kill us . . . well, if there's nothing we can do about them, there's not much to talk about, outside of, "Holy crap! We're all gonna die." Meantime, most of us have no real hope of stopping "The Return of Bruno II," should such a record be in production, but we could wish for a small, but lethal asteroid to hit the studio.
posted by raysmj at 10:11 PM on November 10, 2002


Er, does this mean we must spread our seed far and wide, in a desperate attempt to save humanity from extinction?

It's a chore, but I guess I'll volunteer...
posted by five fresh fish at 10:19 PM on November 10, 2002


To the extent that I would worry about events beyond our control, I wouldn't necessarily worry about anything like this happening in our lifetime. Sure, anything can happen at any time, but our lives are short enough that the odds are in our favor. I tend to believe that whatever does screw up is going to be due to events within our control. We've been screwing around with the balance of ecology for quite a while now, and it's only a matter of time (and this I believe can happen within my lifetime) before we throw something catastrophically off balance. Think about how much we play around with viruses and genetics, which I think is impossible to do without assuming large risks of unintended or unforeseen consequences--or, these days, someone's intentional consequences.
posted by troybob at 10:41 PM on November 10, 2002


I can deal with being battered with solar radiation or living in a mine shaft for the rest of my life, but the thought of all the world's compasses pointing south is just too much for me to take.
posted by boltman at 10:44 PM on November 10, 2002


So. None of you have any thoughts about the idea that events utterly beyond our ability to control or influence might end all LAWKI,

You're sending mixed messages, adamgreenfield. First you tell us to 'cheer up', and then shave our collective buzzes with this bleak reminder of Armageddon.

Getting fried by the sun, or having an asteriod smack the Earth does actually suck, though, if that's any consolation.

Speaking of population bottlenecks, have you ever wondered why there are so many human beings in Asia? Boy, I have! Let me fill you in on a few population facts I recently was surprised to discover. Let's compare two countries (and one U.S. state) which are similar in terms of size, (but not population):

Portugal: Approximately 35,000 square miles in size.
Population: around 10 million.

South Korea: Approximately 38,279 square miles in size.
Population: around 47 million

Florida: Approximately 58,000 square miles in size
Population: around 15 million

Doesn't that surprise you? I chose South Korea for obvious reasons, but with China (1.3 billion), India (1 billion), and Indonesia (225 million) filling out the population figures, it's easy to imagine a crisis of some kind in the future.
posted by hama7 at 11:22 PM on November 10, 2002


Wouldn't it be cool if the expanding sun created a large inconsistency in the space time continuum and we got to check out some dinosaurs or something? Then maybe Bruce Willis gets eaten by one and everyone laughs.
posted by The God Complex at 11:58 PM on November 10, 2002


I just hope this gets built before I see any scary dinosaurs! Yikes!
posted by hama7 at 12:04 AM on November 11, 2002


And one of these!

I get to be the pirate. Arrrrrrrgh, matey! I be a pirate of the zero-gravity, lung-collapsing (or is it expanding? hmmm) lung-hurting space seas!
posted by The God Complex at 12:09 AM on November 11, 2002


hama7: mixed messages is and are my middle name. Sorry if I led on the wrong foot.

W/R/T the post itself: I don't want to absolve us of our responsibility to care for the things we can. Neither do I want to wring my hands over, oh, the humanity! I'm genuinely interested to see how smart folks deal with the idea of everything and everyone going away, in a far more permanent fashion than one could achieve with puny little nuclear wars, smallpox outbreaks, grey-goo infestations, etc.

Every time a topic like this comes up, someone points out, "Y'know, everyone talks about gamma ray bursters in the neighborhood, but nobody does anything about it." Well, I want to do something about it: some concrete, if humble, measure to ensure that some of the beauty that we're capable of survives in relatively robust, analogue form, so that someone somewhere someday can at least know that we humans existed.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:14 AM on November 11, 2002


That (in the 3rd link) is the first time I've heard someone refer to himself as polymathic.
posted by shoos at 12:18 AM on November 11, 2002


with China (1.3 billion), India (1 billion), and Indonesia (225 million) filling out the population figures, it's easy to imagine a crisis of some kind in the future.

This article on the coming Eurasian AIDS pandemic makes it depressingly easy.
posted by homunculus at 12:25 AM on November 11, 2002


but with China (1.3 billion), India (1 billion), and Indonesia (225 million) filling out the population figures

Didn't you skip one between India and Indonesia? The U.S.A., at ~270 millon.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:30 AM on November 11, 2002


Hang on, you were only talking about Asia... Slip of the mind, there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:31 AM on November 11, 2002


War hysteria and Republican triumphalism got you down?

No. Why would it?
posted by HTuttle at 1:13 AM on November 11, 2002


Let's just say we obviously move in different circles, then, shall we?
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:30 AM on November 11, 2002


Hang on, you were only talking about Asia

No actually I was talking about population density as it relates to potential crisis like disease (or population "bottleneck", as mentioned the post).

Russia has about 146 million, but with a size of 6.6 million square miles, there's elbow room, and though the U.S. has 270 million, with 3.6 million square miles, it's a little more evenly distributed (or; 'sustainable' as the popular jargon goes).

Japan is pretty tight at 146 million, but like South Korea, unless you are a mountain-dwelling Buddhist monk, chances are you are shoehorned into one of the megalopolises. (Or is it megalopoli?)
posted by hama7 at 1:39 AM on November 11, 2002


adamgreenfield writes: I'm genuinely interested to see how smart folks deal with the idea of everything and everyone going away, in a far more permanent fashion than one could achieve with puny little nuclear wars, smallpox outbreaks, grey-goo infestations, etc.

I'm a huge advocate of getting some of our eggs out of this one basket and moving out into the rest of the solar system. It's not a way to directly relieve population pressure, but as a place to relocate certain industries (and create entirely new ones) and as a source of limitless energy and raw materials it's hard to beat. The ramp-up to self-sustaining offworld colonization is very steep, which is why we have to start now, while our earthbound sources of energy are still cheap. Within 10-20 years our window of opportunity will be closing and it'll only get harder after that. If we do it right, we buy our civilization a few centuries in which to figure itself out, and dramatically reduce the chances of a single catastrophe wrecking everything.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:08 AM on November 11, 2002


I wonder if there isn't some kind of critical mass of humans (minds) at which point extinction becomes improbable. I am probably too much of an optimist in thinking that vast swathes of humanity would collaborate to find solutions to any potential extinction threat.
posted by none at 6:17 AM on November 11, 2002


Well, considering the way I drive, I can't worry too much about the earth's reversing its magnetic field...
posted by Dinzie at 6:25 AM on November 11, 2002


hama7: Think on this...the UK & Oregon are about the same size. The UK population is about the same as the populations of Oregon, California & Texas combined.
[breathes in].

Then again, be thankful you aren't perched on Macau which has the highest population density in the world, 22 times that of Bangladesh...More population stats here make interesting reading.

Well, if the population don't get us then the erosion will. If the erosion don't get us then the pollution will & if the pollution don't get us then disease will.

I'm with George_Spiggott on this one...get out there or we're screwed.
posted by i_cola at 6:50 AM on November 11, 2002


RE: population sizes, Asia etc... Well, I guess it's because people have been living (and more importantly thriving) in these areas for thousands and thousands of years, as opposed to the USA where the population is largely bussed in.
posted by carfilhiot at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2002


carfilhiot: Partly, but there was a massive jump in populations as the European colonial powers brought improved sanitation & healthcare to the continent. A double-edged sword if ever there was...
posted by i_cola at 9:04 AM on November 11, 2002


Adam, I think we all just suffer from apocalypse-fatigue; ever since Oppenheimer's famous words we have been faced with the awareness of an ever-bulging array of possible or probable extinction scenarios. LAWKI would be impossible if we all truly focused on all the potential ways that LAWKI could end in our lifetime (or, in other words, the pole-shift will have already won).
posted by taz at 10:00 AM on November 11, 2002


My first thought was that nothing anybody does at a workshop in California is going to help save us. Then I realized that nothing any of these people

Harvey Wichman, Director of the Aerospace Psychology Laboratory at Claremont-McKenna College, and Ivan Bekey, an engineer with the International Academy of Astronautics and organizer of the technical workshop held in Spain organized the Irvine Conference. The Conference was sponsored by the Kravis Leadership Institute, Ron Reggio Director, and had strong support from the Western Psychological Association. Speakers included Clark Chapman, Office of Space Studies, the Southwest Research Institute; Benny Peiser, Department of Social Anthropology, Liverpool John Moores University UK; Albert A. Harrison, Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis; Geoffrey Sommer, Policy studies, RAND Corporation; Lee Clarke, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University; Douglas Vakoch, Psychologist, The SETI Institute and Tammy Calvano, now of New Mexico State.

say will be listened to, because they're not flashy, bubble-head celebrities.

Maybe if Bruce Willis would make a public service announcement . . . .
posted by LeLiLo at 10:04 AM on November 11, 2002


(It's also worth noting that much of Florida is uninhabitable. Mostly swamp and mangrove forest, not exactly hospitable to dense housing.)
posted by five fresh fish at 10:10 AM on November 11, 2002


George, I agree with you completely about the need to get people off-world. It can't be looked at as a solution to population pressure: acheiving orbit will always be to expensive as a cheap means of getting rid of surplus population. But getting off-world is a key to diversify humanity's holding and reducing the risk of one catastrophic event wiping us out.
posted by pjgulliver at 10:46 AM on November 11, 2002


poleshift.com
poleshift.org
poleshift.net

The poleshift.net folks might have the right approach ;-)
posted by i_cola at 10:55 AM on November 11, 2002


(Or is it megalopoli?)

I have nothing to say about apocalypse (except that I'm against it and don't want my tax dollars going to support the extinction of all life on earth), but this I can handle. No, "megalopoli" would be the plural of a *megalopolus (linguists use asterisks to mark nonexistent forms); if we took our Greek seriously, the plural would be *megalopoleis, but since we don't, it's plain old "megalopolises." (I hasten to add that many words in -us don't have plurals in -i; the classical plural of "octopus," for example, is "octopodes," and "ignoramus" doesn't have a classical plural, being a verb form in Latin.)
posted by languagehat at 11:35 AM on November 11, 2002


Well, I guess it's because people have been living (and more importantly thriving) in these areas for thousands and thousands of years, as opposed to the USA where the population is largely bussed in.

What about Europe where people have been living and thriving for thousands of years? There's a difference between 'thriving' and 'reproducing'.
posted by hama7 at 3:18 PM on November 11, 2002


if we took our Greek seriously,

I see you take your handle seriously, languagehat. Thanks.
posted by hama7 at 3:20 PM on November 11, 2002


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