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Are we doomed?

New Statesman asked a bunch of scientists this question. Bjørn Østman blogged that:

"it is likely that the human population will be decimated some time in the future, perhaps even as soon as within the next hundred years. A cataclysmic event caused by global climate change, perhaps? If anyone survives at all, I predict it will be in a number of smaller populations separated from each other geographically.... Assuming that the environmental changes caused by the global cataclysmic event are severe enough that the separated populations won't be able to interact (i.e., have sex) for long enough, the different populations will continue to diverge from each other, and speciation will eventually occur. 6-7, say, million years hence..."
I can't tell if this is supposed to be a joke, but I can't imagine humans surviving, yet staying isolated that long. And I can't imagine climate-change-related catastrophe reducing world population below a billion or so. To eliminate all but a few isolated populations would take a major extraterrestrial impact, global nuclear war, or maybe some disease.

I don't think humans are likely to go extinct within the next few thousand years. But is civilization doomed?

Can we define civilization as a continuum? At the high end:
* there is some form of collective decision-making that respects factual information and serves everyone's long-term interests, to the extent possible,
* literacy is nearly universal, as is access to accurate scientific and historical information, and to differing opinions on politics, religion, etc.
* original research to increase scientific understanding and improve technology is encouraged
* criticizing the government or the dominant culture is not a crime
* those accused of crime are entitled to some form of due process based on public examination of the evidence

At the low end:
* good and services are exchanged mostly through voluntary trade, at least within groups, but groups war among themselves and individuals can be executed for "witchcraft", "blasphemy", or "sedition."

The question is, if some natural or man-made disaster (a major epidemic, say, or failure of moderates to vote) reduces civilization to a given level, somewhere between these extremes, which direction will it tend to change, over the next thousand years or so? Will within-group processes tend to increase or decrease civilization? Some current trends in the US are not encouraging.

What about between-group processes? Will countries that respect science and other secular values be strong enough (economically? militarily?) to impose their values on countries that rely on "God, guns and guts", or will it be the other way around?


Good article. I like your sense of humor....I think!

I guess my vote in the end would have to go to the countries that rely on God, Guns and Guts.

Good Job!

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