Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Self Destruction: The Greatest Risk to our Species

The are many possible ways that our civilisation, and our very existence, could end. There are those beyond our control, such as asteroid strikes, hostile extra-terrestrial action, and even vacuum collapse (which may actually destroy the entire universe), but those are highly unlikely. The most likely extinction events for humans are those that we can bring upon ourselves.

And within the next century or so, such an event is looking highly likely.

Climate change will make some areas, such as much of Africa and the Middle East almost uninhabitable due to heat and drought. That, combined with the political situation in such regions, will result in wars over water and food. Millions of people will migrate north, putting huge strain on Europe and even Russia where water and food will still be relatively plentiful. The result could be the use of lethal means to protect resources. With North America also inundated the risk of global conflict, and the likely way such a conflict would escalate, would increase dramatically.

Will this be the last technological act of our civilisation - its self destruction?
The stress on the planet due to climate change, resulting in a global war with nuclear and biological weapon exchanges, would remove any chance for humans to embark on an interstellar colonisation effort. Those that remained would be trapped on a poisoned, starving, disease-ridden world, where all their thoughts and energy would be devoted to the task of surviving each day. It could take thousands of years for another technological civilisation to develop. With human nature being what it is, any new civilisation is likely to repeat the mistakes of the previous ones.

The effects of climate change could lead to nuclear war
Those born today could be the last generation to born into a technological human society, unless something is done now to safeguard ourselves and our knowledge from self destruction. And that final apocalyptic step could well be the usual final step for a civilisation such as ours, given the apparent lack of technological civilisations in our galaxy.

The final hours of our civilisation mapped out on giant screens in command bunkers
It is interesting that, despite extensive efforts, no technological extra-terrestrial civilisation has been detected. Why is this?  That is the question posed by the Fermi Paradox, which wonders why, given the age and size of the universe and all the billions of stars and planets that exist (or have existed), we have not yet detected any other extra-terrestrial civilisations. There should be an abundance of alien technology out there, and some of it, such as a Bracewell Probe, should have reached our star system.

There are many possible answers to this, but many consider the self-destruction answer (the great filter hypothesis) the most likely.

Once a civilisation develops the ability to destroy itself, it will.

That is a chilling prospect.

It is possible that such a stage in a civilisation's development is insurmountable - there is no way, once a civilisation develops the ability to destroy itself, to avoid using that ability. A civilisation simply does not have the time to safeguard its species beyond its home-world before it brings on its own extinction.

The ruins of a long dead alien civilisation - one of millions?
Those of us alive now are living in a pivotal moment of human history. We have the technology and ability (or almost do) to begin to move away from Earth and secure the future of our species among the stars. And we have the technology and ability (with certainty) to destroy all that we have achieved and send our species into oblivion.

There needs to be a massive political and social change in our world if we are to get through this seemingly insurmountable moment in our history. Governments need to set aside their petty squabbles. If that can be done we may well be one of the first, or one of the few, technological civilisation to progress to the next stage. And if that is indeed the case, we will be joining a very select club of civilisations.

We have a century, possibly only a decade or two, to ensure our membership.

Let's not blow it...