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Human society and the biosphere

By John Avery - posted Thursday, 10 December 2020

According to a recent United Nations report, more than a million species of plants and animals are currently threatened with extinction because of human activities. Rates of extinction today are as much as 1,000 times greater than the normal background rate.

As the greenhouse gas emissions of human society push the earth towards catastrophic climate change, rates of extinction in the biosphere will certainly become higher.

Are humans threatened with extinction?

What about our own species? Are we too threatened with extinction?


There are certainly several threatened catastrophes that might greatly reduce the global population of humans. In a thermonuclear war, followed by nuclear winter, a large part of the world's population might perish.

We must also consider the danger of an extremely large-scale famine, involving billions rather than millions of people. Such a famine might occur by the middle of our present century, as the result of population growth, combined with climate change and the end of the fossil fuel era. As glaciers melt in the Himalayas, depriving India and China of summer water supplies; as sea levels rise, drowning the fertile rice fields of Vietnam and Bangladesh; as drought threatens the productivity of grain-producing regions of North America; and as the end of the fossil fuel era impacts modern high-yield agriculture, there is a threat of wide-spread famine. There is a danger that the 1.5 billion people who are undernourished today will not survive an even more food-scarce future.

Finally, if human society fails to curb its emissions of greenhouse gases, much of the earth will become so hot as to be uninhabitable, not only for humans, but also for the plants and animals of the biosphere. This does not necessarily mean that our species will become extinct, since there will still be regions of the earth where it will be possible to survive. However, it does mean that the future population of humans will be very much reduced unless catastrophic climate change is avoided.

Links between militarism and climate change

In our efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change, we should be aware of the links between global warming and militarism. Military activities use enormous amounts of fossil fuels.

There is a close relationship between petroleum and war. James A. Paul, Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum, has described this relationship very clearly in the following words:

"Modern warfare particularly depends on oil, because virtually all weapons systems rely on oil-based fuel - tanks, trucks, armored vehicles, self-propelled artillery pieces, airplanes, and naval ships. For this reason, the governments


and general staffs of powerful nations seek to ensure a steady supply of oil during wartime, to fuel oil-hungry military forces in far-flung operational theaters.

"Just as governments like the US and UK need oil companies to secure fuel for their global war-making capacity, so the oil companies need their governments to secure control over global oilfields and transportation routes. It is no accident, then, that the world's largest oil companies are located in the world's most powerful countries.

"Almost all of the world's oil-producing countries have suffered abusive, corrupt and undemocratic governments and an absence of durable development. Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Angola, Colombia, Venezuela, Kuwait, Mexico, Algeria - these and many other oil producers have a sad record, which includes dictatorships installed from abroad, bloody coups engineered by foreign intelligence services, militarization of government and intolerant right-wing nationalism."

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John Avery's latest book can be downloaded here

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About the Author

John Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory.

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