President Obama, Please Call for a Second Giant Leap for Mankind

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Zack Kopplin is a student at Rice University and is one of the leading voices against teaching creationism. He is a National Center for Science Education Friend of Darwin and has received the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. You can follow him @zackkopplin.

Dear President Obama,

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood at Rice, my university, and declared that we would put a man on the moon, in that decade. He called for a scientific revolution.

Mr. President, we need another scientific revolution; we must have a second giant leap for Mankind.

My generation will face unprecedented challenges to our way of living and to our survival as a species. Our population continues to climb, but the amount of clean water and living space we have on Earth has been stretched thin. Our climate is growing increasingly extreme. A disease like the Avian Flu, which (currently) has a 60 percent mortality rate, could become transmitted by humans and turn into a worldwide pandemic in our age of rapid travel. The Earth is experiencing a rapid decline of biodiversity, especially in our oceans. We could be faced with a killer asteroid in the near future.

I know these threats sound like science fiction, but they are real and my generation will have address them. The way to overcome these challenges and ensure the continued long-term existence of our species is through investment in rapid scientific innovation.

Written By: Zack Kopplin
continue to source article at huffingtonpost.com

29 COMMENTS

  1. My generation will face unprecedented challenges to our way of living and to our survival as a species. Our population continues to climb, but the amount of clean water and living space we have on Earth has been stretched thin. Our climate is growing increasingly extreme. A disease like the Avian Flu, which (currently) has a 60 percent mortality rate, could become transmitted by humans and turn into a worldwide pandemic in our age of rapid travel…

    …We must figure out how turn off cancer cells.

    I’m just throwin’ this out there, not saying it’s what I think, but if clean water and living space are at a premium and our population expansion shows no sign of slowing down, should we be investing time, money and energy into fighting the planet’s attempts to keep our numbers at a manageable level? Isn’t this going against the survival-of-the-fittest paradigm?

  2. In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

    My generation will face unprecedented challenges to our way of living and to our survival as a species. Our population continues to climb, but the amount of clean water and living space we have on Earth has been stretched thin. Our climate is growing increasingly extreme. A disease like the Avian Flu, which (currently) has a 60 percent mortality rate, could become transmitted by humans and turn into a worldwide pandemic in our age of rapid travel…

    …We must figure out how turn off cancer cells.

    I’m just throwin’ this out there, not saying it’s what I think, but if clean water and living space are at a premium and our population expansion shows no sign of slowing down, should we be investing time, money and energy into fighting the planet’s attempts to keep our numbers at a manageable level? Isn’t this going against the survival-of-the-fittest paradigm?

    If it’s not what you think why write it?

    I don’t think the planet has a mind so how can it “attempt” to restrain our numbers?

    Your proposal is to let nature take its course ~ very nasty & extremely risky given that two nuclear powers are teetering on the edge of anarchy. The best way to slow [& eventually reverse] population growth is to improve global living standards & slice the resources pie a good deal more fairly. The first step to improving living standards is free [& possibly compulsory] universal education & giving all women control of their reproductive cycle.

    However I am gloomy about the practicality of my suggestion because it would require the wealthier nations to consume less & spread their money around. Plus I can’t see the people at the top in the more authoritarian nations opening education & human rights to their populations of serfs.

  3. In reply to #2 by Michael Fisher:

    If it’s not what you think why write it?

    “I don’t think the planet has a mind so how can it “attempt” to restrain our numbers?”

    There are certain frogs which spontaneously change sex when there’s an imbalance in the population. Gaia, peace be upon her, seems to know what she’s doing.

    “Your proposal is to let nature take its course ~ very nasty & extremely risky given that two nuclear powers are teetering on the edge of anarchy.”

    Sorry, but what nuclear powers would they be?

    “The best way to slow (& eventually reverse) population growth is to improve global living standards & slice the resources pie a good deal more fairly. The first step to improving living standards is free (& possibly compulsory) universal education & giving all women control of their reproductive cycle.”

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. Well, fewer ampersands maybe.

    “However I am gloomy about the practicality of my suggestion because it would require the wealthier nations to consume less & spread their money around. Plus I can’t see the people at the top in the more authoritarian nations opening education & human rights to their populations of serfs.”

    Universal socialism is the only answer. Glad to see we’re on the same page.

  4. In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

    I’m just throwin’ this out there, not saying it’s what I think, but if clean water and living space are at a premium and our population expansion shows no sign of slowing down, should we be investing time, money and energy into fighting the planet’s attempts to keep our numbers at a manageable level? Isn’t this going against the survival-of-the-fittest paradigm?

    Hi Katy. Now, that’s a right can of worms, eh, to which I’ll just say:

    “Evolution is cleverer than you are.” Orgel’s Second Rule.

    This applies even more when the biological balance is far off-center, where our species has overpowered natural selection by developing tools, fire, language, communities, religion, science, technology – a gathering tidal wave spanning many thousands of years.

    There is now a majority of humanity that is not fit enough to survive naturally, and one way or another nature will blindly – no design, purpose, bias or pity – evolve ways to get us back in line.

    Evolution has thrown up limitations, plagues and other obstacles, and won’t stop unless we cull ourselves, which we may be on track to accomplishing in a geological eye-blink – thereby adding new data to the end of Drake Equation.

    I hope the ‘second giant leap for mankind’ isn’t right off the peak of Mount Improbable.

    Unlike other species, our legacy could be that we damaged the biosphere such that it will take millennia to recover – like after those big asteroid hits – and greatly altered what the next dominant species might be.

    Meantime – go git ‘em Zack Kopplin, we need more fit ones like you …. Mac.

  5. In reply to #4 by CdnMacAtheist:

    Hi Katy. Now, that’s a right can of worms, eh, to which I’ll just say:

    “Evolution is cleverer than you are.” Orgel’s Second Rule.

    What?!! I don’t know who this Orgel bloke is, but what’s he been saying about me? Has he been disrespectin’ me?

    Evolution has thrown up limitations, plagues and other obstacles, and won’t stop unless we cull ourselves, which we may be on track to accomplishing in a geological eye-blink – thereby adding new data to the end of Drake Equation.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘cull’. We humans cull ourselves regularly. It’s sort of our species’ thing. If we’re good at anything, it’s culling the heck out of each other. This is what I was getting at in my original comment: Gaia has equipped us with these big brains, opposable thumbs; all the stuff we needed to become the dominant animal on the planet. But she built in a fail-safe, and that is our susceptibility to disease and our propensity to cull each other like we think there’s a sale on cull-sticks at the cull store and culling is about to be outlawed by the EU.

    You know when there’s a nature documentary and the crocodile or lion or meerkat or whatever is about to kill the baby gazelle and you think to yourself “Why doesn’t the cameraman intervene? He’s right there.” And then the voiceover says “You may be wondering why the cameraman didn’t intervene even though he was right there. Well, it’s because he knew that it would upset the delicate harmony that nature maintains.”

    I think Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are supercool for trying to put an end to three of the biggest killer diseases on the planet. But a tiny, weeny little voice deep down in my soul whispers “failfailfailfailfailfailfailfailfail…” Does that make me a bad person?

    I also agree with you that Zack Kopplin is a hottie.

  6. Most people mean the WWW when they say ‘internet’. That is NOT an american invention. Americans did invent packet switching in theory. But that was NOT a ‘science’ funded breakthrough. Nor was the Manhatten Project.

    While America certainly has problems, Mr Kopplin might wish to check his facts, and his greenhouse, before throwing stones around.

  7. Let me put on my psychic hat for a few minutes. I foresee a world in which:

    Elderly being denied healthcare in an attempt to decrease the population.

    Newborn handicapped children will be denied healthcare in an attempt to decrease the population.

    An increased use of the death penalty for certain criminals.

    Massive disease

    Illnesses/disease in arid climates due to contaminates in the limited water supply.

    Illnesses/disease in water “rich” areas due to chemicals, medications, and waste dumped into the Lakes after water treatment.

    Breaking of treaties (Great Lakes) with exportation of water to other areas/nations leading to battles and potential war.

    Extreme fires that are difficult to control.

    Increase global warming with odd winters hit by extreme Lake effect snow.

    Loss of many plant species.

    Loss of many animal species.

    Increase cost of seafood due to their decline.

    Increase of laws and regulations in an attempt to protect declining resources.

    Decrease in quality of living.

    Increase in poverty due to rising costs in food, transportation, etc.

    Food shortages

    class warfare

    Increase in criminal activity

    Increase of extremist groups in general, some promoting their religious philosophy.

    Increase in small communal living in an attempt to flourish.

    Increase in alternative views and philosophies rising from communal living – both good and bad.

    Riots

    Another “Recession” after a brief sweet period – coming soon to a location near you!

    A period of extreme use of resources before a quick decline due to increased population, denial, etc.

    The decline/ending of traditional religions and/or evolving of religions into new philosophies.

    Declining of quality education.

    The initial relabeling of the middle class in order to gloss over the situation.

    Petty theft from neighbors.

    Basically, I’m saying we are screwed. See what happens when you allow the dumb, selfish and fearful control the world. We are headed in that direction unless we learn to control ourselves. I’m not holding my breath. Sorry, got to go to work – dump my wrappers into the trash, let the water run while I brush my teeth and wash my hands; drive my car using fossil fuels to work to create product that kills trees and creates landfills. Bye for now.

  8. In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

    My generation will face unprecedented challenges to our way of living and to our survival as a species. Our population continues to climb, but the amount of clean water and living space we have on Earth has been stretched thin. Our climate is growing increasingly extreme. A disease like the Avian Flu, which (currently) has a 60 percent mortality rate, could become transmitted by humans and turn into a worldwide pandemic in our age of rapid travel…

    …We must figure out how turn off cancer cells.

    I’m just throwin’ this out there, not saying it’s what I think, but if clean water and living space are at a premium and our population expansion shows no sign of slowing down, should we be investing time, money and energy into fighting the planet’s attempts to keep our numbers at a manageable level? Isn’t this going against the survival-of-the-fittest paradigm?

    Agreed. Whilst optimists can’t face the brutal truths, experience shows that famine is more likely to increase, arable land is indeed shrinking and water may become more valued than oil. Throwing resources at what is an intractable problem will achieve nothing- except waste more resources.

  9. If you want to call the planet Gaia that’s fine by me but even the most optimistic view of some sort of self regulating planet in no way includes any specific species in it’s plans let alone the fuckers that wrecked the place!

    The earth will survive but who cares, it’s just a big lump of rock/iron? I for one would want to see life on earth surviving, anything less is just meaningless. Specifically humans surviving is in no way a logical Gaia goal unless you’re particularly self obsessed, delusional and optimistic.

    In reply to #3 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #2 by Michael Fisher:

    “If it’s not what you think why write it?”

    “I don’t think the planet has a mind so how can it “attempt” to restrain our numbers?”

    There are certain frogs which spontaneously change sex when there’s an imbalance in the population. Gaia, peace be upon her, seems to know what she’s doing.

    “Your proposal is to let nature take its course ~ very nasty & extremely risky given that two nuclear powers are teetering on the edge of anarchy.”

    Sorry, but what nuclear powers would they be?

    “The best way to slow (& eventually reverse) population growth is to improve global living standards & slice the resources pie a good deal more fairly. The first step to improving living standards is free (& possibly compulsory) universal education & giving all women control of their reproductive cycle.”

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. Well, fewer ampersands maybe.

    “However I am gloomy about the practicality of my suggestion because it would require the wealthier nations to consume less & spread their money around. Plus I can’t see the people at the top in the more authoritarian nations opening education & human rights to their populations of serfs.”

    Universal socialism is the only answer. Glad to see we’re on the same page.

    It’s probably a little optimistic thinking that we’re the only animals that engage in kulling too. I can’t count how many animal shows I’ve watched where the lion kills the off spring of his rival when he takes charge and how about chimp wars? I’m enjoying your advocacy work on behalf of Satan comrade!

  10. We can’t continue the way we are, the ocean is a vast toilet, the rain forests are becoming deserts, there is too many greedy selfish bastards on this earth humans are not very nice.

  11. In reply to #6 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #4 by CdnMacAtheist:

    Hi Katy. Now, that’s a right can of worms, eh, to which I’ll just say:

    “Evolution is cleverer than you are.” Orgel’s Second Rule.

    What?!! I don’t know who this Orgel bloke is, but what’s he been saying about me? Has he been disrespectin’ me?

    Evolution has thrown up limitations, plagues and other obstacles, and won’t stop unless we cull ourselves, which we may be on track to accomplishing in a geological eye-blink – thereby adding new data to the end of Drake Equation.

    K.C. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘cull’. We humans cull ourselves regularly. It’s sort of our species’ thing. If we’re good at anything, it’s culling the heck out of each other. This is what I was getting at in my original comment: Gaia has equipped us with these big brains, opposable thumbs; all the stuff we needed to become the dominant animal on the planet. But she built in a fail-safe, and that is our susceptibility to disease and our propensity to cull each other like we think there’s a sale on cull-sticks at the cull store and culling is about to be outlawed by the EU.

    You know when there’s a nature documentary and the crocodile or lion or meerkat or whatever is about to kill the baby gazelle and you think to yourself “Why doesn’t the cameraman intervene? He’s right there.” And then the voice-over says “You may be wondering why the cameraman didn’t intervene even though he was right there. Well, it’s because he knew that it would upset the delicate harmony that nature maintains.”

    I think Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are supercool for trying to put an end to three of the biggest killer diseases on the planet. But a tiny, weeny little voice deep down in my soul whispers “failfailfailfailfailfailfailfailfail…” Does that make me a bad person?

    I also agree with you that Zack Kopplin is a hottie.

    Hi Katy.

    I don’t think Orgel was dissing anybody, just pointing out the long-term power of natural evolution. 8-)

    When I said ‘cull’ I was thinking on much bigger scales than anything we’ve seen before, while trying not to sound too gloomy. If the shit hits the fan as projections indicate, we will find out what happens when billions of confused and frightened folk lose most of our water, food, energy and support systems, and return to being scavenging hunter-gatherers – not many of us are up for that these days.

    Neither of us, QuestioningCat or others here are bad people for being brutally realistic about our trajectory. It’s just sad that science was stifled so long ago by ignorant, powerful rulers and god-botherers, because we might have learned enough to have avoided many mistakes while we bred ourselves onto a planet-mauling exponential curve.

  12. In reply to #13 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #4 by CdnMacAtheist:

    …our species has overpowered natural selection.

    OH: No it hasn’t. It just thinks it has. Remember, we too are natural.

    Hi OHooligan.

    I agree, but what I meant was that cultural evolution, and all its tools, has bypassed natural selection in many ways. We may be powerful and clever, but we aren’t as naturally ‘fit’ without all the rapacious support systems we employ – which are clearly unsustainable with 7 billion of us. Mac.

  13. In reply to #11 by alaskansee:

    If you want to call the planet Gaia that’s fine by me but even the most optimistic view of some sort of self regulating planet in no way includes any specific species in it’s plans let alone the fuckers that wrecked the place!

    The earth will survive but who cares, it’s just a big lump of rock/iron? I for one would want to see life on earth surviving, anything less is just meaningless. Specifically humans surviving is in no way a logical Gaia goal unless you’re particularly self obsessed, delusional and optimistic.

    Just for the record, I don’t call the planet Gaia, or Pandora, or anything similar. I may be a Satan-worshipping Commie, but I draw the line at hippy. I was just in a bit of a silly mood.

    Yes, the Earth is only a big lump of rock and iron, but that’s not what people are referring to when they talk about saving the planet. They mean the ecosystem, the flora and fauna, the parts of the atmosphere that keep stellar radiation from cooking our collective goose. Unless planning permission has been filed to destroy it in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass, the Earth itself is probably going nowhere until the Sun explodes in, I dunno, a few thousand years.

    It’s probably a little optimistic thinking that we’re the only animals that engage in kulling too. I can’t count how many animal shows I’ve watched where the lion kills the off spring of his rival when he takes charge and how about chimp wars? I’m enjoying your advocacy work on behalf of Satan comrade!

    True, but we’ve elevated culling to the level of art form, my particular favourite being this one: rdf richard created by Perillos of Athens.

    And when the population grew so large that individual and ironic acts of sadism became impractical for enthusiastic cullers, we industrialised the practice, dispatching our victims via assembly line. And when even that becomes too exhaustive, we come up with chemical weapons and atom bombs.

    Don’t give me lions, man. They’re wusses compared to us. As for chimps, they’re so closely related to us, and their behaviour so similar, their inclusion doesn’t really serve your argument.

    Next year in Abaddon, comrade!

  14. Go Zach go! Except how about losing the USA! USA! USA! America über alles national chauvinism tick? It’s so mid 20th century, parochial, silly, sophomoric and reeeeeally tacky in the face of the huge problems the entire planet has to deal with which can only be solved with a planetary approach. Not to mention that the US is $trillions in debt amidst collapsing infrastructure with herds of Bible (t)humpers with access to the levers of power at all levels of government.

    How about, instead, say, suggest joining the EU’s (where godbothering in public by politicians is considered an embarrassment not a badge of honor) € multibillion in funding for research and innovation program known as “Horizon 2020”. Or joining the Chinese in their space program having it thereby going to Mars instead of the moon and letting them have the glory. Who the hell still cares at this point who gets to claim to have done something first?!? Just get it done. Yes, competition is fun and can be useful but duplication is stupidly wasteful. One planet, one species that has its future in its hands. Time’s also about up.

  15. In reply to #15 by CdnMacAtheist:

    In reply to #13 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #4 by CdnMacAtheist:

    …our species has overpowered natural selection.

    OH: No it hasn’t. It just thinks it has. Remember, we too are natural.

    Hi OHooligan.

    I agree, but what I meant was that cultural evolution, and all its tools, has bypassed natural selection in many ways. We may be powerful and clever, but we aren’t as naturally ‘fit’ without all the rapacious support systems we employ – which are clearly unsustainable with 7 billion of us. Mac.

    I agree that we are unfit to survive “in the wild”, but that just means we are no more fit to survive without our cultural and industrial context than a termite without its mound. Termite mounds are constructs of many individuals, lasting well beyond an individual lifetime, and no individual will get far without them. Likewise the current state of humanity. We have no more overpowered natural selection than the termites have.

  16. In reply to #16 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #11 by alaskansee:

    If you want to call the planet Gaia that’s fine by me

    Gaia is a handy concept to describe the entire living system of Life On Earth. Just as a cell of your body has its independent lives within it – the mitochondria – so Gaia is a single organism comprised of all the species and ecosystems on the planet. Doesn’t mean it’s self-aware, or anything. And especially doesn’t mean its a “deity”. But if you accept (tentatively will do) the concept of a single organism, you might then expect to find some kind of regulating feedback mechanisms on the planetary scale, though how this could evolve is not at all clear. Perhaps its better seen as an emergent phenomenon.

    It may also be a useful concept to use in persuading humans to act more responsibly.

    More discussion on “Gaia” would be welcome, IMHO. Not hippie Gaia-worship, but the original concept as proposed by James Lovelock.

  17. In reply to #18 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #15 by CdnMacAtheist:

    In reply to #13 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #4 by CdnMacAtheist:

    …our species has overpowered natural selection.

    OH: No it hasn’t. It just thinks it has. Remember, we too are natural.

    Hi OHooligan. I agree, but what I meant was that cultural evolution, and all its tools, has bypassed natural selection in many ways. We may be powerful and clever, but we aren’t as naturally ‘fit’ without all the rapacious support systems we employ – which are clearly unsustainable with 7 billion of us. Mac.

    OH: I agree that we are unfit to survive “in the wild”, but that just means we are no more fit to survive without our cultural and industrial context than a termite without its mound. Termite mounds are constructs of many individuals, lasting well beyond an individual lifetime, and no individual will get far without them. Likewise the current state of humanity. We have no more overpowered natural selection than the termites have.

    Hi OH.

    That’s why I then said ‘bypassed natural selection in many ways’. I think there’s a big difference between a termite city and a human city. Termites take very local, unmodified, naturally occurring products and – without tools – rearrange them in very interesting ways into forms which will eventually revert to their original states.

    Termites aren’t radically reformulating vast arrays of products from distant sources using manufactured power, seriously depleting planetary resources and producing enormous waste, while causing extensive damage, pollution, ecological imbalances and biomass extinctions.

    Nor do any other species keep unproductive members alive, or genetically unfit members alive through extraordinary means, or medically / chemically avoid natural diseases, or medically / chemically / surgically help unfit members to procreate. Mac.

  18. In reply to #18 by OHooligan:

    I agree that we are unfit to survive “in the wild”, but that just means we are no more fit to survive without our cultural and industrial context than a termite without its mound.

    Actually, some remote tribes are still fit to survive “in the wild” on a sustainable basis!
    Unfortunately they seem unfit to compete with the invasive veracious consumption of the exploitative larger grouped human populations who are encroaching on their lands.

    SF fans may recognise – ” You will be assimilated – resistance is futile”, or “Exterminate – exterminate”!

  19. In reply to #2 by Michael Fisher:

    In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

    My generation will face unprecedented challenges to our way of living and to our survival as a species. Our population continues to climb, but the amount of clean water and living space we have on Earth has been stretched thin. Our climate is growing increasingly extreme. A disease like the Avian Flu, which (currently) has a 60 percent mortality rate, could become transmitted by humans and turn into a worldwide pandemic in our age of rapid travel…

    …We must figure out how turn off cancer cells.

    I’m just throwin’ this out there, not saying it’s what I think, but if clean water and living space are at a premium and our population expansion shows no sign of slowing down, should we be investing time, money and energy into fighting the planet’s attempts to keep our numbers at a manageable level? Isn’t this going against the survival-of-the-fittest paradigm?

    If it’s not what you think why write it?

    I don’t think the planet has a mind so how can it “attempt” to restrain our numbers?

    Your proposal is to let nature take its course ~ very nasty & extremely risky given that two nuclear powers are teetering on the edge of anarchy. The best way to slow [& eventually reverse] population growth is to improve global living standards & slice the resources pie a good deal more fairly. The first step to improving living standards is free [& possibly compulsory] universal education & giving all women control of their reproductive cycle.

    However I am gloomy about the practicality of my suggestion because it would require the wealthier nations to consume less & spread their money around. Plus I can’t see the people at the top in the more authoritarian nations opening education & human rights to their populations of serfs.

    I disagree, that is the exact opposite of what we need to do. If all women have complete control over their reproductive cycles, then they will continue to have 2+ children, and the population will continue to increase at an exponential rate. The only way to reduce the already overpopulation is to establish child limit laws, such as in China. China’s current population is 1.3 billion, but had it not been for the child limit laws it would have been roughly 1.7 billion. Given enough time, a few more decades, China’s population will start to go DOWN! The actions of just this one country are having an absolutely huge impact.

    If every country in the world adopted this practice, then the world population could be cut by roughly 3/4 in only a century.

  20. In reply to #6 by Katy Cordeth:

    This is what I was getting at in my original comment: Gaia has equipped us with these big brains, opposable thumbs; all the stuff we needed to become the dominant animal on the planet. But she built in a fail-safe, and that is our susceptibility to disease and our propensity to cull each other like we think there’s a sale on cull-sticks at the cull store and culling is about to be outlawed by the EU.

    “Gaia” or whatever equivalent term pleases you did not build in anything except in a metaphorical sense. If nature is going to be anthropomorphized at all, then it would be more accurate to say that nature is blind, apathetic, negligent, short-termist, and clumsy, and relying on such a personality to fix human problems is risky, to put it mildly.

    In any case, the fact that mass death or mass killing is natural is not the same as saying it’s a good thing, which is the naturalistic fallacy. Increasing the death rate is one way to control a population, but the other and less immoral side of the coin is that decreasing the birth rate is another way. Not only does it not involve controversial measures like killing certain people, it has better chances of maintaining or improving the modern quality of life than the alternative does.

    You know when there’s a nature documentary and the crocodile or lion or meerkat or whatever is about to kill the baby gazelle and you think to yourself “Why doesn’t the cameraman intervene? He’s right there.” And then the voiceover says “You may be wondering why the cameraman didn’t intervene even though he was right there. Well, it’s because he knew that it would upset the delicate harmony that nature maintains.”

    I’ve never encountered a nature documentary that said anything like that. The more obvious reason is that their job is to gather the truth, like an investigative journalist in North Korea. Interfering with the subject matter undermines both the immediate concern – because it would be nullified by the environment anyway – and the long-term one – of reporting the truth to the public. Even if explicit justifications are that it is wrong to tamper with nature, that runs into the naturalistic fallacy mentioned above.

    Also, if you are going to play Devil’s Advocate, you might at least put more effort into buoying up your arguments than in presenting them in a fanciful way. I don’t want to sound like a sourpuss, but it comes across at times as though you’re enjoying your own descriptions of mass killings a little more than the subject matter deserves.

    In reply to #8 by QuestioningKat:

    Let me put on my psychic hat for a few minutes. I foresee a world in which:

    Elderly being denied healthcare in an attempt to decrease the population.

    Now that I find hard to believe. It’s tough enough trying to persuade people that they should limit the number of kids they have. A person trying to propose euthanizing the elderly, however passively, would be condemned as a monster by most of the population for even suggesting it. It’s not like people have forgotten the spectre of eugenics and social darwinism so soon, especially when they’re so fond of using them against evolution.

    As for the rest of the list, some parts seem to me inevitable – the extinction of many species, for one, and the rising costs of water, for another – but most of the developed world will manage relatively competently. The real injustice will be that those at the lower end of the economic ladder, as well as most of the developing countries of Africa, Central and South America, Indonesia, and parts of Asia like India and the Middle East, will bear the brunt of the damage because not only are their biomes already changing in response to confused weather patterns and human-caused deforestation and desertification, but their social infrastructure is less well equipped to deal with the costs.

    In reply to #16 by Katy Cordeth:

    Yes, the Earth is only a big lump of rock and iron, but that’s not what people are referring to when they talk about saving the planet. They mean the ecosystem, the flora and fauna, the parts of the atmosphere that keep stellar radiation from cooking our collective goose. Unless planning permission has been filed to destroy it in order to make way for a hyperspace bypass, the Earth itself is probably going nowhere until the Sun explodes in, I dunno, a few thousand years.

    Poe’s Law is hitting me over the head here, so I’m going to be charitable and assume you were either joking or being careless. The sun is not going to explode, but it’s going to expand into a red giant, throw off its outer layers in a planetary nebula, and then contract and cool into a brown dwarf. This process is going to take at least another five billion years.

    True, but we’ve elevated culling to the level of art form, my particular favourite being this one: created by Perillos of Athens.

    Correction: some members of Homo sapiens have, usually in collaboration, ordered and performed cullings that number in the millions. Calling it an art form is disrespectful both to the victims and to those humans who have not and would not engage in one, and even if you only meant it in jest, I must ask that you refrain from such tasteless and shallow jokes in the future. Your comments are usually better than that.

    On topic, humans are not exclusive in mass killings. Eusocial insects like ants and hornets have been known to decimate entire hives of rival hymenopterans, and working as a team, most ocean-going predatory species can reduce a gigantic school of fish to a few scales in a matter of hours. The most unusual thing about human mass killings is that in general, they seem to have become fewer in number not just since the mid-20th century, but since the middle ages and even possibly since Classical times.

    And when the population grew so large that individual and ironic acts of sadism became impractical for enthusiastic cullers, we industrialised the practice, dispatching our victims via assembly line. And when even that becomes too exhaustive, we come up with chemical weapons and atom bombs.

    The former has happened only a handful of times in the past century, though granted those handful have been atrocious in their scale. During the decolonization of Africa, though, and many other developing nations, civil wars and genocides were usually of the pre-industrial sort, and most of the civilian casualties of wars such as those in Vietnam were out in the warzone, not in concentration camps.

    Surprisingly enough, though, the latter (chemical and nuclear weapons) have seen remarkably little action despite their destructive potential. Steven Pinker goes into more depth in The Better Angels of Our Nature, but the point is that the lack of major wars in the past few decades may not have owed themselves to nuclear deterrence.

    In reply to #19 by OHooligan:

    Gaia is a handy concept to describe the entire living system of Life On Earth. Just as a cell of your body has its independent lives within it – the mitochondria – so Gaia is a single organism comprised of all the species and ecosystems on the planet. Doesn’t mean it’s self-aware, or anything. And especially doesn’t mean its a “deity”. But if you accept (tentatively will do) the concept of a single organism, you might then expect to find some kind of regulating feedback mechanisms on the planetary scale, though how this could evolve is not at all clear. Perhaps its better seen as an emergent phenomenon.

    Gaia isn’t really a helpful concept because it doesn’t add anything to what we already know. Ecosystems are linked across the planet because of feedback mechanisms like the climate and the distribution of biomes and organisms, but this is simply the result of all the smaller aggregate parts changing and changing until they reach a kind of stability, not because of some holistic organization akin to building bodies. It didn’t evolve any more than a bog-standard ecosystem did, and it cannot be compared to an organism because the latter is a discrete physical structure of improbable complexity that evolved to fulfil a specific function, like a programmed robot, whereas the former is simply a continuous network of organisms’ byproducts with no actual function, like the weather. When humans deforest the Amazon, it isn’t the weather that gets killed or maimed as a result.

    If we’re going to make a fuss about anything, it should be about the foreclosing of better options and the needless suffering and death – human and animal – that would result of changing the global climate, combined with the loss of valuable scientific information when species go extinct and ecosystems are tampered with.

    In reply to #22 by mysticjbyrd:

    I disagree, that is the exact opposite of what we need to do. If all women have complete control over their reproductive cycles, then they will continue to have 2+ children, and the population will continue to increase at an exponential rate. The only way to reduce the already overpopulation is to establish child limit laws, such as in China. China’s current population is 1.3 billion, but had it not been for the child limit laws it would have been roughly 1.7 billion. Given enough time, a few more decades, China’s population will start to go DOWN! The actions of just this one country are having an absolutely huge impact.

    Unless women are asexual, having two children on average will merely stabilize the population. There are males involved, you know.

    I agree that population control is the least damaging way to reverse the overpopulation trend at present, but the awkward fact is that most developed countries have a slow population growth rate, the USA being one of the conspicuous exceptions. Most of China’s problems were caused by Mao’s idiotic agricultural ideas and dogmas, and the biggest population increase in the past century has occurred in Asia.

    If every country in the world adopted this practice, then the world population could be cut by roughly 3/4 in only a century.

    Well, I don’t know about that. It would take a decade or so to convince most nations that this was in their best interests, and longer still for it to achieve much public approval. A reduction of one quarter without most of that being attributed to natural forms of population control – like starvation – would strike me as being optimistic. Of course, I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but what makes me happy won’t dictate reality.

    In reply to #21 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #18 by OHooligan:

    I agree that we are unfit to survive “in the wild”, but that just means we are no more fit to survive without our cultural and industrial context than a termite without its mound.

    Actually, some remote tribes are still fit to survive “in the wild” on a sustainable basis!
    Unfortunately they seem unfit to compete with the invasive veracious consumption of the exploitative larger grouped human populations who are encroaching on their lands.

    SF fans may recognise – ” You will be assimilated – resistance is futile”, or “Exterminate – exterminate”!

    Yes, but those supposedly sustainable tribes (supposedly because it may have been prehistoric tribal peoples that contributed to the death of most of the megafauna of the last Ice Age) also have the worst living standards on the planet. They enjoy a higher murder and death rate than civilized nations, poorer health care, higher infant mortality, limited nutritional and lifestyle options, parochial cultures rather than multiculture, fewer leisure options, inferior technology, bigger risks of disease and premature death, higher rates of violence, gender and sex inequalities, racism, prejudice, superstition, fewer home comforts, very little architectural innovation, fewer opportunities to meet like-minded people, lack of democracy and free speech, and not much chance of improving their lot within the next millennium if left to their own devices.

    By comparison, the main thing wrong with the supposedly imperialist culture is its selfish and ham-handed approach when dealing with natives.

    I’m not justifying imperialist attitudes here – frankly, I think there are better ways to improve the lot of outsiders than to conquer them – but the myth of the Noble Savage is just that: a myth. It’s not like western people don’t or can’t have sustainable practices as well.

  21. In reply to #23 by Zeuglodon:

    Poe’s Law is hitting me over the head here, so I’m going to be charitable and assume you were either joking or being careless. The sun is not going to explode, but it’s going to expand into a red giant, throw off its outer layers in a planetary nebula, and then contract and cool into a brown dwarf. This process is going to take at least another five billion years.

    Yes I was joking when I said I thought the Earth’s immolation was only a few thousand years off. Your description of what will happen to the Sun does sound to my non-scientific ears like an explosion though.

    Correction: some members of Homo sapiens have, usually in collaboration, ordered and performed cullings that number in the millions.

    Although it’s only in recent times that technological advances have allowed us to expand our murderous efforts to facilitate the slaughter of millions, our species has always existed as a violent one and advanced itself through acts of brutality. Our story is the story of violence against one another. Homo homini lupus est, as the saying goes. Show me a people from any time in history who were completely non-violent and I’ll show you a people who were eventually wiped out by those who were not. If you want to tell yourself that your ancestors’ hands weren’t soaked in blood, that’s your own business; but trust me, they were.

    Calling it an art form is disrespectful both to the victims and to those humans who have not and would not engage in one, and even if you only meant it in jest, I must ask that you refrain from such tasteless and shallow jokes in the future.

    Well, that’s me telt. If you found the tone of my comment shallow and tasteless then I apologise. I was attempting dark, detached humour and I obviously failed. I don’t find anything funny about violence of any sort. Although I stand by my description of our inventiveness in devising instruments of violence as an art form. This was why I mentioned Perillos’s Brazen Bull. That device is exquisitely cruel and sadistic in its conception. I would suggest that the creative impulse which went into writing Don Giovanni and King Lear, or painting the Sistine Chapel and the Scream, is indistinguishable from that which motivated Perillos or the architects of the Inquisition. The same muse was at play.

    On topic, humans are not exclusive in mass killings. Eusocial insects like ants and hornets have been known to decimate entire hives of rival hymenopterans, and working as a team, most ocean-going predatory species can reduce a gigantic school of fish to a few scales in a matter of hours.

    Yes, and an anteater can kill hundreds of ants in one assault on an anthill. There’s nothing counterintuitive about an animal engaging in the mass killing of that which counts as its diet. As in the example of your ocean-going predators, that’s just lunch. And the attacks by insects like ants and hornets are also on other species. We’re talking about humans culling each other, or at least I am. Do ant colonies ever launch attacks on other nearby ant colonies? Do shoals of piranha wage war against rival shoals? Or is this a uniquely human trait?

    I’ve never encountered a nature documentary that said anything like that.

    Well then you obviously don’t watch CBBC.

  22. @Zeuglodon

    21 by Alan4discussion:

    Actually, some remote tribes are still fit to survive “in the wild” on a sustainable basis! Unfortunately they seem unfit to compete with the invasive voracious consumption of the exploitative larger grouped human populations who are encroaching on their lands.

    SF fans may recognise – ” You will be assimilated – resistance is futile”, or “Exterminate – exterminate”!

    Yes, but those supposedly sustainable tribes (supposedly because it may have been prehistoric tribal peoples that contributed to the death of most of the megafauna of the last Ice Age)

    “Improvement” is a comparative value judgement. The extinction of particular individual species may not be relevant to on-going sustainability. These are not the same as mass extinctions. or the destruction of whole ecosystems.

    also have the worst living standards on the planet.

    I think in many cases that is only in terms of western concepts of manufactured material goods. In terms of being happy and in tune with nature, many are much more relaxed.

    They enjoy a higher murder and death rate than civilized nations,

    I would doubt that the odd tribal, family feud, or territorial dispute, generally kills more than periodic wars, genocides, political witch hunts, criminal gangs, or traffic accidents of “civilised nations”.

    poorer health care, higher infant mortality, limited nutritional and lifestyle options,

    Higher infant mortality rates and a lack of health-care reduces lifespan and acts as natural selection, but this improves sustainability of the group. It probably does not impact long-term individual happiness much.

    parochial cultures rather than multiculture, fewer leisure options,

    These are life-style judgements based on city values. The uncontacted tribes, generally have a far better life-style than those in the slums of urbanised third-world cities.

    inferior technology,

    Again this is a urban city value judgement. Those in extensive unpolluted forests have their own technologies which make very effective use of the resources available to them.

    Whether it was Franklin in the Arctic, or the “white man going to his grave” in early Africa or the Amazon, the locals could live off the land while foreigners could only starve and die when their imported supplies ran out or failed.

    bigger risks of disease and premature death, higher rates of violence, gender and sex inequalities, racism, prejudice, superstition,

    In Africa, there is far more violence since modern weapons and colonialism were introduced than before.

    In South America the large early “civilisations” were much more violent than the small isolated jungle family groups in remote areas.

    fewer home comforts, very little architectural innovation,

    In pristine jungle with tropical or Mediterranean climates, there is clean water, and no need for elaborate heating, or fancy architecture, Local materials provide ready housing materials. – shaped by traditional skills passed down in families with plenty of space to live.

    fewer opportunities to meet like-minded people, lack of democracy and free speech, and not much chance of improving their lot within the next millennium if left to their own devices.

    Actually they seem to be made up of family based groups of like-minded people, in group sizes which do not need formal democracies or the corruption of large political groupings. Many are happy as they are.

    By comparison, the main thing wrong with the supposedly imperialist culture is its selfish and ham-handed approach when dealing with natives.

    It is just the usual displacement of the natives, by an invasive species or tribe, as happens with animals and plants.

    I’m not justifying imperialist attitudes here – frankly, I think there are better ways to improve the lot of outsiders than to conquer them -

    You seem to be reflecting the usual colonial attitude that the invaders know better than the natives how to manage the land and its ecology or “improve” standards of life.

    Higher levels of exploitation or more dependency on complex specialisation, transport etc. do not = “better” in terms of sustainability – which was the subject I raised.

    but the myth of the Noble Savage is just that: a myth. It’s not like western people don’t or can’t have sustainable practices as well.

    That has yet to be seen. SOME western people KNOW HOW to set up sustainable systems, but neither capitalist nor communist political cultures seem capable of actually operating them for any length of time before the destructive exploiters take over.

  23. In reply to #24 by Katy Cordeth:

    Yes I was joking when I said I thought the Earth’s immolation was only a few thousand years off. Your description of what will happen to the Sun does sound to my non-scientific ears like an explosion though.

    Sorry for misinterpreting your comment. I do like to check whether someone is serious or not, as sarcasm and irony can be difficult to discern in text form, but I think I was unduly accusatory in my last post.

    I still wouldn’t call it an explosion. It’s more a very slow ballooning out.

    Although it’s only in recent times that technological advances have allowed us to expand our murderous efforts to facilitate the slaughter of millions, our species has always existed as a violent one and advanced itself through acts of brutality. Our story is the story of violence against one another. Homo homini lupus est, as the saying goes.

    I have no objection to the acceptance that humans have violent motives – history knows but we have plenty of examples from our past – but this tells us nothing about how we compare to natural “mass killings” in general. I’d also be extremely careful about classifying a whole species as “violent”. It strikes me as no less black and white than calling us a peaceable species. Some members go through their whole lives without committing any violent acts, and some go above and beyond violence into pure sadism. A fuller argument can be found in Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of our Nature.

    Show me a people from any time in history who were completely non-violent and I’ll show you a people who were eventually wiped out by those who were not.

    The only exception that I can think of for an entire culture is the Sami of Scandinavia, who have never been engaged in any wars, and even that says nothing about internal homicide rate or violence.

    If you want to tell yourself that your ancestors’ hands weren’t soaked in blood, that’s your own business; but trust me, they were.

    Now, what in my comments made you think that I was just another whitewasher of history? I don’t deny that humans have been violent and are violent, but we might at least be accurate about it. My entire family tree could consist of Auschwitz officers, but my point remains that there are still people who do not deserve to be lumped into the category “violent”, and for their sakes, I insist on not making sweeping generalizations about our species.

    Well, that’s me telt. If you found the tone of my comment shallow and tasteless then I apologise. I was attempting dark, detached humour and I obviously failed. I don’t find anything funny about violence of any sort.

    I apologize in turn for the accusation. It was a little hasty of me, especially given the issue of irony I raised earlier.

    Although I stand by my description of our inventiveness in devising instruments of violence as an art form. This was why I mentioned Perillos’s Brazen Bull. That device is exquisitely cruel and sadistic in its conception. I would suggest that the creative impulse which went into writing Don Giovanni and King Lear, or painting the Sistine Chapel and the Scream, is indistinguishable from that which motivated Perillos or the architects of the Inquisition. The same muse was at play.

    Well, I see no objection to the notion that a torture device could have artistic touches that, were we ignorant of its purpose, we could describe as artistic. Certainly, the designs of some of them show a level of detail that is similar to that of an artist trying to achieve a certain effect, and that many of the devisers must have had plenty of knowledge of human anatomy. At the end of the day, the minds of sadists can’t be too different from the minds of non-sadists in many respects, and creative impulse or whatever name pleases you is one aspect that could be similar.

    Again, though, it’s a delicate thing to claim. Putting the more harmless class of artist in alongside the devisers of torture devices is dangerously close to needlessly impugning the characters of the more inoffensive kinds, and to describe something as an art form (with its connotations of moral correctness and superiority) is a clumsy way of describing it, prone to conveying the wrong message.

    Yes, and an anteater can kill hundreds of ants in one assault on an anthill. There’s nothing counterintuitive about an animal engaging in the mass killing of that which counts as its diet. As in the example of your ocean-going predators, that’s just lunch. And the attacks by insects like ants and hornets are also on other species. We’re talking about humans culling each other, or at least I am. Do ant colonies ever launch attacks on other nearby ant colonies? Do shoals of piranha wage war against rival shoals? Or is this a uniquely human trait?

    Well, I concede that I can’t think of any non-human species that performs mass killings upon its own kind, at least not in the same range. There is a species of bee that lives in the desert, the males of which regularly slaughter each other en masse for access to females, but I don’t think its death toll rises to the millions.

    If you’re going to invoke diet, though, then I’d point out that human killings are often based on survival and reproductive needs as well: the first is invasion to conquer a resource held by another; the second is defence or a pre-emptive strike against such attacks; the third is to convince a foe or dubious ally that you will not tolerate being exploited. All of them stem from the logic of natural selection, just as much as killing for food does, but they all result in mass killings nonetheless, and the fact that predators killing prey is “natural” does not set it all that far apart, logically, from killing for other reasons based on natural drives built for survival.

    Of course, human killings are unusual both in their scope and in the fact that they’re directed at their own species, but then humans are unusual among social species in any case.

    Well then you obviously don’t watch CBBC.

    Nope. :-)

    In reply to #25 by Alan4discussion:

    I will reply to your post, but a new thread has appeared which is more relevant to the topic than this one, and that strikes me as the best place to make the case. The link is below:

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/2/3/-jared-diamond-in-row-over-claim-tribal-peoples-live-in-state-of-constant-war

    I’ll post my reply there. If you’d like to continue the discussion, I’ll be watching that thread.

    EDIT: How do I set up hyperlinks in these comments?

  24. In reply to #27 by Katy Cordeth:

    EDIT: How do I set up hyperlinks in these comments?

    Put the text you want to appear inside the square [ ] brackets, followed by the url inside the curved ( ) brackets.

    Example

    OK, I’ll give it a go.

    [Jared Diamond in Row Over Claims Tribal Peoples Live in State of Constant War] (http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/2/3/-jared-diamond-in-row-over-claim-tribal-peoples-live-in-state-of-constant-war)

    EDIT: Ah, got it! Thanks. :-)

  25. In reply to #28 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #27 by Katy Cordeth:

    EDIT: How do I set up hyperlinks in these comments?

    Put the text you want to appear inside the square [ ] brackets, followed by the url inside the curved ( ) brackets.

    Example

    OK, I’ll give it a go.

    [Jared Diamond in Row Over Claims Tribal Peoples Live in State of Constant War] (http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/2/3/-jared-diamond-in-row-over-claim-tribal-peoples-live-in-state-of-constant-war)

    EDIT: Ah, got it! Thanks. :-)

    What the…

    I could have sworn it worked the first time. Let me try again.

    Jared Diamond in Row Over Claims Tribal Peoples Live in State of Constant War

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