You Be Doomed If You Want To Be, I’m Engineering A Way Out

Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox, predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change according to, but I’m not too sure.

According to The Australian Fenner said that climate change is only at its beginning, but is likely to be the cause of our extinction. “We’ll undergo the same fate as the people on Easter Island,” he said. More people means fewer resources, and Fenner predicts “there will be a lot more wars over food.”

When people look at graphs like the one below, the inevitable conclusion is that we are doomed, but someone in 1000AD looking at this type of prediction and the steepness of the curve would have assumed that it would be even worse.

Are We Doomed? It Depends Where You Start

Throughout history technological advances have staved off the end of the world, and enabled the planet to support ever more people with ever increasing standards of living. Thomas Matlhus wouldn’t have believed it possible, but anyone who assumed that computers would remain the size of 1950’s mainframes could not have envisaged the iPhone, and hands up anyone who envisaged Facebook & Twitter even five years ago?

What always happens in the doom laden scenarios is an assumption that the progress of technology is linear. I see it with looking at businesses too, that everything continues in an predictable straight line that at some point crosses an axis that indicates that no further progress can be made (or unless it is a dreaded asymptotic exponential curve but nobody bases anything on those do they?). But that never happens. Faced with climate change, will farmers carry on growing the same stuff that fails year after year until they starve to death? Of course not, you don’t get to be the dominant species without being adaptable.

We saw that with microprocessors the limits imposed by heat dissipation were neatly sidestepped by the introduction of multi core devices, and in the 20th Century saw numerous green revolutions which vastly increased food production and eliminated the starving masses of countries like India.

It might be tough to create Utopia, but I think that technology can and will be used to mitigate the worst effects of human beings. In the meantime, if you want to be a doom monger, at least be witty. Here’s one of my favourites from the late Quentin Crisp.

“I have been to restaurants in Soho whose denizens have crossed social and geographical barriers to reach them.

“In one I have seen a girl sitting amid musical pandemonium with a book open on her knees and her little finger entwined with that of her true love. Of course, she was not really listening, not really reading and not communicating with her friend in any way that required effort or style.

“It would be hard to say whether the jukebox caused the death of human speech, or whether music came to fill an already widening void. But, unless the music is stopped now, the human race, mumbling, snapping its fingers and twitching its hips, will sink back into an amoebic state where it will take a coagulation of hundreds of teenagers to make up a single unit of vital force, which, once formed, will only live on sedatives, consume itself on the terraces of football stadia, and die.”

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