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The global environment: Stop the destruction or adapt to change

V. Karlin School of Forensic and Investigative Science University of Central Lancashire What is the global environment? According to the Global Environment Forum-KANSAI1 the term global environment (GE) refers to all factors influencing human habitat, such as climate, quality and pollution of the air, land and water, etc., and is similar to the concept of the biosphere. Is the global environment changing because of human activities? The facts of change in the GE are irrefutable, but whether they are due to human activity is not yet completely certain. Scientific research reveals that the majority of critical environmental parameters like the average temperature of the atmosphere and oceans, carbon dioxide content, etc., are still far from the extreme values they once reached on our planet in the pre-Anthropocene past. These extremes happened because of volcano eruptions, comet or asteroid strikes and variations in solar activity. Thus, the resolution of the debate on whether humans are responsible for current changes in the GE is not as important as an appreciation that extreme values of basic GE parameters reached on our planet in the past are well beyond those suited for human civilization to thrive. Assuming it is us who are changing the GE towards a catastrophic limit, we can unite to stop and possibly reverse the changes. However, what if at the end of it all, when we are dining on oysters and sipping champagne in celebration of Judgement Day postponed, our planet is struck by a huge asteroid or a Yellowstone eruption, propelling us into the world of Mad Max? According to the philosopher Bostrom, these events constitute a constant global terminal risk2. Improving the GE is a laudable activity, but far from the only one humanity needs to do in order to ensure its long-term survival. Is human survival desirable? In other words, what is the meaning of human life in general? From the point of view of most religions, everything is simple. Those who did not contribute to the destruction of GE will go to a kind of paradise, others - to hell. Everything is deeply personal and there is nothing we can do about it. More constructive philosophies state that the only internally consistent sense of human life is in the progressive development of complexity, both personal and social3. The first conclusion upon accepting this position is that we should not prevent GE changes at the expense of the spiritual or technological evolution of society. Instead, humanity should change itself, both personally and socially, in order to survive not
http://www.global-kansai.or.jp/e/index.htm http://www.nickbostrom.com/existential/risks.html 3 Beginning with Vladimir Vernadsky (http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/Articles%202005/The_Noosphere.pdf ) and Teilhard de Chardin (e.g. see http://www.webcom.com/gaia/tdc.html), to the modern day apostles of the technological singularity (http://www.kurzweilai.net/index.html?flash=1)
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only the changing GE but also all possible geological and cosmic catastrophes, including the death of our Sun. We do not envisage this as a Star Trek style galaxy hop in a big spaceship, but rather as the capability to replicate human software and collective knowledge remotely on a planet in another star system. Surviving another Big Bang should become our ultimate mission within the limits of our modern knowledge, this would be the ultimate complexity humanity could reach as a result of evolution to fulfil the aim of its existence. How are we to adapt to changing GE? Of course, it is possible to build self-sustained underground or underwater complexes in which modern humans can exist unharmed. This external engineering is seen as the simplest and most obvious way of adaptation. However, they will be not sustainable once the geosphere, space debris or us ourselves comprehensively wreck the currently existing biosphere. Eventually, their contribution towards complexity of the system would be limited (although this approach can be used as a stop-gap measure). According to the theory of evolution of life forms, Nature provides numerous examples of gradual adaptation of living organisms to changing conditions. These internal developments are the natural defence mechanism against the changing environment. The only drawback of natural evolution is its unacceptably slow pace. How can we accelerate it? Via genetic and biological engineering! A few successful clonings and achievements in medical applications directed towards transplantation operations and regeneration of living tissues are promising. Theoretically, modification of genes in plants, animals and ourselves to a level at which they could effectively function at elevated and depressed temperatures seems feasible. A further challenge might be to sustain human life in an atmosphere with low oxygen content and high concentrations of chemicals harmful to unimproved humans. This research would create a fundament for further systematic improvements in human physiology on a larger scale. In particular, work could be directed at strengthening human bones (especially backbones), increasing resistance to atherosclerosis, improving memory, etc. Even the development of auxiliary gills in humans, so that we can weather a Waterworld scenario, does not look unrealistic. Positive Feedback! The looming end of the hydrocarbon era threatens to destroy the current level of complexity of our global civilization4. Sustainable solutions to the problem are obvious, firstly renewables and ultimately controlled thermonuclear synthesis, yet progress is stymied by short-sightedness and a relative lack of intellectual resources devoted to it. Genetic and maybe bioengineering research on improving the intellectual abilities of humans may pay back and produce a new breed of intellectually enhanced humans who will tackle the challenge. Later on, those enhanced humans will further contribute into research on improvement of intellectual abilities of humans, and so on in a virtuous circle. Step-by-step, humanity will master the mysteries of the Universe and will learn how to survive the Big Bang. In conclusion.

Tainter, Joseph A. (1990). The Collapse of Complex Societies (1st paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-38673-X.

Today there are many publications on the necessity of urgent measures to cut carbon emissions and save the planet5. Some progress (e.g. Kyoto agreement) has already been achieved. However, all measures proposed so far are actually half-measures at best. The principles we formulated above are the only ones consistent with the global ethics of humanity and they would definitely lead to success if acted on in good time. Understandably, they might be shocking for conservatives. Laypeople are likely to imagine this as white-coated technocratic scientists planting silicon chips in their brains and will not be happy about it. Realization of the deeper problem on the governmental level and systematic educational campaigns aimed at the general public will certainly bring about the desired results. Leadership should and will be taken by those countries oriented towards spiritual and technological progress, instead of preoccupied with stagnant religious dogmas. In our opinion, Japan belongs to the former category, and we would be happy to see it leading not only the Kyoto process, but also venturing into more drastic measures to secure the survival of the human spirit.

E.g. see IPCC site (http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/index.htm)