Did you see the televised special Earth 2100 last week? I hadn’t planned to watch, but got sucked in. It was an interesting mix of fact, science, and speculation in a fiction wrapper to make it palatable to the general public, kind of like sugar-coating a pill–perfect for someone like me who likes sci fi and popular science books. If you missed it you can still see it on the ABC web site (linked above).
The gist of the predictions we’ve heard before: “Scientists predict that by 2020, global catastrophes may well begin to accelerate. The human population is expected to explode and animal species may be dying off at a rapid rate.” In addition, climate change will lead to water shortages in some places, while other locations such as New York City will be desperately trying to protect themselves from rising sea levels by building large walls. Populations will shift in response to water stresses and other changes.
The experts interviewed made several thought-provoking statements. I was struck by the notion that Earth has experienced five mass extinctions in which at least half the species on the planet disappeared, all caused by natural disasters such as massive volcanic eruptions and rapid climate changes. Now some scientists say we are in a sixth extinction, this time caused by us.
“Every society that collapsed thought it couldn’t happen to them,” says Joseph Tainter, an expert in anthropology and societal collapse. “The Roman Empire thought it couldn’t happen. The Maya civilization thought it couldn’t happen. Everyone thought it couldn’t happen to them. But it did.”
I hope to track down some of the experts’ publications, including Joseph Tainter’s book, The Collapse of Complex Societies (3rd-Floor Main Collection CB311 .T245 1988). Another interviewed expert was Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us (2nd-floor Reserves/Circulation Desk GF75 .W455 2007), who was a speaker on campus in October 2008.