How long will humanity survive?

I’m reading a book called “The Goldilocks Enigma” by Paul Davies. It discusses why it is that the universe seems to be so finely tuned to life. It explains all the ‘coincidences’ that have turned up in cosmology and quantum physics, the constants that we experience such as the strength of gravity, the size of protons, the power of the electromagnetic force, etc, and describes what would happen if they were slightly different.

The book has pointed out the one glaring exception to the “principle of mediocrity” that says the universe is pretty much the same wherever you look: the exception being that we are here and we have never yet observed intelligent life elsewhere! Why should that be? It continued by covering in detail the theory of multiple pocket universes, perhaps an infinite number of them, creating a collective multiverse. I am just coming on to the part about simulated universes and whether we would even know if we were in a simulation. All this i find very fascinating.

One thing made me stop and think this morning. It was just a little aside to another point the author was making. I’ll quote the context and bold up the bit that interested me the most.

While the simulation argument was restricted to a single universe, it was always possible to wriggle out of the uncomfortable conclusion that this might be a simulation by arguing that no civilizations are likely to reach the point of achieving such stupendous computational power. For example, there are many reasons why humanity may not survive for more than a few centuries beyond the present, and that may not be long enough for conscious computers to be developed. If a similar fate were to befall any other intelligent beings who might be located elsewhere in the universe, then simulations, while still a possibility in principle, might never be achieved in practice.

Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma, page 208.

There it is. Just a little snippet with no elaboration. Just a cold hint that our species might not be around for very much longer. A footnote references “Our Final Century” by Martin Rees. I think i should read that book soon!

The reason it caught my attention is that i have been thinking for a while that we might be heading for an early demise. A point made in “Conversations With God” is that our technological advances have now exceeded our sociological development. We have the ability to annihilate our entire species (and many of the others) if we misuse our technology. The scary thing is, all it takes is a few wrong decisions by a minority of people with great influence. Look at the Iraq war. I was one of 36 million people[citation] who protested against it before the war began. It did no good. We couldn’t change the minds of the people who decided it would happen.

If it’s not a devestating war it’ll be run-away climate change, or over-population leading to world hunger, or an asteroid will hit the planet and wipe us out. In the long-term i think the only way to ensure the prolonged survival of our species is to spread ourselves out across other planets in the galaxy. Of course, eventually we would have to do that anyway: in 5 billion years time the sun will run out of fuel. But how soon can we start migrating to different planets? Current estimates suggest not very soon at all!

This is the first hint i’ve come across that says our time left could be measured in centuries. In “Stardust”, Stephen Welch says that the average life-span of a land-based species is 5 million years. We humans have only been around for the last 200,000 years. It’s a terribly young age for a species to die!

But if we are wiped out, what happens next? I believe that life will go on in some form. Life is very resilient, once started, it’s very hard to kill it. No matter what happens to the planet, even if we can’t survive, something will. But then what of all our culture, our literature, our art, our technology? Everything that we’ve produced will eventually fade and crumble without us here to preserve it. Does that matter? Wouldn’t it be a shame if another intelligent species were to come to our planet in a million years’ time and find no trace of our existence?

What are we really trying to achieve here, anyway? I mean really long-term. Eventually our entire universe will freeze out as the last stars extinguish all the available fuel. We know that the human race cannot survive indefinitely, at least, not unless we can figure out a way to jump to a different universe, all of which (if they exist at all) are probably receding from us faster than the speed of light! Even if we put our consciousness into a simulated reality, it cannot outlast the life of the universe. Everything needs energy, and the second law of thermodynamics will be our ultimate downfall. “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov, written in 1956, makes this point profoundly. It’s a good read; i enjoyed it recently.

Ah, where am i going with this? I know we as a species won’t last forever, I don’t want our entire existence to be meaningless in the end but i can’t work out what it would take to make it meaningful on a cosmic scale. I think that a few hundred years is not a long time for homo sapiens to have left, and i hope we can get past our selfishness and childishness. I hope that our final end isn’t caused by our own silly fault.


What a nice afternoon!

I managed to drag myself away from my computers this afternoon and have a lovely time outside.

First i went to visit this space of land that the WinACC local food group are hoping to renovate and turn into a city farm. I got these two lovely ducks on camera … they thought i had food for them. No such luck, heh!

Mallard duck Mallard drake

I’ll go back again soon and take some more photos of the area of land. If we go ahead with the transformation, it’ll be really good to keep a photo blog! But today i didn’t stay long because i was off to visit some friends and see the Christmas market. It was the first weekend, so it was predictably extremely busy, but again such a lovely atmosphere. The bells of the cathedral were ringing, there was carol singing, the crafts on offer were so beautiful and creative. We had mince pies and mulled wine! :)

This is without a doubt my favourite picture of the day:

Christmas market hut

Is that not just beautiful? Here are some other pictures of gorgeous lovely Winchester today …

Christmas market Skating in Cathedral Close Busy christmas market Christmas market and the cathedral Christmas shopping in Winchester Christmas tree

There’s more on Flickr.

OceanLab – Miracle

This week i went to a talk encouraging artists to help take action on climate change. If you don’t think artists can make a difference, i challenge you to watch this video.

Are you hoping for a miracle, as the ice caps melt away?
No use hoping for a miracle
There’s a price we’ll have to pay

It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to the light
It’s too easy to bow your head and pray
But there are some times when you should try to find your voice
This is one voice that you must find today.

A lovely song, and such beautiful imagery in the video. This has really made an impression on me today.

Ahh, Friday! :)

I’m happy it is Friday. Lately Fridays seem to have been coming around about every 3 days, but this week felt a lot longer.

It was my turn as ‘sweeper’ at work, meaning i pick up the extra little things that need doing, to avoid disturbing the rest of the team. It means that i had a much more varied week, with little odd things here and there. I had quite a varied week out of work too, so i guess all these things made the week feel longer.

I have re-designed and re-launched a website for a friend of mine who owns a business in Winchester: The Medical Aesthetic Clinic. Cathy is going for customer service award, so we’re updating the site with more information, pictures and testimonials in anticipation. It’s quite exciting.

Last night i went to a WinACC meeting as a follow-on the Low Carbon Champions initiative. Tomorrow i’ll be meeting a new-found friend to discuss what we shall do together as Low Carbon Champions in spreading the message to our friends, families, neighbours and associates. It’s quite exciting.

But for tonight i’m going to put it all on hold and take time to relax. I have a pasta bake in the oven, and the plan for tonight is Eastenders, Little Britain USA and Ugly Betty! :)

Happy Weekend, everybody!

I need a new hobby

Once upon a time i used to turn my computer on straight away from coming home from work, and i often used to program and work on websites late into the evening. These days, however, i often don’t even bother to turn on the computer at all. I love programming, and i’m really enjoying the challenges of my job, but it cannot both a job and a hobby. I need to find a new hobby!

I’m really enjoying getting involved with the WinACC and being a low carbon champion. We went to a meeting this morning which was really good fun. I feel like i’m getting to know people a bit, which is nice. I’m also vaguely considering going to church again. Yeah, shock horror, i know! It’s very strange. I thought i was happy being agnostic. I feel i’d like to believe in something, but the trouble is, i need a child-like faith to believe in God, and i’m too analytical by nature. Much of Christianity just doesn’t seem to make sense to me, and yet, i’m still attracted to the idea of belonging to a church.

A hobby i’d like to explore more is astronomy. I would really like to get a telescope and explore the night skies a lot further. There’s so much to see out there, and it really fascinates me. Perhaps i need to join a local group of amateur astronomers.

I’d still like to do something with music. If i’m honest, perhaps that’s where church appeals to me. Good, lively, communal worship with a decent band really excites me, and i miss it. The trouble is, the churches which appeal to me musically usually tend to be the ones that really put me off with their extreme doctrines and beliefs.

Anyway, i seem to be blurting. I didn’t actually intend to come on here and talk about my spiritual desires right now!

Oh, i pre-ordered the Beedle the Bard book today at Waterstones. YAY! :D

A water-saving tip

I never knew that you could flush the toilet[0] simply by pouring a bucket of water down it. I suppose i imagined there was some trigger when you pressed the flush lever, to make it empty the bowl … but now i think about it, of course there isn’t! All it does is lets more water in, and it’s the weight of the extra water which disturbs the balance, pushing it out through the pipe at the back.

I still didn’t quite believe it until i tried it, but it really works. So when you’ve finished cleaning the bathroom, just empty the bucket of dirty water into the toilet. Rinse out the bucket and pour that into the toilet too. Easy! No water wasted, and you’ve saved a flush too!

[0] Works on my toilet. Other designs of toilet are available. Not guaranteed to work on every toilet. This toilet-related water-saving tip is brought to you by

Winchester Action on Climate Change

Today i went to a training session to become a ‘low carbon champion’ for Winchester Action on Climate Change. It was a good session, there was a lot to take in, but i certainly feel more confident about talking to other people and encourage people to do their bit. I met some nice people, including someone who is eager to work with me in promoting the benefits of low carbon living to our local neighbours. We’ll probably set up some talks in our homes and get some discussion points going.

I have just done the Act on CO2 calculator and it came up with a total of 1.46 tonnes per year of CO2 emmisions for home, appliances and travel. They’re missing something – the copy/paste code to publish into your blog. They should do that.

My personal action points from today are to get a wormery!! I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and i hate the way that food scraps go mouldy in the bin. May as well get some pet worms to enjoy it and make some useful compost for us. I also want to grow some runner beans. We don’t have a garden, but runner beans can be grown on the balcony. Maybe some other things too.

Greening, and thoughts on population growth

Resumo: Mi diskutas la problemon de la eksponenciala kreskado de la mondloĝantaro. Mi estis hodiaŭ matene ĉe la kunveno por agado sur klimatŝanĝo.

This morning i went to the Winchester Action on Climate Change meeting. It was really very good; well-attended, with exciting ideas and news about greening projects in Winchester. One idea which particularly intrigued me is the plan to buy a farm in Winchester and get volunteers to help work on the farm, produce food and sell it. It sounds really exciting, especially as it is so difficult to get an allotment around here.

Later on i went to look at the Facebook I Am Green application, and was delighted that i can now tick “I do not commute; I live close to work/school” – hooray! :D

There is an item that has generated a bit of discussion: “I (will) have no more than 1 child, or I will adopt additional children”.

Someone called Júlia Babos made a comment:

What?! Having more than one child would be a green crime? I highly disagree.

Gray Little also disagreed:

Ya I’m with Julia I’d like to think that I’m living a pretty green lifestyle but i want a large family when I’m older, this in contrast I’s basically saying that having more than one child is a crime against the earth, I disagree completely to such a statement, and would appreciate if someone sent me information pertaining to its reasoning.

Well, i happen to know a little bit about this, so i made a comment in reply:

@Júlia – it doesn’t say you can’t have more than one child – but it is asking us to consider adopting children. The world’s population is growing exponentially, unsustainably.

Until the 1800s there were always under a billion people on the planet. It took 130 years to get to 2 billion, 30 years to get to 3 billion in 1960.

1974 (14 years later) 4 billion.
1987 (13 years later) 5 billion.
1999 (12 years later) 6 billion.

I believe it’s around about 6.7 billion now, and this massive growth is due to our dependence upon oil to fuel mass production of food. The amount of sunlight that falls on the ground in a typical year is enough to support about 1 billion people. Therefore the impending oil crisis is also going to be a population crisis.

Read “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight” by Thom Hartmann. And to anyone who is thinking about having a child, consider adopting an orphan instead.

I realise that my argument is completely one-sided and i am sure there are many more sides to this debate. I would like to hear more opinions. What are the advantages of having more children and continuing to expand the world’s population? Is the oil argument soon going to be moot because nuclear fusion will provide a clean, limitless source of energy for us? What are your views?