The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction
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Are we in imminent danger of extinction? Yes, we probably are, argues John Leslie in his chilling account of the dangers facing the human race as we approach the second millenium.
The End of the World is a sobering assessment of the many disasters that scientists have predicted and speculated on as leading to apocalypse. In the first comprehensive survey, potential catastrophes - ranging from deadly diseases to high-energy physics experiments - are explored to help us understand the risks.
One of the greatest threats facing humankind, however, is the insurmountable fact that we are a relatively young species, a risk which is at the heart of the 'Doomsday Argument'. This argument, if correct, makes the dangers we face more serious than we could have ever imagined. This more than anything makes the arrogance and ignorance of politicians, and indeed philosophers, so disturbing as they continue to ignore the manifest dangers facing future generations.
indirect cooling effects are achieved by attacking stratospheric ozone.) There might also be some very important negative feedbacks. Lindzen has suggested that water vapour is involved in one of them. 57 WAR, POLLUTION, DISEASE On this view, greenhouse heating increases convection, which leads to rain, which means that the atmospheric concentration of water vapour is reduced, which leads to cooling—whereas the generally accepted belief, seemingly confirmed by studies of sea surface
farmers produce with their fires can, it now appears, generate enough of the hydroxyl radical (OH) to destroy much carbon monoxide, methane and other pollutants. Since the book was first published, I have worked further on some of its themes. For instance, the Note for Physicists at the close of Chapter 6 has been expanded into an article in International Studies in the Philosophy of Science (October, 1996). Again, I survey the current literature on the anthropic principle (which underlies a
one kilometer wide. Again, experts have suggested that heating by lasers, or by the kind of gigantic mirror which can be built in space from very thin plastic sheeting, or just by painting selected areas black, could produce surface jets of gas which, working over many years, would produce the necessary change of direction.15 Another possibility would be to store up enough to allow people 85 OTHER DANGERS to survive until agriculture could recover from the effects of a large impact. Close
microbes can fairly readily acquire the missing material from elsewhere: British safety inspectors gave precisely this reason for ending some University of Birmingham tinkerings with organisms which were cancer-producing in their uncrippled form.35 Using viruses as their carriages, genes can travel from one type of plant to another, or between humans and other mammals. And sometimes not even carriages are essential. Marine bacteria are now known to take up the DNA floating where other bacteria
it would be callous. Nevertheless, think twice before accepting it. No duties towards merely possible people? Suppose lives were known to be always well worth living. You would continue to meet philosophers who denied any clear duty to save humankind from extinction. A position occasionally adopted is that our duty towards others is only to avoid hurting them. So if life could be seen as a gift which we could give to future generations, we’d still have no obligation to give it. In fact, even