Will Technology Save the World from Anthropogenic Extinction?

More than 99 percent of all organisms that have lived on Earth are now extinct. An estimated 8 million animal and plant species currently live on Earth, but the rate of extinction has accelerated in the last 100 years, largely from human activities.[1] Because of such things as industry, agriculture, deforestation and fossil fuel use, atmospheric carbon dioxide is at its highest level in 14 million years.[2] At the same time, disruption of other chemical cycles is turning seas and rivers into dead zones. Scientists know of 543 species lost over the last 100 years, a record that would normally take 10,000 years to accrue.[3]

Throughout the 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history, there have been five known mass extinction events that have wiped out between 75% to over 90% of the species existing on Earth.[4] We are on the brink of the 6th Mass Extinction — The Holocene or Anthropocene Extinction. This is the first extinction in history caused by a single species — humans. Because of the substantial anthropogenic causes triggering this 6th Mass Extinction, it is often referred to as the Anthropocene Extinction.

Below is a summary of the 6 Mass Extinctions:

· 1st Mass Extinction — The Ordovician-Silurian Mass Extinction. 444 million years ago, most complex multicellular organisms lived in the oceans. An abrupt shift in the continents caused global cooling and an ice age leading to massive glaciation of seawater at the south pole. Sea levels plummeted by hundreds of feet and dissolved toxic metals became concentrated. As the ice age ended, sea levels rapidly rose and couldn’t hold sufficient oxygen to sustain most of the species.[5]

· 2nd Mass Extinction — The Devonian Mass Extinction. 375 million years ago, nearly 80% of all living species on the planet were wiped out. This extinction is thought to be caused by the adaptation of aquatic plants to living on land, lower carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and lower oxygen levels in the ocean. With lower carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global temperatures plummeted, causing many species to go extinct. Other species became extinct through mass volcanic eruptions and meteor showers.[6]

· 3rd Mass Extinction — The Permian Mass Extinction. 250 million years ago, the largest mass extinction occurred, wiping out 96% of all species on Earth. Massive volcanic activity and asteroid impacts sent high levels of toxic methane and basalt into the atmosphere while decreasing the amount of oxygen. As well, extremophile microbes that thrive on methane proliferated, choking out other sea life.[7]

· 4th Mass Extinction — The Triassic — Jurassic Mass Extinction. 200 million years ago, over 50% of the living species were eliminated. This mass extinction occurred over 18 million years ago from volcanic activity and basalt flooding, causing atmospheric climate change, and changes in sea levels and pH.[8]

· 5th Mass Extinction — The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) Mass Extinction. 65 million years ago, about 75% of the species living on Earth went extinct. After 165 million years on the planet, dinosaurs were virtually wiped out of existence. This extinction was caused by an asteroid impact with Earth, causing an “impact winter” that dramatically changed the climate of the entire planet including acidification of the oceans and interference with photosynthetic processes of plants and plankton.[9]

· 6th Mass Extinction — The Holocene or Anthropocene Extinction. There is a growing consensus among scientists and numerous research organizations that the sixth mass extinction has started and is accelerating. The Holocene period started about 11,700 years ago and corresponds with the rapid proliferation and impacts of humans. The first impacts of humans include hunting animals into extinction, deforestation and habitat destruction. With the introduction of the industrial age approximately 300 years ago, anthropogenic destruction of habitats such as oceans, lands, forests, wetlands has exponentially increased and accelerated. Activities contributing to the 6th Mass Extinction include the pollution, contaminants, atmospheric change and habitat destruction from fossil fuels, industrial manufacturing, chemicals, mining, commercial agriculture, centralized supply chain, overconsumption, the rapidly increasing human population, and the general disregard of humans for the value, conservation and regeneration of nature.[10]

Although the five prior mass extinctions resulted from conditions that caused significant climate change, no mass extinction prior to the 6th Mass Extinction resulted from activities of any particular species. We, humans are special. We are so smart and innovative that our technological advancements and activities are causing the 6th Mass Extinction. While the Earth has seen global warming, ice ages and climate change prior to humans inhabiting the Earth from natural causes such as volcanic activity, wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, continental drift, and meteors, today’s climate change is occurring at a highly accelerated rate never seen before in Earth’s history.[11] According to NASA, “These natural causes are still in play today, but their influence is too small, or they occur too slowly to explain the rapid warming seen in recent decades.”[12]

Due to human activities, including burning fossil fuels (e.g. oil and coal) for our energy needs, deforestation, overfishing and destruction of the ocean habit, chemical contamination of our soil, water and air, and commercial agriculture, we have destroyed ecosystems and released massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere along with other greenhouse gasses such as methane and nitrous oxides causing unprecedented levels not seen in over 14 million years.[13]

The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been rising steadily since the industrial revolution and has accelerated over recent decades, with 50% of all emissions over the last 300 years happening since 1980 and 25% happening since 2000.[14] As a result, the parts per million (“ppm”) of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen 50% from 280ppm in pre-industrial times to 420ppm as of June 2021.[15] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) estimates that we will need to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2030 to have a likely chance of keeping global warming below the 1.5 degree threshold.[16]

According to One Earth, “The impacts resulting from higher temperatures are almost unimaginable — the death of the coral reefs in every ocean, the collapse of nearly one-quarter of the world’s agricultural land, dramatically increased heat waves and wildfires, 100 million people driven to extreme poverty sparking multiple refugee crises, 1 meter of sea-level rise in some regions, and more than $11 trillion per year in damages from extreme storms and flooding. Stacked upon each other, these impacts and many more, could undermine the very fabric of life on our planet, greatly challenging the continuation of human civilization as we currently know it.”[17]

If we act urgently, we may have a chance of reducing CO2 emissions and the devastating effects of climate change by doing the following: [18]

(1) Replace fossil fuels (e.g., oil, coal) with clean energy alternatives (e.g., hydrogen, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal) and end fossil fuel subsidies;

(2) Change land management and use practices by (a) restoring croplands to grassland or forestland, (b) extending timber harvest rota­tion lengths, © building healthy soil and organic with permaculture and regenerative land management practices and (d) regenerating forests and lands that have been burned, denuded and degraded for cattle ranching and commercial agriculture monocropping;

(3) Reduce consumption, increase product durability, reuse, recycle, and apply circularity to manufacturing processes;

(4) Localize production and distribution of water, food, energy, materials and goods and develop local sharing economies; and

(5) Move to a primarily plant-based diet.

While innovation, science and technology can be utilized to accelerate the changes and remediation needed to reverse anthropogenic destruction and climate change, science and technology have also been responsible for great damage to the world. Examples of this damage include (1) fossil fuel pollution; (2) chemical contamination of water, soil, food and air; (3) commercial agricultural, ranching and fishing practices that destroy arable land, forests, wetlands and oceans; (4) massive waste from overconsumption, manufacturing, plastic packaging, electronics and agriculture; and (5) biological gain-of-function experiments that increase pathogen transmission from animals to humans. It is critical that we apply ethics and principles to innovation to ensure that innovation uses living systems applications and serves the health and thriving of people and planet.

While some of the technologies listed below have the potential for doing good, the unethical use of these technologies in the hands of sociopathic corporations, corrupt politicians or power-hungry fascists have the potential of accelerating the Anthropocene Extinction, as well as complete loss of human rights, privacy, freedoms and privileges. The most dangerous technologies include the following:

· Biological weapons, experimental viruses and untested vaccines and medicines;

· Nuclear weapons;

· Autonomous intelligent robots designed to, or which mistakenly, kill humans;

· Genetically modified and created organisms that can reproduce and mutate in nature causing untold damage to the Earth’s food, water and ecosystems that support human survival;

· Carcinogenic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics and preservatives in our water, soil and food;

· Continued use of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals;

· Commercial agricultural practices that destroy forests, deplete topsoil and contaminate the land and watersheds;

· Unethical AI, smart weaponized drones, smart robots, facial recognition software, deepfakes, quantum computing, mandatory microchipping, pervasive surveillance and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS aka Smart Dust) with micro cameras and sensors, all of which can be used to destroy privacy and create a dystopian military fascist state with complete control of humankind;

· Commercial overfishing and destruction of the oceans for commercial uses;

· Cyberterrorism (e.g., taking out centralized supply chain and utility grids subject, hacking and controlling autonomous robots, drones and weapons, releasing security locks on uncurable pathogens, destruction of the banking system);

· Weaponized nanotechnology and nano organisms; and

· Unethical neural enhancement chips.

Below are examples of technologies and activities that have the potential to create rapid change, reverse the anthropogenic damage of humans and create a robust and regenerative multi-trillion economy (the “Regenerative Economy”):

· Clean and renewable energy (e.g., green hydrogen, solar, wind, geothermal);

· Carbon capture through natural climate solution (“NCS”) including reforestation, building healthy soil, regenerative land and oceans practices, and direct-air carbon capture;

· Zero-Waste, Waste-to-Energy and Waste-to-Materials;

· Regenerative ocean management practices including reviving coral reefs, cultivating seaweed beds, proliferating phytoplankton blooms and engaging in regenerative fishery practices;

· Development and implementation of “Wise, Regenerative and Resilient Cities and Communities” planning, design and holistic implementation;

· Clean storage and batteries;

· Plant-based protein and diets and cellular lab-grown animal proteins;

· Renewable plant-based materials and biomimicry;

· Reduction of driving and travel by using virtual communications;

· Ethical AI, machine learning and robotics;

· Circularity in manufacturing and supply-chain;

· Aquatech including sonic purification, atmospheric generation, molecular frequency separation, and desalinization;

· Applications that track and reward conscious reduction of energy and consumption;

· Internet of Things (“IoT”), sensors and monitoring for environment, endangered species, carbon credits and resources;

· Energy-efficient and healthy building design and materials that are in harmony with nature (e.g., resistance to fire, earthquake, hurricane, storms, and mold; passive solar; water collection and purification; and grey-blackwater recycling);

· Supply-chain efficiency, value-added processing, and localization of water, food, energy and materials;

· Graphene as a renewable alternative source for energy, storage and materials;

· Reuse-recycling-upcycling-conservation applications;

· Bioenergetic soil and water remediation;

· Organic burial pods;

· Applications that provide transparent standards, monitoring, measurement and reporting by organizations to align economic incentives with ethical imperatives, ESG and triple bottom line;

· Urban farming, hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical farming and forest, and integrated food systems;

· Clean, renewable, public transport and driverless, autonomous vehicles;

· 3D-Printing and localization of manufacturing;

· Integration of life sciences, chemistry and earth sciences that fosters the health and thriving of people and planet through ecosystemic solutions that increase resource abundance, accessibility and quality-of-life;

As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Yet, we continue to try to save our world with the same thinking, tools and systems that created our problems — the same corrupt economic and monetary system, government and regulatory system, antiquated education system, fake news system and destructive technologies. The money and finance institutions try to convince us that we can somehow buy our way out of our problems while going further into debt. The governments assure us that new regulations will save us in exchange for giving up our freedoms, rights and privileges. The scientists and technologists tell us they will save us with innovation, much of which is untested and results in such things as pollution, ecological destruction, disease/pandemics and death. The media and educators tell us they can save the world with their deceptive propaganda and conditioning that promotes conformity. While money, regulations, technology, science, media and education can contribute greatly to the change we require, the real change needed is both systemic and personal.

By participating in our current society (e.g., use of money and credit, use of electricity and fossil fuels, purchase of manufactured products), we are each responsible in some manner for perpetuating a society based largely on fear, greed, scarcity, environmental destruction, and overconsumption. Instead of making the personal changes required, we often foolishly pass our responsibility to corrupt governments, sociopathic corporations, and unethical bankers in the belief that they will somehow save us with technology, regulations, money and information. Unless we are willing to change our personal destructive and over-consumptive behaviors, no new technologies, regulations or money will save us from the 6th Mass Extinction.

So, will technology save the world from anthropogenic extinction? No, not by itself.

The solution requires holistic, systemic change from the inside-out (personal change), ground-up (the way we relate to each other and our planet and build our infrastructure), and top-down (government, regulations and leadership). We urgently need to accelerate a new socio-political-economic system devoted to ecosystemic thriving that fosters the flourishing and wellness of people and planet. The systemic change needed will require us to experience significant inconveniences and challenges. However, these inconveniences and challenges pale in comparison to such things as climate disasters, desertification, starvation, water scarcity, resource shortages and economic collapse.

There is hope that we can still reverse climate change by creating a Regenerative Society. This can happen through a combination of the following 5 Pillars of Transformation:

(1) Personal change including eliminating overconsumption, waste and overpopulation, developing a deeper love, reverence and inclusivity for our fellow humans and nature;

(2) Transformation of corrupt governments and the central banking systems that provide regulations and funding that truly support human and planetary thriving;

(3) Substantial and meaningful corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) commitments that achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);

(4) Applied education and information systems that build regenerative skills, capacity and culture; and

(5) The application of ethical sciences, healthcare and technologies that use living systems approaches to solve our challenges at a systemic level and promote the thriving of humankind and nature.

In the Regenerative Economy, practically every person on this planet will have an opportunity to gain meaningful work (rather than a job) serving thriving of humankind and the planet. In so doing, all humans will have the opportunity to live a life of abundance, wellness, empowerment, beauty and fulfillment in a Regenerative Society.

[1] https://earth.stanford.edu/news/science-behind-extinction

[2] Sources consulted include https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2013.0096; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_atmosphere

[3] Sources consulted include https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/01/science/mass-extinctions-are-accelerating-scientists-report.html; https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/; https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=2075211eda6d89822257606d8508119bb2666a28-1623821813-0-AWyBnE67jR6hXkDVmjuil8I6vBglXghEVXmjh5KOI0gQf-Pi6-IFtNfFNJhMAVSyGzQ7L9C7L83g8o9il_17GKkChjYcI91KLjxQtZjIAo8vcaSKo5TfYN4fm7TGx9RFAo23Cn7s2pIKCyD-b_GWEBQvqlyE1KdDATfVatpoPM61o9T7R7Sx2K3zWWzs889NYWBTSw8J445Ma7MzWmmeB0uBStaeKbbAVH9AmcAwowdHn6zVtU2fjr_90zC6brGoKpZU7BL02eWiw3Ip1avUkBXGuIyliVLRtB7qMVbqUHo2DzdkJUcLzc882IqaIHaY8qzRxUksMarYLx4D0_Mlne9k_Cnn8vdu4nbq6N7K-9Ybd7CkwvQLVluT_poQQHrkJ1dj_0otleYeD8dX4kr9KQ2bV6OKmLrRGJoU705GYevGhttps://populationmatters.org/campaigns/anthropocene?gclid=CjwKCAjwn6GGBhADEiwAruUcKkjIEV_UOQy_HwysgrJArPjQncK5XOAl3a0WLRTKKS89aTm4do_AkhoCKJwQAvD_BwE

[4] Sources consulted include https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/mass-extinction; https://earth.stanford.edu/news/science-behind-extinction#gs.3u0sia; https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02763457; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction#:~:text=The%20Holocene%20extinction%2C%20otherwise%20referred,a%20result%20of%20human%20activity; https://www.thoughtco.com/the-5-major-mass-extinctions-4018102

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordovician%E2%80%93Silurian_extinction_events

[6] http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150624-the-day-the-oceans-died

[7] Sources consulted include https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/dinosaurs-ancient-fossils/extinction/mass-extinction; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinction_event

[8] Sources consulted include https://ebrary.net/3913/history/jurassic_period; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triassic%E2%80%93Jurassic_extinction_event

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretaceous%E2%80%93Paleogene_extinction_event

[10] Sources consulted include https://earth.org/sixth-mass-extinction-of-wildlife-accelerating/; https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction

[11] https://www.cleveland.com/weather/blog/2016/10/top_climate_change_denier_rebu_1.html

[12] Sources consulted include https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-climate-change-what-you-need-know?gclid=CjwKCAjw_JuGBhBkEiwA1xmbRZT6qMRZSzHrbwy8tYXxHuQvzOqEc4i3a4WkzCacQ4kCSIovKuLm0BoCLUQQAvD_BwE;

[13] https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-climate-change-what-you-need-know?gclid=CjwKCAjw_JuGBhBkEiwA1xmbRZT6qMRZSzHrbwy8tYXxHuQvzOqEc4i3a4WkzCacQ4kCSIovKuLm0BoCLUQQAvD_BwE

[14] https://www.dezeen.com/2021/06/14/carbon-guide/

[15] Sources consulted include https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsta.2013.0096; https://www.co2.earth/daily-co2

[16] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/; https://www.wri.org/insights/acacording-new-ipcc-report-world-track-exceed-its-carbon-budget-12-years

[17] https://www.oneearth.org/below-1-5-c-a-breakthrough-roadmap-to-solve-the-climate-crisis/

[18] https://www.wri.org/research/carbon-removal-forests-and-farms-united-states

Mark Chasan is a lawyer, entrepreneur and financial advisor supporting regenerative communities and eco-social entrepreneurs to foster the Regenerative Economy.