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Space

Astronaut: 'Single-Planet Species Don't Last' 921

Posted by michael
from the rated-w-for-wiped-out dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle astronaut John Young, due to retire in two weeks, says that the human species is in danger of becoming extinct: 'The statistical risk of humans getting wiped out in the next 100 years due to a super volcano or asteroid or comet impact is 1 in 455. How does that relate? You're 10 times more likely to get wiped out by a civilization-ending event in the next 100 years than you are getting killed in a commercial airline crash.' He says that the technologies needed to colonize the solar system will help people survive through disasters on Earth. Young has written about this topic before in an essay called 'The Big Picture'." In related news, the Shuttle overhaul program is on track for a May 2005 launch.
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Astronaut: 'Single-Planet Species Don't Last'

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  • Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stecoop (759508) * on Friday December 17, 2004 @10:58AM (#11116134) Journal
    What other higher order specie that has multi planet colonization did he do his evaluation against? What was the success rate of the multi planet effort - would it have been better to spend those resources maintaining quality on one planet?

    So he writes about volcanic activity, planetoid impacts and solar disasters. What if we spent all our resources on keeping the planet safe? We could drill out pressure of volcanoes and build super bombs for planetoids. If our sun goes all bets are off though we need to find another solar system but I bet we could figure out something in 4.5 billion years.

    But all in all he is correct I am just point out a con; however, I don't think that ~5 billion people could be wiped out by any single event that left the planet habitable afterwards.
  • Great! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by October_30th (531777) on Friday December 17, 2004 @10:59AM (#11116149) Homepage Journal
    I'm glad to see that the unmanned-space-exploration-mafia has not been able to completely silence the drive for manned space exploration - yet. I have no doubt that if nothing changes drastically, that will happen eventually. There're just too many "good political reasons" to kill the expensive and risky (PR-wise) manned space program. After all, taking the fall for dead astronauts could kill anybody's career...

    Yes. Manned missions are risky and expensive. Unmanned and remotely controlled probes are just fine and dandy and they yield plenty of useful information about the conditions in space and on other planets, but what's that information good for if we're never going to leave our planet and/or when we're going to get hit by an extinction level event?

    As a species we have definitely become too concerned about safety in exploration. Can't shoot people up to space because they might get killed? Well, duh? What if the explorers like Magellan or Vasco da Game had thought about it like that?

    The saddest comment I once got was: "we'll never be able to colonize other planets because the conditions are so fundamentally hostile, so let's not waste any funds/effort on manned space flights." What the hell happened to the human will to explore and survive? What's the point in sending out probes if the information gained will certainly be lost in the (near) future when the big one hits the earth?

  • 1 in 455? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WPIDalamar (122110) on Friday December 17, 2004 @10:59AM (#11116150) Homepage

    Just cause some retired guy in an interview says it, doesn't make it true.
  • Airline Crash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zerosignal (222614) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:00AM (#11116156) Homepage Journal
    So there's a 1 in 4550 chance of me dying in an airline crash? That figure sounds suspiciously high.
  • by mopslik (688435) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:00AM (#11116159)

    The statistical risk of humans getting wiped out in the next 100 years due to a super volcano or asteroid or comet impact is 1 in 455

    Dare I ask how that number was dervied? It seems awfully arbitrary, and full of doom-and-gloom.

  • One Planet ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:06AM (#11116231) Journal
    From the article: It's not the point that we should move (to another planet). It's the point that the technologies that we need to live and work in other places in the solar system will help us survive on Earth when these bad things happen.

    Hello - the title of this /. article is misleading...
  • Re:1 in 455? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ViolentGreen (704134) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:07AM (#11116244)
    Seriously... Why the human race be more likely to be destroyed by a geological or cosmological event in the next 100 years than in the past 3000 or so of recorded history?
  • Funky math (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ShinmaWa (449201) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:10AM (#11116285)
    The statistical risk of humans getting wiped out in the next 100 years [...] is 1 in 455. You're 10 times more likely to get wiped out by a civilization-ending event in the next 100 years than you are getting killed in a commercial airline crash

    Let's see.. this would put the odds of getting wiped out in a commercial airline crash at 1 in 4550 -- meaning, if this were true, that there would be dozens of commerical airline crashes every day. Three per week out of O'Hare alone.

    That alone makes me call BS on this whole article.
  • Re:I agree (Score:2, Insightful)

    by syrinx (106469) * on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:11AM (#11116293) Homepage
    It would be nice if the meek inherited the Earth; seeing as the stupid have it at the moment.
  • Re:Great! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mordors9 (665662) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:12AM (#11116303)
    Obviously we need to greatly expand our NASA budget and start preparing to colonize other planets... wait, you don't think that is the point of scaremongering us, is it?
  • Statistics? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abertoll (460221) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:12AM (#11116317) Homepage Journal
    Wouldn't this have been the same chance of being wiped out "in the next 100 years" for the past (how long have humans been on the planet?) Call me skeptical, but either that statistic is wrong or it's pulled out of...

    Nevermind, the point is if the chances are 1 in 455, that means that roughly every 455 years a civilization-ending event must be occuring. I don't see that, do you?
  • by pla (258480) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:14AM (#11116336) Journal
    While I agree with the overall idea (we need to get stable off-planet colonies ASAP), we need more than just the moon or Mars.

    Most of the possible "civilization-ending" events will actually leave quite a few humans alive, certainly enough to reestablish civilization over a few centuries. The "really big" problems involve our primary, the Sun. If that stops behaving in a very calm, consistant manner, we all die, no recovery possible.

    At the very least, we need a colony beyond the asteroid belt. Sadly, no large rocky planets exist out there (though perhaps one of Jupiter's big-4 moons would suffice). Better yet, a truly extrasolar colony, but that would require information we don't quite have yet (such as a likely Earth-like planet around another star).

  • by warpSpeed (67927) <slashdot@fredcom.com> on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:15AM (#11116355) Homepage Journal
    Tell that to the cockroaches...
  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jhon (241832) * on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:16AM (#11116357) Homepage Journal
    What other higher order specie that has multi planet colonization did he do his evaluation against? What was the success rate of the multi planet effort - would it have been better to spend those resources maintaining quality on one planet?
    I don't think he needs to. There have been several events in our worlds past that would have wiped us out were we around -- and ended up wiping out most everything alive at the time.

    I question the "1:455" chance for us to get wiped out in the next 100 years, but what is being suggested *IS* sound -- "don't keep all your eggs in one basket".
  • by hairykrishna (740240) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:17AM (#11116376)
    Well, basically, stats don't work like that. 1 in 455 in one year != a certainty in 45,500 years. Same as flipping a coin- flip it once and the chance of getting a head is 1 in 2. This doesn't mean that if you flip a coin twice you always get a 1 heads, 1 tails result.

    Of course in this case it's all kind of irrelevant anyway because, as many posters have already commented, the guy seems to have pulled the statistic directly from his ass.

  • Re:Prove it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by calibanDNS (32250) <brad_staton@hot m a i l .com> on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:18AM (#11116390)
    What's his point?

    His point is that we aren't funding this type of research enough. Also, he seems very concerned (and rightly so) that most of our species are blissfully ignorant of the dangers that we impose on ourselves, for example by relying so heavily on fossil fuels.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Struct (660658) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:20AM (#11116416)
    I agree, we definitely could go a long way to defending the planet from these types of events, and it's certainly not a bad idea to pursue that. But in the end, it comes back to all of our eggs being in one basket. It's hard to comprehend, much less respond to every potential threat that might come along and wipe out the planet. As Mr. Miyagi says, 'best defense - no be there'.

    I'd also go so far as to say that colonizing other planets is now the most important thing mankind can achieve. Purely from the perspective of preserving our species, it's the next critical step. If you consider how susceptible we are not only to external threats (meteors, epidemics, space locusts, etc), but also just the day-to-day concerns that we might accidentally annihilate ourselves with the war-de-jour, the best way to increase our chances for survival is to spread out a little bit and prevent an accident like that from doing us all in at once. Bottom line is, if you're all about doing something great for mankind, this is a really important problem to solve.
  • Re:Airline Crash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by doowy (241688) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:20AM (#11116418) Homepage
    civilization-ending event: if one occurs, you will die. (and he claims one occuring in the next 100 years is 1 in 455)

    Your mistake is not realizing an average person takes many, many, many more than 1 flight in their lifetimes.

    According to the National Safety Council [nsc.org], your odds of dying are actually slightly worse. Your odds of dying due to injury in a plane crash are about 1 in 4,023 (see this table [nsc.org]).

    If you rarely fly, then your at a favorible statistical end of the spectrum with respect to fatalities due to injury by air travel - but remember, some people bank several flights each and every week for years.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cade144 (553696) * on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:29AM (#11116554) Homepage

    So, if we colonize one or two other planets, that just gives us a few more baskets. What we need are hundreds or thousands of baskets.

    In fact, we should probably abandon planets altogether.

    There are tons and tons of nice organics and water waiting for us in the Kupier Belt. Sitting at the bottom of a gravity well, dependent on one biosphere for all your free oxygen is just asking for trouble.

    All we need to do is:

    • Develop fusion technology
    • invent entire engineering disciplines based on zero-gravity industry/construction/living technologies
    • Move a substantial representation of our gene- and meme- pools up out of Earth's gravity well
    • Live for a few centuries in the Kupier Belt and Oort Clouds
    • Spread to other solar systems like a fungus, possibly using Von Neuman Machines to soften up / improve target planetary systems
    • Exist!
  • Re:Prove it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:34AM (#11116606)
    It seems to me that the real threat to the species is the species itself.

    I've been of this thought for a long time. Anybody who passed high school biology should realize that the human race is already in serious shape. Think about it:
    • Starvation - In nature populations are kept in check by starvation. Starvation is running rampant in third world countries. The world population is growing so rapidly that it's becoming more and more difficult to adequately feed everybody.
    • Disease - In nature populations are thinned out by disease. Mankind has managed to effectively fight disease for decades and thereby help increase the population. The flu used to kill hundreds of thousands of people but now it's more of an inconvenience. Smallpox is all but gone. Nature responds to this by introducing AIDS, SARS, Ebola, etc. If the avian flu manages to jump into the human species (not unlikely) then new flu outbreaks could kill millions [seniorjournal.com].
    • Fertility - The fertility levels in many species drop when they become overpopulated. Mankind has done a good job of creating fertility drugs, etc. to allow continued growth of the population. Mankind seems to think it's a right to have offspring, despite what nature may be telling them.
    • Homosexuality - There are theories that nature uses homosexuality to help control population sizes. The basic theory is that when a population reaches a size that can no longer be naturally supported by the environment that homosexual tendencies become more prevelant. Of course it could just be that the percentage of gay people hasn't changed, it's just that there are more now since the overall population is growing.
    IMHO these are all signs that the human population is reaching a breaking point. It may not happen in the next 50 years but it wouldn't surprise me at all if within the next 200 years or so there's some major population-thinning event like a pandemic, massive starvation, etc.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Porn Whitelist (838671) <tomhudson411@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:39AM (#11116664) Journal
    This stat is pure bullshit (quote):
    The statistical risk of humans getting wiped out in the next 100 years due to a super volcano or asteroid or comet impact is 1 in 455.
    Even a nuclear war wouldn't completely wipe out humans. Sure, civilization wouldn't survive, but there's a big difference between survival of civilization and survival of the species.

    We'd still survive as a species, along with the rats and the cockroaches. As a species, we're amazingly tough.

  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CreatureComfort (741652) * on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:41AM (#11116700)

    You are absolutely right. He does not have one single shred of evidence to back up his wild postulations about multi-planet species.

    I am sure you will join me in recommending that we immediatly fund a large, well organized effort to do further investigation into these so-called "colonizations", including multiple on-site visits, and perhaps permanent research stations to study any indigenous species we find during this effort.

  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by berj (754323) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:45AM (#11116757)
    The fact that we are at the top of the food chart at the moment doesn't mean that we have to be here.

    This happens to be one of my pet peeves. Anyone who thinks that humans are at the top of the (supposed) food chain (or chart as you call it) has never been stalked by a cougar or a bear.

    I'm not sure when/where the idea of a food chain with a bottom and a top arose but it's poppycock. There is a food *cycle* in which every thing is food for something else (what do you think happens when you die and they put you in that hole in the ground?) and humanity's place in it is no more special than a carrot's or a tiger's.

    If you're talking about predator/prey relationships then humans still don't win. If anything sharks would win there (anyone out there know if Great Whites have any natural predators besides humans?)

    Berj

  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B'Trey (111263) on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:46AM (#11116772)
    Dinosaur's were huge and highly specialized for their environment. They were vulnerable to any serious alteration to their habitat. Humans are the ultimate in generalists. We can survive in anything from tropical jungles to frozen tundra. Starvation due to huge decreases in the amount of food available would sharply reduce our population, but if anything more advanced than insects and grasses survive, there's every reason to believe we will too. Philosophers are divided on whether or not this is a good thing.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Friday December 17, 2004 @11:58AM (#11116915) Homepage
    I'd also go so far as to say that colonizing other planets is now the most important thing mankind can achieve. Purely from the perspective of preserving our species, it's the next critical step.

    While I believe you are correct, I don't think mankind is there yet. Look at it in perspective. What we're talking about here would take global cooperation of the scale never seen before. We can't even wipe out AIDS or world hunger or war, how are we going to work together to colonize another planet?

    I'm reminded of Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot," and the profound wisdom of his words:


    "The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds."


    How do you convince a culture like that to put aside the generations of bigotry and hatred, and to work together for something truly noble? Think about your target audience. You have 10th generation racists, anti-gay bigots, xenophobic taxpayers who all demand that their way be the way because "I pay taxes, dammit!"

    In one sense, you can look back through history and believe that mankind has come a great distance, but when you consider things on a cosmic scale, you realize we've barely advanced at all. We still have war, racism, hatred, disease, even though eliminating all of those things has been without our reach for several decades now.

    In the end, it will not be the asteroid that dooms us. The asteroid is merely a statistical inevitability. They've hit before and they'll hit again. What will really doom us is our self-absorbed inability to recognize the inevitability of our impending doom, and act on it. Our own selfish need to be "on top" of this rock will prevent us from conceiving of an existance beyond this rock. We will continue going on, pretending that maybe that last asteroid was really the last one, and the next 4.5 billion years will be smooth sailing. Could we really be that naive? I believe, "yes."
  • Cynicism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kid-noodle (669957) <jono@NoSPAM.nanosheep.net> on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:10PM (#11117040) Homepage
    I find it slightly interesting that the majority /. response here appears to be cynicism, even ignoring the spurious statistic and the misleading headline.

    Surely it is simply good sense that species resident on multiple planets, and particularly in multiple solar systems throughout the galaxy, and indeed the universe, are more likely to survive?

    Don't put all your eggs in one basket and all that - multiple planets in one system means the species has a better chance of surving a planet level extinction event, multiple solar systems means the species survives past the end of one star, multiple galaxies...

    And of course, that's ignoring the other benefits potentially offered. I just find it a bit unexpected that /.ers, the cutting edge of geekery, people weaned on Asimov and Star Trek, have such a cynical response..
  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DunbarTheInept (764) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:13PM (#11117070) Homepage

    Of course it could just be that the percentage of gay people hasn't changed, it's just that there are more now since the overall population is growing.

    A more likely explanation is that the percentage hasn't changed but the social acceptability of admitting to homosexuality has, hence it is being more accurately reported now.

  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hostyle (773991) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:17PM (#11117108)

    Starvation - In nature populations are kept in check by starvation. Starvation is running rampant in third world countries. The world population is growing so rapidly that it's becoming more and more difficult to adequately feed everybody.

    The world has more than enough food to feed everyone on it many times over - food doesn't just run out, its a highly renewable resource. The problem is greed - human, corporate and government greed. "Its our food, if you want it pay us for it" attitudes. There are food surplus "mountains" in every first world country, doing nothing but rotting. Other problems are war - take Sudan for instance, where lots of relief food arrives, but bever reaches those who need it. Its stolen or destroyed by the warlords.

  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B'Trey (111263) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:26PM (#11117232)
    Funny, you seem to be arguing with me but you also seem to be repeating everything I said.

    Suppose a large meteor did take out he US. Our population is a little under 300 million. That only leaves about 6 billion other people to try an muddle through without us.

    A sufficiently severe catastrophe, whether an asteroid hit or something else, could take out 99% of the human population and still leave some 63 million people.

    Americans, Europeans and many others are certainly dependent on technology. Most of us wouldn't know which end of a seed to plant in the ground. But there are huge populations of the world who still live fairly primitively.

    The question wasn't whether we'd just shrug it off and continue like nothing happened. The question was whether the human race would go extinct. You know, every last member of the species dead? That kind of extinct?

    About the only thing which would kill us without completely destroying the world would be some sort of super flu or other bug which was universally fatal to us but not to other species. (Another possibility would be one which was not fatal but caused universal sterility.) The odds of that are extremely tiny - there seems to always be some fraction of the population that are somehow immune to any specific disease.

    Saying that we won't be driven to extinction doesn't rule out the possibility of any of a plethora of catastrophes. It just says that, as a species, we'll almost certainly survive anything short of complete destruction of the planet. Our civilization may not, but we will.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AnonymousKev (754127) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:28PM (#11117269)
    > It's good to know you've got a scientific basis for your homophobia...

    I didn't see any fear of homosexuality in the parent post, but I do have a question. Why is any level of disagreement with the homosexual lifestyle immediately branded as a phobia? It seems like the term is overused and misused an awful lot.

  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Struct (660658) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:31PM (#11117300)
    No doubt, everything you're saying here is 100% true. Whether or not the world will ever be unified enough to focus their collective attention on a problem like this is way up in the air. Still, it doesn't take a unified world to accomplish something great, and we'll probably still be fighting disease and poverty the same day we begin colonizing another planet (assuming it ever happens, of course).

    Purely from a survival perspective, it makes the most sense to attack the colonization problem as early as possible in hopes of finding a solution before the statistical inevitability occurs. The more practical question of whether or not we can, or even deserve to find a solution to that problem is, like you suggest, open for a considerable amount of debate.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EvilAlien (133134) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:47PM (#11117512) Journal
    No, he was saying that homosexuality, which will tend towards pair bonds not producing offspring, may emerge as a way of maintaining species population at a somewhat sustainable level. There was no mention of fear, nor any value judgement in the parent post. Please set mode -troll.

    Homosexuality was also not put forth as a danger to the human race. It was listed as an example of emergent issues that help keep populations in check. Political correctness does not trumpt science, reality, or reason. It is possible to think about and try to understand why successful species (i.e., species that survive and reproduce) have sub-populations that pair bond in ways that will tend away from reproducing. There is nothing homophobic, biased, or discriminatory in try to understand how and why this happens.

    Another issue to factor in to our understanding of these emergent homeostatic mechanisms is why heterosexual pair bonds who are naturally equiped (and actively engaging in the requisit behavior) to reproduce choose not to.

  • by WebCowboy (196209) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:48PM (#11117522)
    ...as you might think.

    I'm not sure where your stats came from, but world-wide there were WAAAY more than 83 fatalities in 2000 [aviation-safety.net]. There were even more fatalities than that in 1945 when commercial airline service was in its infancy and passenger volumes were vrey low (no jumbo jets).

    The link I supplied only counts commercial, multi-engine airliner accidents. There are likely many more airplane fatalities then that--military, spacecraft and non-commercial or crew-only flights (trainers, cargo flights, bush pilots, crop dusters, leisure/personal aircraft etc). Add those in world-wide and a worldwide annual death rate over 10,000 is possible, which would make a 1:4500 probablility over 100 years a reasonable statistic.

    The chance you'll die on any particular flight is still very remote--almost down to 1 in a half-million.

    I still don't know how one could say the chances of a catastrophic armageddon-type event is 10 times more likely than that however, given there's never been such an event in recorded history--ice ages only occur once in several millenia for example. One can surmise about things (terrorists setting off nukes creating nuclear winter, or an asteroid scientists did not see coming) but there is no hard data to analyse (how many organisms were wiped out in the last ice age...when the dinosaurs disappeared, etc? We have no way of knowing for sure).
  • by ngstrm (841277) on Friday December 17, 2004 @12:48PM (#11117528)
    Even if somebody else has already remarked it: What is the evidence from which we could conclude that "Single planet species don't last?" Obviously there were many species that have died out; equally obviously, there were many species that have not died out, namely those species that are with us today. Some of them have been around pretty long - think of some types of insects. If more species may have died out than are with us today, then we can just hypothesize that "Many single planet species don't last." We could belong to the more lucky group. The fact that no species has been around all the time bears no significance here.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fareq (688769) on Friday December 17, 2004 @01:04PM (#11117703)
    Correct. Food is not a production problem.

    It's a distribution problem. Recall U.S. efforts to "feed the hungry" in a bunch of third-world countries... local warlords take all the food, the people end up no better off...
  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by El Puerco Loco (31491) on Friday December 17, 2004 @01:21PM (#11117954)
    all that means is that they were wrong about the time. it's a zero sum game. eventually we will hit a wall.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ukonu (784863) on Friday December 17, 2004 @01:39PM (#11118207)
    Why can't they? I honestly don't know why and want to know.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tmortn (630092) on Friday December 17, 2004 @02:22PM (#11118740) Homepage
    Certainly what you say is true.. we could be better. But that will always be the case. Perfect use of all skills is not realistic. Perfect conversion efficeincies are theoretical but not practical.

    Can we be better ? Always. Can we be worse ? Certainly. In the end all I was saying before is we are who we are and that is not a bad thing. Some seem to think being who we are and not being our own perfect ideal is sufficient reason not to go forth and 'spoil' the rest of the universe. Something I think is absurd. Yes we have potential to be better than we are, and if we don't seek to ensure our survival there is no chance we will ever get to that point.... or that if we do there is no chance that it will survive.

    I think the day we look in the mirror collectively and don't think we can be better is the day we should consider staying at home. Seeking to improove is a healthy attitude. Obsessing over failure to meet the highest standards is not.
  • 1 in 455? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drew (2081) on Friday December 17, 2004 @02:27PM (#11118800) Homepage
    and what is he basing those odds off of?

    unless there has been some significant new discovery about the cosmos that i am unaware of, the odds for the occurance of some cataclysmic event severr enough to wipe out all human life should be about the same for the next 100 years as for the last hundred years, and the hundred before that.... if there is a 1 in 455 chance of it happening in the next 100 years, then that should mean that there is a 1 in 45,500 chance of such an event happening in any given year.

    given the fact that the human race has been around for ~2 million years so far, i think his odds are a little off. otherwise we should have been wiped out around 20 times already.

    and this ignores the fact that the odds are most likely going down over time, as the level of event that would be required to wipe out the human race gets rarer and rarer the more we advance. an event that could have wiped out all of human life 2000 years ago wouldn't be nearly enough to do the job now...
  • Re:Prove it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SilenceEchoed (840918) on Friday December 17, 2004 @02:28PM (#11118819)
    Yeah, protecting life on earth is a fine goal. I for one have no desire to be vaporized by an international pissing contest gone awry. Though I completely agree with this part of your argument, I just see this as tragically short sighted.

    Why protect life on this planet if you have no intention of protecting it beyond? It is a fact, that no matter how much we protect, repair, and monitor, Earth will not always be habitable for humans or anything else. Overlooking global weather and environment changes, comets, astroids, plagues, starvation, or general death due to war, we still have the inevitable death of our sun, during which the earth will be consumed. Good thing we kept it clean and friendly, huh?

    One way or another, a lot of people will die when this planet has it's last breath (at least we assume, unless transportation on a massive scale comes to pass before), but that is no reason to allow the entire race to die out with it.

    I've heard the story about how "Humanity has a pretty nasty record when you get down to it" a million times before, in a million different wordings. Fact of the matter is, we're not any different than anything else on earth. The reason every other species achieves a 'natural balance' with it's environment is because the ones that don't, die. Solves that problem. Because of our technilogical superiority, we've been able to overcome these restrictions, and thus expand our civilization and species. I do think we have a lot to learn about preserving the places we live, but the fact of the matter is that had we always existed in 'balance with nature' we'd have never gotten as far as a species as we did, and you can forget about being the apex predator. For similar reasons, I also think that the other species can and should be bent to our wills, for our own benifit, but that's another flame-baited argument, for another time.

    What if the tribes of old decided, "Screw my ancestors, I'm not leaving here" ? One disease, one food shortage, one flood, one war, one whatever in a few isolated regions, and humanity is no more. When it comes down to it, to simply stop expanding and growing is just foolish. We are what we are, and if we want to continue being that, we need to start thinking about spreading out.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday December 17, 2004 @02:52PM (#11119070) Journal
    Look at it in perspective. What we're talking about here would take global cooperation of the scale never seen before. We can't even wipe out AIDS or world hunger or war, how are we going to work together to colonize another planet?

    Think about the last time there was a massive wave of remote settlement (1500s-1700s). How much did they rely on global cooperation?

    Granted, it's important to get launch costs low so that the two efforts can begin to become comparable.
  • Re:Prove it (Score:3, Insightful)

    by barawn (25691) on Friday December 17, 2004 @03:16PM (#11119327) Homepage
    A sufficiently severe catastrophe, whether an asteroid hit or something else, could take out 99% of the human population and still leave some 63 million people. ...

    The question wasn't whether we'd just shrug it off and continue like nothing happened. The question was whether the human race would go extinct. You know, every last member of the species dead? That kind of extinct?

    Well, be fair. First off, I have to say you're absolutely right. But in order to make a race extinct, you don't need to kill all of them right away. You just need to make it unlikely for that species to be able to adapt to the changing conditions.

    Are humans so generalized now? Our population centers are fairly dense - remove a few cities and a huge percentage of the population goes away. Plus, basic survival skills are no longer necessary for life - most people rely on others to generate food. Remove a large section of the food generating sections of the population, and we might not survive.

    However, to be fair, the people that are in the least dense areas (like Alaska, or upper Canada) are the most capable of handling themselves.

    That's the main reason I think you're right, but it scares the crap out of me to believe that our species is resilient primarily due to rednecks who can hunt.
  • by sean.peters (568334) on Friday December 17, 2004 @03:50PM (#11119677) Homepage
    ... are also safety engineers, database developers, holders of advanced degrees, and other sorts of /. denizens. You might want to beware of generalizing.

    Sean

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