Monday, 9 September 2013

Our Nature, Our Story, Our Future?

Is our civilization destined to grow? Was it always like that? Is the climate change creating wars? This post is a combination of rambling thoughts on our story.

Our Nature

For the ones that do know me know that I am rational of person that does care about the environment probably more than 50% of the population. Yes, I believe that man is affecting the environment, however the "climate change" expression is being extensively used - climate does changes with human intervention but there is also evidence that climate is continually changing since the beginning of time and that is my first point. Secondly it is in our nature to change the environment, because we exist we are changing what is around us. Changing the surrounding is a consequence of the human existence, you cannot stop cities and population growth and consume resources... well is that true? Well with the exception of:
  1. Lack of food
  2. Diseases
  3. Competition
  4. Or... Policies
If the above does not occur normally the population will keep on growing and consuming its natural resources and consequently and somewhat proportionally increasing waste. The first three can be considered more in-line with nature and other species (if you are part of the 80% that believes in evolution...), since that is what limits the growth and evolution of species:
  1. If there is no food either the species die or they need to migrate
  2. If there are diseases either it affects the whole species and potentially the species die or there are mutations that will allow some to live
  3. If there are too many species in one location the fight for the fittest will occur - one might say that this is a consequence of #1.
The fourth it is more related with the human species, you can think of real examples such like the one-child policy (e.g. China) which tends to limit generational growth.

Our Climate

On the broadest scale, the rate at which energy is received from the sun and the rate at which it is lost to space determine the equilibrium temperature and climate of Earth. This energy is distributed around the globe by winds, ocean currents, and other mechanisms to affect the climates of different regions. Factors that can shape climate are called climate forcings or "forcing mechanisms". These include processes such as variations in solar radiation, variations in the Earth's orbit, mountain-building and continental drift and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. There are a variety of climate change feedbacks that can either amplify or diminish the initial forcing. Some parts of the climate system, such as the oceans and ice caps, respond slowly in reaction to climate forcings, while others respond more quickly. Forcing mechanisms can be either "internal" or "external". Internal forcing mechanisms are natural processes within the climate system itself (e.g., the thermohaline circulation). External forcing mechanisms can be either natural (e.g., changes in solar output) or anthropogenic (e.g., increased emissions of greenhouse gases). Whether the initial forcing mechanism is internal or external, the response of the climate system might be fast (e.g., a sudden cooling due to airborne volcanic ash reflecting sunlight), slow (e.g. thermal expansion of warming ocean water), or a combination (e.g., sudden loss of albedo in the arctic ocean as sea ice melts, followed by more gradual thermal expansion of the water). Therefore, the climate system can respond abruptly, but the full response to forcing mechanisms might not be fully developed for centuries or even longer.

In the context of climate variation, anthropogenic factors are human activities which affect the climate. The scientific consensus on climate change is "that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities," and it "is largely irreversible." Of most concern in these anthropogenic factors is the increase in CO2 levels due to emissions from fossil fuel combustion, followed by aerosols (particulate matter in the atmosphere) and cement manufacture. Other factors, including land use, ozone depletion, animal agriculture and deforestation, are also of concern in the roles they play – both separately and in conjunction with other factors – in affecting climate, microclimate, and measures of climate variables.

“Science has made enormous inroads in understanding climate change and its causes, and is beginning to help develop a strong understanding of current and potential impacts that will affect people today and in coming decades. This understanding is crucial because it allows decision makers to place climate change in the context of other large challenges facing the nation and the world. There are still some uncertainties, and there always will be in understanding a complex system like Earth’s climate. Nevertheless, there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities. While much remains to be learned, the core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious scientific debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.” - Advancing the Science of Climate Change

Our Environment

Being someone concern with environment (but a rational...), I always like to have conversations with the so call true environmentalists.

"What do you mean by environmentalist?" - I ask
First of all, there is no common agreement to define what an environmentalist is. Consequently countries will also have to disagree on different type of policies not to say on environmental policies/actions. Countries with different natural resources will have different opinions on what to do with those resources. For example, it might also come as a surprise that nowhere exercises more control over a higher proportion of the world’s human water drinkers than Tibet, the highest plateau on Earth, which stretches 1,500 miles from east to west and 900 miles from north to south - this has been creating political tensions already for some time. On the other side of the world, Brazilians criticised the environmentalist communities for not allowing them to cut the rainforest, "You that are part of more advance societies live in nice air-conditioning apartments with food on the table. You have cut your forests to survive, let us do the same!".

"Are you pro man or pro earth?" - I ask
Our own existence shaped a little bit the world we live in,  however let us no be arrogant and think that we are in the centre of the galaxy... or in this case, the planet. The planet will still be here long after we are gone... yes as it been proven over history, species come and go, either by extinction or evolution. It is important to be aware that perpetuation of complex biology populations, such as in the human species, does not occur. Evolution will the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generation, as the evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species or individual organisms.

This means that some of the "climate change", "pro Earth", "vegetarianism", "sustainability" statements are sometimes not as rational as one may think at first hand. We want to say that we are green and that our effect in the planet should be minimal, at the same time we fail to perceive that our existence and evolution is based on what we have been using from our surroundings and that even if we did not exist the planet would still take its own course.

We also fail to understand that we do have an economic problem, since flourishing economies require that people continually procure and consume one another's goods and services, hence not sustainable. Our current market economies require that populations have an insatiable hunger for consumerism and if everyone were content with the current stuff they had then the world economy would grind to a halt, this is a significant economic problem but not necessary a significant personal problem for many...

Our Growth

If you part of the 10% that does not believe in the evolution of species, you still need to recognise that the world is always changing and that today's countries will exist for sometime but eventually they will also change, just like it occurred in the past. Before your existence (yes I am addressing you...), many-many-many other civilizations existed and disappeared, but it seems that either some people fail to perceive this or they fail miserably in history classes.

You can start naming countries or even civilizations but I guarantee that there were previous settlements in the past. We have the Celts but that civilization comes from the Hallstat, even the Greeks come from the Cycladic civilization on the islands of the Aegean Sea at around 3200 BC and the Minoan civilization from Crete (2700–1500 BC). So we need to look even further...

Some people use the expression "cradle of civilization", which is a term referring to locations identified as the sites of the emergence of civilization. In Western European and Middle Eastern cultures, it has frequently been applied to areas of Levant and Mesopotamia, but also extended to sites in Armenia, and the Persian Plateau. Other civilizations arose in Asia, among cultures situated along large river valleys, notably the Indus River in the Indian Subcontinent and the Yellow River in China. Civilizations also arose independently in Egypt, Norte Chico in present-day Peru, the Andes and in Mesoamerica. Some standard criteria for civilization include a class-based society, and public buildings. Current thinking is that there was no single "cradle" existed, but several civilizations that developed independently from smaller settlements. If we start to go further in time we need to discuss subspecies of humans.. so...

So it seems that we have been growing and evolving over time, using what we are able to get from the environment around us.

Our resources

Species exist in locations that facilitate their living, i.e. they will concentrate in locations that the environment is more suitable for their existence, i.e. where there are resources that allow for the minimal survival.

The start of the growth of human civilization was manly during the Neolithic period since it marked a change in human history, as humans began the systematic husbandry of the planet resources (plants and animals). Agriculture advanced, and most humans transitioned from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle as farmers in permanent settlements. Nomadism continued in some locations, especially in isolated regions with few domesticated plant species; but the relative security and increased productivity provided by farming allowed human communities to expand into increasingly larger units, fostered by advances in transportation.

All civilizations have depended on agriculture for subsistence. Growing food on farms results in a surplus of food, particularly when people use intensive agricultural techniques such as irrigation and crop rotation. Grain surpluses have been especially important because they can be stored for a long time. A surplus of food permits some people to do things besides produce food for a living: early civilizations included artisans, priests and priestesses, and other people with specialized careers. A surplus of food results in a division of labour and a more diverse range of human activity, a defining trait of civilizations. However, in some places hunter-gatherers have had access to food surpluses, such as among some of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and perhaps during the Mesolithic Natufian culture. It is possible that food surpluses and relatively large scale social organization and division of labour pre-dates plant and animal domestication.

This shows us that (1) since the beginning we started to use the resources in the environment around us in order to survive and (2) the scarcity and location of resources affects civilizations.

Our Greed

Man is a smart and a dominant specie that, understandably, wanted to improve the day-to-day living. If there was hunger or cold animals were killed for the meat or fur (man could not have endure without meat). If there was some sickness, roots and plants were used to mitigate its affects. As previously mentioned, with the surplus of food man started to get greedy, quite understandably at first, "I will kill more animals more so I can prevent the hunger and the cold". Nowadays most of us do not need to kill for fur, if we have health problems (in most of the western world) we can go to the doctor to get a prescription and sometimes with a simple magic pill we are cured(!) Eventually with the markedly high desire for and pursuit of more wealth, status, and power, lead to greed... and with greed there was also war. Most of the scholars see warfare as an inescapable and integral aspect of human nature, arguing that the practice of war is not linked to any single type of political organization or society

War, to become known as one, must entail some degree of confrontation using weapons and tactics by arm forces. In nature this only can occur with man due to the fact we are the only species able to combine those requisites,mainly due to reasoning and consciousness. So whereas other animals are also able to have confrontations/fights man is able to change confrontations into war.

Even before civilization period war likely consisted of small-scale raiding. One half of the people found in a Nubian cemetery dating to as early as 12,000 years ago had died of violence. Since the rise of the state some 5,000 years ago, military activity has occurred over much of the globe. The advent of gunpowder and the acceleration of technological advances eventually led to modern warfare. Most of the civilizations that did not invested in warfare suffered dramatic consequences as they were conquered by others. Some scholars argue that there are positive sides of conflict and war (this is quite controversial... I am not defending warfare):
  • Engaging in a war as a weapons manufacture is rather positive for the producing countries and for the employed in the warfare industry, e.g. women's rights were enhanced due to factory work during the two World Wars. New industries and technologies are also developed due to the stress of war, e.g. Nuclear Energy, ballpoint pen, electronic miniaturization, computers, cold/hot weather clothing, manufacturing methods of penicillin;
  • It said that occasionally it enforces law and moral principles: Freedom/Liberty, Binding of Contract/Anti-Slavery;
  • It can improve the life of the "conquered", e.g. Napoleonic Wars brought a common code of law to most of Europe and freed Poland, it also brought education for women. Afghanistan's police action stopped the destruction of ancient shrines.
(I should also note that there are innocent bystanders who are harmed by warfare. These are people who have done nothing to create the war, who are not necessarily trying to assert or support their own nation. Modern warfare is not restricted to battlefields, but spills over into civilian population)

Our Fears

I believe that our greatest fears are twofold.

Scarcity of resource
Feeding the world remains a real problem as the global population threatens fragile ecosystems. For example, It is true that more than two-thirds of the world’s surface is covered by water, but most of it is too salty to drink. According to the United Nations, almost 800 million people lack access to safe drinking water and only half of the world’s population has safe sanitation. As resources become more scarce, it is likely that conflict for control of water and other resources will become more common with demand likely to outstrip sustainable current supplies. According to UN studies, 30 nations will be in water scarcity by 2025. There is a real chance that water will replace, or at least join, oil as a primary source of conflict in the 21st Century.

Biological warfare
We could be hearing more about chemical weapons as that is unfortunately the logical step in warfare due to its efficiency. From that we can have biological warfare which is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses with intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons may be employed in various ways to gain a strategic or tactical advantage over an adversary. These agents may be lethal or non-lethal, and may be targeted against a single individual, a group of people, or even an entire population. They may be developed, acquired, stockpiled or deployed by nation states or by non-national groups potentially creating mass consequences to different life forms.

Our Summary

Our civilization is destined to grow as long as: Lack of food (or resources), Diseases (bacteria or viruses), Competition (major wars) or Policies do not come into equation. The existence of civilization makes the environment changing in a specific way, but the environment with or without our help is always evolving. Three hundred years from now our planet will still be here (putting aside the likelihood of an asteroid colliding with earth), but society will be very different as it was three hundred years ago as some civilizations will also evolve and others be extinct.

Looking much further into the future your guess is as good as mine... what seems to be true is that we want to perpetuate our existence but fail to perceive three main ideas:
  1. biologically there is no sense of nationality since all life is descended from a last universal ancestor;
  2. we are always mutating and evolving into something different;
  3. and that "the planet is not going anywhere, we are" (George Carlin).

Final comment:
I touched several controversial topics from evolution to warfare. Please see this as food for thought, as every argument has the flip side of the coin.

Blog Editor and Owner: Luis Aparicio Fernandes (or Mikey) is a Business Expert and a Traveler based in Sydney, Australia. He is a member of The International Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma due to his achievements in business. You can follow Luis on Google+, and LinkedIn.