Human-caused extinction risk has become much worse than expected for almost all of Earth’s species, according to The American Scientist, Volume 98, p. 24. That present risk includes 21% of known mammals, 30% amphibians, 12% birds and 70% plants. In response to those risks I have designed two separate projects to cope with these ongoing disasters. The EarthArk Project is designed to collect small samples of seeds, plant materials and soils from everywhere on Earth and place them in permanent deep cold storage high in the mountains of Antarctica. Some places are permanently at -40°F or C (these numbers are identical at -40) and possibly even colder appropriate places can be found after a search. The South Pole sub-surface temperature is approximately -50° but this location is inappropriate for a long term storage plan because it is on an ice floe and and storage container will sink, flow away with the ice or if lighter than ice will be blown away by the wind. The EarthArk Project would be better served by being located high on a rock exposed mountain. This storage depot would be more stable and findable and give extremely long storage times for plants and seeds but it wouldn’t be cold enough for the storage of animal sperm or eggs.
The LifeHaven Project is different—it is a plan for helping the animal species survive long term problems and extinction. It places a maximum sustainable number of living animals and plants on various remote islands in the Southern Hemisphere with the goal of maintaining as much genetic variability as possible. Several islands such as the Chatham Islands would be ideal for this project because they are relatively temperate and could sustain a large variety of living things. These LifeHavens would be reserves similar to large zoos but without bars. Perhaps, animal-proof fences could be used to maintain diversity but as much wildness for every given organism as possible.
In the short run, say 10 years, I am quite optimistic about humans finding their way through the many problems facing humanity but in the long run, say 100 or 1,000 years it seems obvious that something very unpleasant will happen. Global warming and other human encroachments are already creating the mayhem quoted in the extinction statistics above but there is also the near certainty that in the long run there will be a full scale war. When that happens species extinctions will quickly approach and perhaps exceed those seen in the geologic record. Humans are the most likely of all animals larger than a mole to survive these calamities. If the various things which somehow survived the previous extinctions didn’t have the intelligence and foresight of humans then it would seem modern humans could have survived those ancient events and similar modern ones. The only thing likely to have the power to destroy our species is a large and varied batch of different biological weapons specifically designed to kill humans. Unfortunately, it seems various governments have funded these kinds of genocidal projects and although smallpox has been eliminated there are reported to be huge stockpiles of this exterminating disease.
The primary aim of the American Scientist article was to report experiments on the minimum population of mammals, reptiles, birds, plants and other species needed to maintain long term genetic viability. The estimated number was 5,000 adults. Since the modern human population now approaches 7,000,000,000 it means that only one person in a million need survive for our species to be perfectly viable by that standard. I have written elsewhere that about 100 million humans might be about the ideal number for a really long term civilization lasting millions of years. If we continue living as we do there will be repeated boom and bust cycles, each one leaving the survivors living in a more species poor world than the former civilization. This is why I think The EarthArk project and The LifeHaven Project are the best chance for long term survival of civilization. Humans began to live in civilized societies 10,000 years ago, but there is no way we can keep on doubling our population every twenty years for that long a time, so to survive sustainably we must change our life goals and our habits.
Humans as a species will survive for a long time but civilization and the things we presently value and enjoy may be very short lived pleasures.
The civilization we enjoy today could easily be gone tomorrow.