The book Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman is very popular these days in part because of the obviousness of its conclusions: 1. In the near future the climate will get warmer, 2. The intercommunication will be even more ubiquitous so more equal opportunity for all people will become available and 3. The population will continue growing. All of these things will lead to greater social stress for the people of the Earth and for that part of the Earth’s ecology that humanity depends upon. Another way of stating those three observations is that 1. The resources of the Earth are becoming more limited, 2. The people are going to be more demanding and 3. There are more people doing the demanding of the dwindling resource base. One thing given little consideration in that book is the eventual collapse of the whole system through interaction of these processes and the stresses that lead to major war.
This major war issue has been dealt with before in the book, The Cold and the Dark, by Paul R. Ehrlich, Carl Sagan, Donald Kennedy and Walter Orr Roberts which was based on The Conference on The Long-Term Worldwide Biological Consequences of Nuclear War (Conference held Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 1983 held at the Sheraton Hotel Washington, D.C.) Note the date of this conference is 1983 and the current date is 2009. It is now more than a quarter century since this conference presented its findings. We might ask how much closer we are to solving the problems then presented by our world’s leading experts on these subjects so long ago. Well over half of the people presently alive were not yet born when they came up with their solutions. First a quote of their own conclusions:
The predictions of climatic changes are quite robust, so that qualitatively the same types of stresses would ensue from a limited war of 500 MT or less in which cities were targeted as from a larger scale nuclear war of 10,000 MT. Essentially, all ecosystem support services would be severely impaired (Tables 2 and 3). We emphasize that survivors, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, would face extreme cold, water shortages, lack of food and fuel, heavy burdens of radiation and pollutants, disease, and severe psychological stress—all in twilight or darkness.
The possibility exists that the darkened skies and low temperatures would spread over the entire planet. Should this occur, a severe extinction event could ensue, leaving a highly modified and biologically depauperate Earth. Species extinction could be expected for most tropical plants and animals, and for most terrestrial vertebrates of north temperate regions, a large number of plants, and numerous freshwater and some marine organisms.
It seems unlikely, however, that even in these circumstances Homo sapiens would be forced to extinction immediately. Whether any people would be able to persist for long in the face of highly modified biological communities; novel climates; high levels of radiation; shattered agricultural, social, and economic systems; extraordinary psychological stress; and a host of other difficulties is open to question. It is clear that the ecosystem effects alone resulting from a large-scale thermonuclear war could be enough to destroy the current civilization in at least the Northern Hemisphere. Coupled with the direct casualties of over 1 billion people, the combined intermediate and long-term effects of nuclear war suggest that eventually there might be no human survivors in the Northern Hemisphere. Furthermore, the scenario described here is by no means the most sever that could be imagined with present world nuclear arsenals and those contemplated for the near future. In any large-scale nuclear exchange between the superpowers, global environmental changes sufficient to cause the extinction of a major faction of the plant and animal species on the Earth are likely. In that event, the possibility of the extinction of Homo sapiens cannot be excluded.
Grim! But grimmer still is the fact that the stresses which we now face are the same ones they spoke of but more extensive and intensive. 1. Hot – the CO2 count for Earth atmosphere, the best long term measure of temperature, is much worse. 2. All people have greater opportunity to access the petroleum-based pollution-causing products of the industrialized nations. 3. There are many more people in total who are demanding the industrialized lifestyle.
These brilliant scientists’ suggestions are on page xxxiv
To intensify substantially, without preconditions and with a sense of urgency, efforts to achieve and equitable and verifiable agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union and other countries which have a similar stake in these vital matters;
To take all practical actions that could reduce the risk of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation;
To take all practical measures to inhibit the further proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries;
To continue to observe all existing arms control agreements, including SALT II; and
To avoid military doctrines that treat nuclear explosives as ordinary weapons of war.
What progress has been made? Well some progress perhaps in that the total number of weapons held by the US and Russia has dropped from totally absurd overkill to just absurd overkill. But more than offsetting that improvement is the fact that more countries now have those weapons and industrialized ones could probably have them quickly if they believed they needed them. Nowadays, it is no more difficult for a major country to build a basic A-bomb than to build a car. It just costs money, effort and time—all of the once obscure research science is now simple applied engineering. Unfortunately with more fingers on more buttons it is now more probable that someone or something will trigger the use of these weapons. So from that point of view we are much worse off than when they published those obviously desirable things listed above and the things which were politically unattainable then are probably much more unattainable now.
When the synergy of the various stressors happens there will be a major war and when that happens and the dust rises into the stratosphere the world will soon become Cold, Dark and Empty. When Doomsday arrives the Hotter, Flatter and more Crowded the Earth is, the Colder, Darker and Emptier it will soon become. See also:
The answer to humanity’s immediate problems—energy, global warming and food.
Life after Doomsday? Maybe.
Population pendulum will soon swing to well below a billion people
Humanity’s survival after a disaster of a billion deaths.
The EarthArk may give humanity a second chance.