The appropriate question is not if we can still have an earth, but whether the earth will still have us. Life will continue on earth for billions of years to come, whether or not we are part of that. Even if only a small percentage of total life survives the current mass extinction being perpetuated by humanity, that life will speciate and flourish. During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when the current dispersement of mammals occured, the earth was 10-20 degrees F hotter than it is today; the world did just fine; large mammals at the time went extinct.
I think that if we were both self-interested and wise, the question we should really ask is: “How can humanity engineer the earth system in such a way that it is possible to perpetuate our species indefinitely?” We are in an accelerating phase of knowledge generation; our survival as a species depends on continueing the generation and implimentation of that scientific knowledge until we find a way of ensconcing ourselves in a way of life that we can maintain. As our population continues to explode, the demands placed on scientists (like myself) for answers increases proportionately. The first step would be to curb the birthrate.
I would hope that the standard of living of the world could be raised to level comparable to the developed world; it has been shown in a few studies that birthrate and income are inversely related. Perhaps this is part of the answer.
The second priority should be to eliminate our reliance upon resources of which there exists only a finite supply. This applies not only to fossil fuels, but also fertilizers and rare earth metals (solar cells) upon which a growing number of the world’s population depend.
The third priority must be thoroughly understanding how we interact with our environment, which will require constant studying, monitoring, experimenting, modeling, and communicating findings. We understood in the 70s that acid rain was an issue, that problem has been reveresed though many marble statues that have stood since antiquity have been damaged; in the 80s we found that the ozone layer was becoming depleted, and that was stabilized though the Eastern Coast of Australia now has the world’s highest incidence of skin cancer. The better monitoring systems we have in place, the better data we have to work with, the clearer the problem becomes and the less severe the consequences and the sooner policy makers can construct regulations to safeguard us all.
We have already harmed many places of the Earth pretty severely. It is best that we make changes immediately. The recent Green Revolution and increased education is helping, but everyone must do their part. If each person did one small thing each day, it would make a huge difference. This could be simple things like recycling, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and riding a bike to school or work. The Earth is fragile and changes must be made immediately to not only stop the harm we are causing, but to start efforts to repair damange already done.
I don’t think anyone knows for sure. This definitely matters if we are able to change and adapt to our environment. Adapting does not mean surviving day-to-day, but rather surviving as a species for as long as possible. You should really check out the 350 organization. It is really neat and tells us how important it is for us to change. Every individual choice is usually for our own self-interest and that is the problem, the free-rider problem.
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