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Discussion > The Real Priorities for the Human Race.

Governments all around the world are currently spending huge amounts on a number of issues.

Saving Endangered Species
Saving Limited Resources
Preventing Global Warming
Subsidising The Third World

I would like to suggest why not one of of these issues is worth bothering with. In fact they should all be taken off the agenda in order to save the human race.

What knowledge we have tells us that over 99% of all the species that ever lived on Earth are now extinct. The exact details of how they all became extinct are not really known but two facts are obvious.

It was nothing to do with Human Activity.
It was naturally occurring events.

Today we are chastised for "wasting" the Earth's precious resources and we are told we should conserve them for future generations.

Everything we know (or think we know hehe) is a product of human endeavor, ingenuity, technology, industry and society. There is no other species on the planet that is even aware of the threats that face us.

What is the point of saving resources, saving endangered species, preventing (if it was happening) global warming and keeping alive people who can not learn to keep themselves alive if all life on the planet is destroyed by a naturally occurring event?
The only species on the planet which might just be able to prevent a super volcano or deflect a massive asteroid is us.
Human technology, industry, research and general ingenuity means that above all other priorities the fastest possible progress of humans should be the massively overwhelming priority.

Jul 6, 2013 at 4:44 PM | Registered CommenterDung

You’re really stirring it with this one, aren’t you.
I’m for preserving endangered species for the same - essentially aesthetic - reasons that I’m for preserving endangered monuments and works of art.
I’m for saving the lives of people who can’t save their own, for all sorts of reasons too simple to go into here, but in part because we’re the kind of species you say we are.

Jul 6, 2013 at 6:25 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers


99% of all species are beetles. Do you really care about them all?

Jul 6, 2013 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Of course not. Most of them I’ve never met. (though there are some bugs I’ve met socially I’d gladly see extinct. That’s why I say it’s an aesthetic thing).
We’re rich and educated enough to want the world to be a pleasant place with lots of stuff in it of all kinds. Do I want the orang utan to survive or the Indonesians to be richer? Both. Dung seems to be saying: neither.

Jul 6, 2013 at 8:21 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers


I am truly not stirring it ^.^
A rogue asteroid could destroy your monuments, your orang utans and all traces of them ever existing. Do you not think it wise to make it a priority to protect us and all of them from sudden extinction? Actually some beetles might be hiding under a large enough rock to survive (even the antisocial ones).

Jul 6, 2013 at 8:39 PM | Registered CommenterDung

From the Ecclesiastical Uncle, an old retired bureaucrat in a field only remotely related to climate with minimal qualifications and only half a mind.


(In this context I confess I am a long-standing adherent to the 'religious' ideas of Richard Dawkins, although I am not an admirer of his book on the subject, which appears to be a me too version of an earlier effort by an American, Sam Harris, or of his views on climate change, if, that is, I have made the right conclusions from incidental remarks by others in this blog.)

However, if I recall rightly, in the Selfish Gene, Dawkins described a computer simulation (a model for God's sake!) that showed that human populations 'do best' if they contain a leavening of altruism. (He also confessed, if I recall correctly, that someone far cleverer than he had also reached the same conclusion by solving equations.)

This provides some sort of support for the observation that not everybody we know of devote all their energies at looking after themselves, as might be expected. ZedsDeadBed, Yeo, Mother Theresa etc seem to be examples. But why do they act as they do? Not for us to ask, but the Dawkins finding seems to indicate that it is because it comes naturally.

Dung's four causes will pass from consciousness in due course but will, of course, be replaced by others. Whether you think they are worthwhile depends on the relative proportions of selfish and altruistic genes you carry. Naturally!

Jul 7, 2013 at 5:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

We don't need the egregious Dawkins for this, we have Adam Smith:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.

The Theory of Moral Sentiment, not the better-known Weatlh of Nations.

Altruism is evident throughout history. It is one of the sad things about our current way of life that we have passed the responsiblity of altruism and helping our fellow to the government, or more likely they took it. When the state provides, everybody is a loser. It is the propensity of socialists to co-opt that burden to the state (or other forms of the body politic) which causes me to eschew the left wing. It is not that the sentiments prompting it are wrong, it is the cost to all concerned of the method.

Jul 7, 2013 at 8:29 AM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Either I have not understood the highly intellectual comments of uncle ecc and aunty Rhoda or you have not understood me ^.^
Were I to live for ever; I would indeed at some point become interested in helping all those who needed (and deserved) it. Saving the planet is a no brainer provided you understand the planet and the threats.
Saving resources just may become an issue in the far distant future but right now it simply is not a problem.
I would become interested when human technology had reached the level that enabled it to counter all known threats to life on this planet. Until that day the planet is crossing a 6 lane motorway everyday and it is wearing a blindfold.

Jul 7, 2013 at 8:21 PM | Registered CommenterDung

The people on this blog are mostly highly intelligent and very well educated so I would be really grateful if one of you could explain to me why feeding starving people in third world countries is a better idea than ensuring that we can safeguard the whole planet?
Humans cease to be altruistic when they are watching their families starve, they become capable of brutality to ensure that they and their loved ones survive.

Jul 8, 2013 at 12:56 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Because real people are starving now (and dying of preventable diseases, avoidable wars etc) whereas the asteroid that destroys the planet is unlikely to do so in the near future. The fact that we’ve just started worrying about it doesn’t make it more likely to happen any time soon.
See Maurizio Morabito’s list of things that become worrying because we’ve just fond out about them / learned to measure them.

Jul 8, 2013 at 8:02 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

"I would be really grateful if one of you could explain to me why feeding starving people in third world countries is a better idea than ensuring that we can safeguard the whole planet?"

I don't think one precludes the other.

Jul 8, 2013 at 9:05 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Re: Protecting endangered species - sure, extinction is a natural process, but there are plenty of examples of decline in species due to human activities, e.g. if we turn their habitat into a plantation. Of course we should do what we can to protect wildlife: apart from the inherent worth of all the other critters that share the planet with us, the world is a better and richer place for us if it is a place of natural wonders.

I'm with Dung on the natural resources, though: can anyone actually name a natural resource that has been used up, at any point in human history, to the detriment of future generations?

Re: the last two of Dung's points:

Preventing Global Warming
Subsidising The Third World

I see these as interlinked: seems to me that Western policies on aid to the Third World conspire to keep the Third World poor and dependent. If the West were to succeed in its avowed aim to cap CO2 emissions, then that would be a most effective way of ensuring the Third World never develops to the point of threatening developed world dominance.

Jul 8, 2013 at 9:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

One of the earliest AGW "conspiracy theories" that I ever heard was that Kyoto was put in place to control China's economic expansion - that 1990 was chosen because that was when China was still pretty small in industrial terms.

Didn't believe it was the primary 'aim' of AGW then, and don't now, but it might have been one of these secondary "useful "effects that endeared AGW to governments.

Jul 8, 2013 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

TBYJ: I don't believe it was the primary aim - or any aim - either. But it seems some very senior people in China think so. For example, in a paper published in September 2009, Ding Zhongli (who has been described as “China’s most prestigious geophysicist" and is VP of the Chinese Academy of Sciences), after observing (interestingly) that "there is no solid scientific evidence to strictly correlate global temperature rise and CO2 concentrations", said this:

However, the massive propaganda “human activity induced the global temperature increase” has been accepted by the majority of the society in some countries, and it has become a political and diplomatic issue. Why do the developed countries put an arguable scientific problem on the international negotiation table? The real intention is not for the global temperature increase, but for the restriction of the economic development of the developing countries, and for keeping their own advantageous positions.
[My emphases]

Jul 8, 2013 at 10:55 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Whatever the figure is for average per capita emissions that would supposedly keep AGW under control (some "greens" put it at 2 tonnes), it is pretty obvious that the only way of achieving that while maintaining developed world lifestyles is by intervening to prevent development in those countries currently at the lower end of the per capita emissions scale.

Whether it was an aim or not is immaterial: it's an inevitable consequence of climate policies.

Jul 8, 2013 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

My suggestions do not preclude action to feed the starving, however I am saying that the number one priority of the human race should be to protect itself from possible threats.

The following threats can not be predicted (it really could happen tomorrow)

A new virus could wipe out most of the human race.
A Super Volcano (like Yellowstone) could erupt and wipe out most life on Earth.
An undetected large Asteroid could wipe out most life on Earth.

(Not tomorrow) The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere could fall below the amount required to support all vegetation on Earth.

The trillions spent on supposedly countering climate change could have moved us a lot closer to being able to counter some of these very real threats.

Jul 11, 2013 at 2:49 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Some degree of conscious altruism is part of being human (for the vast majority of people). While animals will sacrifice themselves for their young, they don't do it knowingly. Whereas, when we do the same, we know what we are doing, and the possible consequences, if not why.

Altruism is the mainspring of civilisation and culture. The magnate who builds a shopping mall or resort is making a statement for posterity, just as the painter or poet is.

Animals don't look and think - what a beautiful view. It would be good to preserve it. Appreciation of beauty, or music, or a hundred other things that have no intrinsic value, is what makes us human.

Jul 11, 2013 at 6:24 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Altruism is part of being human but one of the main reasons humans are still around is not altruism but the ability to see and deal with all threats.

Jul 11, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Registered CommenterDung

My guess on what our priorities should be over the next 100 years:

- genetic modification leading to unforeseen consequences in the wild
- antibiotic resistance
- China/India space race - they won't bottle it like we did
- Topsoil depletion
- hikikomori spreading to the rest of the world
- some thought should be given to space debris / comet /asteroid protection

Jul 11, 2013 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

TBYJ - your list seems a bit eccentric to me - although one of the joys of this site is hanging out with fellow eccentrics.

Genetic modification occurs all the time in nature, and certainly the consequences are unforeseen. I don't understand your point. When people breed better roses, or cattle (including by "unnatural" methods), the consequences are unforseeable. Are you saying that we should therefore stop doing it?

Antibiotic resistance is a mirror image of the human immune system. It may be true that overuse of antibiotics accelerates the process, but it just means that we have to find new antibiotics, as we have been doing since the original discovery.

Why should we be alarmed about people "In search of space"? In this world, the technology is not going to remain secret for long, if it ever was. So what?

Topsoil depletion means that farming becomes uneconomic. So, new farmers come in and build up the soil, or the farm is abandoned. Since food production is constantly gaining in efficiency and quantity, what is the problem?

Re hikikomori, I had to google it, having never heard of it. It seems to be about pampered males living in the basement and refusing to grow up. It's hardly a threat to our survival.

Re your last point - no harm at all in researching this.

I think that laying out our priorities for the next 100 years is a bit like the climate model projections. Human development is organic, not mathematical. Imagine what this kind of list, of produced in 1913, would have looked like!

Jul 11, 2013 at 9:47 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

johanna ever since you told me you were not biting, it seems that even nibbling is off the agenda and I seem to talk to you via third parties ^.^
I will come clean and explain my whole theory (already ridiculed on another discussion hehe).
Scientists believe there must be intelligent life in the universe other than human life and I agree but I have thought about it a little.
All intelligent life that develops has to also develop an awareness of threats. These threats start with "what am I going to eat today?" and "how do I avoid being eaten by the large creature with big teeth?"
Overcoming these threats can lead to civilisation, industry, technology and medicine etc.
However it is also likely that most planets will change over time like ours. On Earth the climate always changes and people do not seem to realise that our current climate is highly unusual. Normal climate on Earth is either about 10 deg C warmer or 10% of the time it is full blown ice age.
Human civilisation has developed during a brief interglacial in an ice age (not very sensible hehe).
If the planet warms then I do not think there will be too many problems but if the planet returns to being a ball of ice then billions will die and our progress will slow dramatically.
Human civilisation has a window of opportunity during which it must understand and counter the threats it faces or it will end as no doubt other intelligent species in the universe have ended.
I see human civilisation in the same way Douglas Adams saw a whale in Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy. Said whale "blinked" into existence high above the surface of a planet; it had just about figured out what it was, where it was and what was happening when it impacted on the surface. I laughed at this joke for years but in fact that is where the human race is at right now ^.^

Jul 11, 2013 at 10:23 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung, thanks for that.

All I can say is - 42.


Jul 11, 2013 at 11:17 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

I wasn't really considering them as "threats", just "priorities". As in these will be the things that we have to put some thought and energy into. We're not going to be able to do much about a Yellowstone or a huge asteroid impact anyway, not for a century or two.

Jul 12, 2013 at 8:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Surely, from an evolutionary perspective, hikikomori should be self-limiting, since those who practise it do not breed?

Jul 12, 2013 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Well you could argue that homosexuality might be self-limiting by the same argument, but it's not.

I'm sure hikikomori will breed by UPS and DHL :)

Jul 12, 2013 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames