Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
I was asked recently what I thought the world would be like in 100 years. The question was meant to solicit if I am an optimist or a pessimist.
The fact is that I am neither an optimist nor am I a pessimist. I am an ecologist which means that I view the world through the eyes of the laws of ecology and I try to do so as objectively as possible. I have faith in the laws of ecology, and I believe that these laws will ensure that the planet takes care of itself for billions of years more as it has for a few billion years already.
I actually find all the hysteria over global warming and climate change to be somewhat amusing. As an environmentalist I was speaking and writing about this problem thirty years ago. Of course my opinions were dismissed then as were other voices of ecological realism and sanity.
It just made sense to me back then that if we pump carbon into the atmosphere in the volumes we have been doing for over a century that there would be serious ecological consequences.
The present annual release of carbon through the combustion of fossil fuels is around 5.6 billion tons in the form of carbon dioxide. The annual release of carbon from deforestation is another 2 to 3 billion tons. The amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from the livestock industry is an additional 1.5 billion tons. The atmosphere presently contains about 750 billion tons of carbon and another 2000 billion tons is contained in organic materials on and in the Earth and in the sea.
Photosynthesis on land absorbs about 100 billion tons of carbon annually. Prior to industrialization the amount of carbon absorbed by living organisms on land and in the seas was pretty much equal to the amount of carbon released by living organisms. The species homo sapiens has changed this by releasing approximately 3 billion tons more carbon annually than can now be absorbed.
An increase in temperature by even 1% centigrade will increase respiration of carbon by 30 to 40%. Absorption however will not be affected by any significant percentage. Thus as the atmosphere gets warmer the effect on global warming will be acceleration and the melting of glaciers and ice caps will accelerate this process even more.
Another factor is that warming of the atmosphere will increase the density of water vapour in the atmosphere. Water vapour is one of the strongest greenhouse gases and an increase in the density of water vapour will accelerate the warming process even faster.
As biota, or the mass of non-human organisms is diminished, the rate of absorption will further decline causing an even greater amount of carbon to be released.
Thus diminishment of biomass diversity is a major factor contributing to global warming.
What makes our present situation so alarming is that we are moving from a relatively slow period of global warming to an accelerated period. Life adapts to slowly changing conditions but adapts with greater difficulty to faster ecological changes. In other words there is little time for transition and what would normally take millennium or centuries to occur will now take place within the context of decades.
Release of carbon through decay of biomass because of increased temperatures will soon exceed the release from fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels was simply the trigger for an even more massive release of carbon stored in the form of vegetation and living organisms. Increased temperatures will lead to more forest fires, more crop failures and changing oceanic currents causing massive planktonic die-offs. Other factors are ozone depletion, and acidification of the oceans.
Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions and this includes 9% carbon dioxide and 37 percent of all methane released and 65 percent of all nitrous oxide emissions. These emissions exceed those of the entire transportation industry.
Eating a steak contributes more towards global warming than driving a car.
Methane and nitrous oxide are a cause for major concern. Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of CO2 and nitrous oxide has 296 times the warming potential of CO2.
Most of the gases that will be released due to rising temperatures and the thawing of the permafrost will be in the form of methane and water vapour.
Although most people remain ignorant of the organic chemistry of Gaia, the world has woken up and discovered that yes, there is a global warming problem and it is amusing to see just how surprised everyone seems to be about it.
Of course it's too late to do anything about it. Even in the unlikely event that every person in the world decided to not drive a car, ride on an airplane, and carry on with business as usual - there is no stopping the global chemical reactions that we set in motion decades ago. The three C's - the combustion engine, cattle and consumerism have sealed the fate of civilization as we know it.
However despite the writing on the wall we still keep pumping out more and more combustion engines, raising more cattle, and buying more and more material goods. As the poet Leonard Cohen once wrote, "we are locked into our suffering and our pleasures are the seal."
As a species we are material junkies, hooked on oil, meat and luxuries. Let's face it, simple living bicycle riding vegans are still considered to be somewhat odd when in fact they should be the example of how we all should be living.
But back to the question of what kind of world will it be in 2108?
One thing for sure it will be a radically different world than that of today.
We will have long since reached the limits of carrying capacity and resources like oil and rare and once abundant ores will have been exhausted.
The three basic laws of ecology are (1) The law of diversity that eco-systems require diversity of species to be healthy. (2) The law of interdependence meaning that species are interdependent with each other. And (3) the law of finite resources or limits to carrying capacity and limits to growth.
There are limits to growth because there are limits to carrying capacity. If we steal carrying capacity from other species we will contribute to the extinction of more and more species and the removal and diminishment of other species erodes diversity and interdependence.
Natural history has demonstrated for millions of years that when a species exceeds carrying capacity it will crash. If one of the species that we are closely dependent upon like bees, wheat, rice, etc disappear, our populations will crash.
The protection of diversity is one of the most important responsibilities we have, far more important even than the cure for cancer yet species protection receives less than 1% of every charitable dollar.
Human populations continue to rise and the global world population is now approaching 7 billion. It was 3 billion only 50 years ago. Since the majority of these 7 billion are under 35 and thus of child bearing age it means that the population could double to 14 billion by 2058 and again to 28 billion by 2108.
It won't get that far of course because we have already exceeded global carrying capacity. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of collapse, we have reached peak oil and without oil to provide fertilizer and transportation, world food production will decline. Added to this is the annual losses of topsoil and diminishment of fresh water contributing even further to the destruction of industrial agriculture.
The Bible strangely enough predicts the tools of the ecological apocalypse. The four horsemen were famine, disease, war and civil strife and disorder.
We who are alive today have just lived through the last two most affluent generations in the history of the world. The orgy of materialism that we have enjoyed from 1945 until the present is almost at its end.
We have filled countless landfills with the trash of our excessive life styles, we have stripped life from the oceans and replaced it with plastic and chemicals. In short a combination of rising populations and declining carrying capacity is leading to an ecological collapse.
What does this mean?
In short, it's nothing pleasant. It's a series of events leading to a break-down in carrying capacity meaning the removal of resources that we have grown dependent upon.
Add to this rising sea levels and changing weather conditions and the possibility, rather the inevitability of the shut down of the Atlantic conveyor and the problems will mount progressively.
Within two decades, we will have completed the destruction of the fishes of the ocean. Wars will be waged over the resources of Antarctica and wars over water resources will replace the wars over oil resources.
Wars of genocide will erupt around the globe simply because homo sapien is still a primitive hominid and quick to blame every diminishment on any other group of human beings of a different culture or race. Wars of religion will escalate as people attempt to escape ecological reality with inventive anthropocentric pie-in-the-sky fantasies. As energy resources break down so will transportation leading to the end of the global village and the development of tribalism. Tribalism will lead to territorial conflicts or numerous small wars of genocide.
Somewhere in the next fifty years there will be a loss of a pivotal species or species - that will escalate the crash of humanity. Remove the honey bee and agricultural will be devastated. Remove a few species of wheat and rice through blight and worldwide starvation will result with people fighting over fields of potatoes or turnips. Viruses deprived of hosts will be looking for new hosts and human will present a tempting target for these minute masters of survival.
It will be ugly, exceedingly so.
Consider 1908. If then, I were to have said then that the coming century would see two horrifically insane world wars, concentration camps, killer epidemics, the nuclear bomb, gas warfare, suicide bombers, AIDS, and George W. Bush, no one would have believed it then either.
1908 was an age of innocence shattered with the eruption of the "war to end all wars" in 1914 and the unleashing of the demons of industrialized hell thanks to the evil genius of the likes of Krupp, Nobel, Mitsubishi, Ford, Hitler, Oppenheimer and Teller.
Yes there were good things that happened. In 1908 woman could not vote in most countries and racism was taken for granted as something natural and acceptable. We did learn a few lessons along the way but overall we learned how to kill more efficiently, and to oppress more ruthlessly, and to exploit nature more rapaciously.
But strangely I predict 2108 will not be a bad time to live for the survivors of our species. By then with populations drastically reduced to less than a billion people, there will be no choice but to adapt to a world without the three C's.
I see a world not unlike the world of 1808 with windmills generating local power, horses, plus bicycles, balloons and sail providing the primary means of transportation, smaller communities and most likely people will have been forced to higher ground by rising sea levels and to cooler underground living allowing for nature to regenerate above ground with species adapting to warmer temperatures.
Without diesel powered ships with industrialized means of exploitation, those remnants of surviving fish populations will begin to flourish again. Hopefully we will still have whales, dolphins, sea-turtles, sharks and sea-birds and in time they will begin to re-populate the seas.
People will be forced to live simpler lives - no more jet planes, cars or ocean liners. Yet we still may maintain knowledge and we may still be able to communicate globally with wind and solar powered generators powering computers and an internet system.
If we are intelligent enough we may even be able to establish a centralized repository of valuable fossil fuels to allow us to continue to orbit satellites for global communication and navigation.
People will look back in disbelief at the waste of fossil fuels on plastic bags, toys and joy-riding in cars and boats.
I see a greener future with people living simpler less stressful lives and re-learning the loss arts of sailing, black-smithing, wood-working, stone masonary etc.
We will still wage war on each other, because we are a violent species, but wars confined to simpler weapons.
There will still be a repository of nuclear bombs and no go areas where former nuclear plants stood but in time they will decay as will the trash of our past mistakes. They will still be dangerous places and will remain dangerous for some time. But as Chernobyl has demonstrated life will adapt.
The global warming threat will have spawned a proliferation of nuke plants by 2015 but they will fail by 2025 when the shortages of fossil fuels will prevent the mining and processing of uranium which actually consumes more fossil fuels than even the oil fired generators. It takes over two thousand tons of pitchblende ore to make one ounce of uranium fuel.
If we are lucky, horses will survive and if we are lucky cows will not. Hopefully the world will adapt to an ecologically more friendly vegetarian diet. People will have to learn to live simpler lives without excessive consumerism.
The key to the survival of civilization is to retain the best and discard the worse. Art and music will survive although music will be acoustic and wandering minstrels will replace rock stars. Theatre will survive but motion pictures and television most likely will not. Radio may be the primary form of mass communication powered by wind and solar.
Wind and solar and a solid conservation ethic will provide all the power resources required. Essential machinery like pumps and small electrical tools and conveniences will survive.
The survivors of 2108 will have the wealth of collective human knowledge at their fingertips. Libraries will become popular and large universities will be replaced by small colleges that will stress knowledge and practical technologies.
Massive mindless consumerism will have no place in such a future. All needs will be met by the community market.
The large structures of the past, the malls, and the massive infrastructures will deteriorate. Sites will be cannibalized for practical usage and time and erosion will absorb the scars of the past.
Men and women will once again be able to explore the planet by sail and on foot, by balloon and bicycles. Bicycle and sail technology will prosper. The world will be dotted with millions of small windmills pumping water, grinding grain, running small machines and creating power.
The planet will be quieter and more peaceful and once again we will hear the birds sing and the wind blow through the trees.
Our celebrities will be writers and poets, musicians and artists, explorers and thinkers.
I believe that the future can be a positive one although the birth pangs of such a future will be intensely violent and for fifty years or so, humanity will suffer the effects of the collapse as they strive to adjust and survive. Billions will die from starvation, war, civil violence and disease.
Only a small percentage of people born in the next thirty years will be alive in 2108. The world of 2108 will belong to the children of the survivors and will be born in the latter part of the 21st Century. The world also will hopefully belong to the survivors of other species and with luck we will not destroy more than half of them.
We have survived before. The great plagues of over 800 years ago killed more than survived and the survivors emerged stronger and able to resist future bubonic plagues. There will be those who will resist and survive the plagues of the 21st century also.
Hopefully anthropocentric religions will be abolished. These perversely ignorant ideas are what got us here in the first place - the idea that we are superior to other species and we have absolute dominion over everything and in the end it does not matter because we will all go to some fantasyland in the sky.
If we are to survive as a species we will need to bring the diversity of life into our everyday reality and we will need to live our lives in accordance with the laws of ecology and that will mean protecting diversity, embracing interdependence and realizing that resources are finite and there are limits to our growth.
Perhaps once slapped down to size we may indeed learn our lesson and we won't try this similar nonsense again.
Of course our species may not survive the next century but one thing for sure - the Earth will abide. It always has and it always will and this major extinction event, the sixth in the entire history of the Earth will be addressed by a healing process of regeneration over the next ten to twenty million years.
One thing I know for sure is that tens of millions of years from now, this planet will still shine like a blue and white gem against the blackness of eternity and that is the image that sustains me and provides me with my optimism.
For all of us will forever be a part of this magnificent rock orbiting this miracle of a life giving sun on the outer arm of this magnificent galaxy within the great mystery of the infinite universe.
2108 - I regret I won't see what the world will be then, but I envy those of our species who will survive and I only hope this second chance to rebuild civilization will be more successful than the last.
Anthropocentric civilization is almost dead - long live a biocentric civilization for tomorrow!