Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Doom by Apocalypse when

Just a short post today.
I recently found on the internet a fairly interesting doomer book called "Apocalypse When" by a professor named Willard Wells. He references someone named Carter and I wonder if this is the Carter of the famed Carter Catastrophe. I'm going to debunk it but I won't go into too too much detail because the incorrect assumptions are so glaringly obvious as to be laughable.

Basically the gist of the book is that this professor has supposedly calculated the probability that civilization will crash and the probability that humanity will go extinct.

Most of his assumptions are actually quite reasonable except two.

1. The more civilized you are the more likely you are to go extinct.
2. The higher level of technology you have the more likely you are to go extinct.

In fact his thesis seems to be that the survivability of the human race ultimately depends on a major catastrophe that wipes out a large chunk of the population and thus in theory removes the man made extinction events which will wipe us out entirely.

He seems to be ignoring history. Primitive peoples are remarkably unable to deal with natural disaster and he seems to be saying that primitive peoples will survive just by being spread out, because they don't have any other advantages.

In fact archaeological evidence shows that human beings have been around as homo sapiens for at least 200,000 years and pre-humans have been around for 2 to 3 million years.

His assumption, however doesn't hold up though because he's basically saying that a large human population sustained by artificial means is more vulnerable to the rug being pulled out from under it than a sparse primitive civilization does.

70,000 years ago there was a large volcanic event that virtually wiped out the entire human race (which probably numbered around a quarter million to a million at the time) and reduced it to some 2,000 individuals. I make that a 98% wipeout worst case.

Now let's consider a scenario like "the road" whereby all crops and food animals are gone. Civilization collapses of course and almost everyone starves (not the cannibals eeek!). Even here, however, civilization is clearly superior to primitive states because of storage technology. All over the planet there are stores of canned goods and seeds et cetera. Moreover there are also stores of *knowledge* in the form of libraries et cetera. Any putative collapse isn't going to go all the way back to primitive times since the infrastructure, the seeds et cetera is *still there*. Thus any so called collapse of civilization is simply a delay until civilization pops up again. But civilization in and of itself generally increases human wellbeing, not decreases, so short of a scenario whereby the entire planet is converted into gray goo (which has also been debunked elsewhere) any putative man-made disaster isn't going to do much worse damage than the event 70,000 years ago and in fact is very likely to do less. I'm including, by the way, a full scale nuclear exchange and nuclear winter et cetera in this. Not everything would be destroyed and especially not knowledge. There is civilization and knowledge *everywhere* on this planet. Civilization will be very resilient to destruction.

So, sorry doomers, I don't buy it. It's a nice book but it's basically doomer porn. For the record, according to the assumptions, we have 72 years left until DOOOOOOM. But then again we are facing olduvai doom RIGHT NOW according to the dieoff crowd and we are facing limits-to-growth doom in about 15 years.

It makes me laugh though it really does. It's like the global warming doomers. Allegedly all co2 being added to the atmosphere can only cause *bad things* to happen and good things never happen. If you design your model to say one thing always then obviously you're going to get the result you want. But a model is not in fact a scientific experiment. It's an animated hypothesis with built in assumptions and is not valid for testing science AT ALL. One example is that global warming will cause everywhere to get drier and thus crops will fail et cetera and WE WILL ALL DIE. Sadly for those raving fruitbars it turns out that increased carbon dioxide in the previous super greenhouse actually made things wetter. Hmmm. I'm thinking that will in fact *increase* the crop growing range and allow us to grow more food. So now we will have to deal with all the tornadoes et cetera that this will cause. Well duh. Build *underground*. Anyways I digressed.

Basically neither us as a species nor our civilization is doomed, though the doomers themselves are all sweaty praying for our destruction.

Ain't happening.

A big fart in the general direction of the doomers. I will now go back to ignoring you again.


Jimi said...

As always an excellent post my friend! Pardon for not posting as often as I used to, I am in the middle of my exam period :)

There is a subject that I think might interest you, and that is how the doomer mentality is shown in computer games (I am here talking about the settings for games like fuel of war and Homefront, who both have a background setting that would fit perfectly with predictions on the OilDrum

Jimi said...

Great post as always :) Sorry that I have not been able to reply to your posts as often as I did earlier, but I have been very busy with my summer exams, that hasn’t kept me from reading our blog though ;) keep up the good work!

Zay said...

Hey there, just read the post. And I have to say that while I really am not on either side of the fence on this one, I can understand what the professor meant with the advancement equals extinction bit. It only makes sense that if a catastrophic event happens that renders technology and/or oil dependence useless, that there would be a large number of people who would probably perish due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of how to obtain or apply that knowledge, or just basic human survival instinct playing out on a global scale. I could see western civilization having some survivors of an event like that. But it would probably be people who already have an understanding of how to supply their base needs without the use of amazon.com, supermarkets, or a McDonalds. Most people nowadays will have a full blown conniption fit it they can't get youtube on their iPhones. Like I said before, I'm not really on either side of the fence. I just think his view has some bearing.

DB said...


Yeah I hear you on the point that you say there are plenty of starbucks drinking twitter addicts who would struggle without google.

My point is more subtle than that. Technology includes things like the seed vault in Norway. It includes things like basic knowledge in libraries. It includes "simple" things like canned foods.
I'm comparing this to a stone age level of technology and making the assertion that a stone age level of technology would likely suffer the same 98% loss from e.g. a comet strike *but* that it could theoretically be so weakened that it couldn't recover, whereas storage technology, knowledge of agriculture and written knowlege would enable a much faster recovery. We've come a long way since cro-magnon times.