What’s it about?

Falter (2019) provides a rather sobering counterargument to the rash of optimistic books about the present and future that have been appearing on the market lately. Instead of everything being pretty good and set to get even better, author Bill McKibben argues that things are already pretty bad and are on a course to get even worse, due to the threats posed to humanity by climate change, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence. He then goes on to provide some suggestions for how we can deal with these threats before it’s too late.  

About the author:

Bill McKibben is a professor of Environmental Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, a founder of the environmental organization 350.org and the author of 17 books. Those books include three bestsellers: The End of NatureDeep Economy, and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. He’s also received the Gandhi Prize, the Thomas Merton Prize, and the Right Livelihood Prize for his political activism and advocacy on climate change.

The explicit power that humans have practiced on the planet is the exact reason to why the scientific community calls our era, the Anthropocene era, or the age of Humans:

The human experiments are all at the cost of ecological destruction and technological hubris. For many decades now, the decisions and choices we are taking regarding the plant are only throwing us into a deep rabbit hole. While some consider us evolving in terms of depletion in poverty and child mortality percentage, the continuous drop of our civilization is still considered a threat to our existence.

The departure of one threat has given rise to another one. In the same way, an individual grows in size, strength, mental ability, and wealth over the many years and then suddenly get hit by cancer; our civilization can meet the same destiny. The currents organization of wealth and power in society makes it difficult, if not impossible, to cope with environmental challenges and threats. 

Yet, hope is still out there. Human creativity is solid proof that we go above and beyond to overcome these threats. Technological development and people with the will to stand up to the world’s selfish power motivate that the battle is nowhere near over.

The only home of us humans is in impending danger from global warming:

Global warming is hardly a new topic in our life. There are hundreds of books and researches that alert us from its progressive growth and horrifying effects. Though some people still see global warming as something distant and not real. But the truth is that global warming is present and it’s undoing our planet inside out.

Global warming is a threat to humankind.

In the last three decades, the Earth recorded the hottest 20 years ever. This mad heat has left one-third of the Earth’s landscape unable to support animal life.

Plant-based energy, on which all animals depend on in the end, has been decreasing slowly. Even more, we lost half of the wildlife animals that were existent in the 1970s. Increasing temperatures had also made the Earth vulnerable to dangerous heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires.

The consequence of global warming is surrounding us from all sides.

The issue impacts human lives all and as one. For example, the droughts in Syria have set off economics instability, which was one of the main reasons for the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War. Syrians that refuged to European countries live in total fear from the native population that considers them as a threat to the security and economy.

Coastal regions like Texas have witnessed an increase in the atmospheric humidity by 3 to 5%. This led to the most destructive rainstorm in the United States’ history – Hurricane Harvey, with 34 trillion gallons of water enough to fill 26,000 stadiums. Houston sank by a few centimeters under this enormous weight.

This is just the beginning.

Global warming can end almost all forms of life on Earth, including human life:

Many are those who heard about the ocean’s rising temperature. But little do they know is that it has a terrifying effect. If the sea keeps heating up to the year 2100, phytoplankton, the organisms that produce two-thirds of Earth’s oxygen supply, will fail to work the proper way.

All animal life, humans included, needs oxygen for survival. The decrease of oxygen by two-thirds will make death imminent, which means the year 2100 might be the end year of life on Earth.

The rise in temperature also affects human health. There are dangerous microbes and viruses buried under the Arctic Circle. These might be triggered and cause the outbreak of pandemic diseases.

Back in 2016, a heatwave freed the corpse of an infected reindeer buried under the permafrost in Siberia. Anthrax released from the body has infected over 2,000 rivers and humans, including a 12-year-old who ended up dying.

Scientists believe that there is more where anthrax came from. Since the permafrost is a cold, dark, and un-oxygenated area, it is considered a perfect vault for microbes and viruses. Hides under its icy surface some deadly fragments of the Spanish flu, smallpox, and the bubonic plague.

Also, with the rise of temperatures, large pieces of ice will float into the ocean. The extra weight the sea holds bends the Earth’s crust, which causes some severe flurry volcanic eruptions, landslides, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Scientists already witness this kind of destruction happen in Alaska and Greenland.

The occurrence of a single event is enough to create worldwide instability and put the survival of the world in jeopardy. The remaining question is: What if all this doesn’t happen; does that ensure the safety of Earth?

Global warming is causing the loss of arable and habitable land all around the planet:

The current consequences of global warming are still a cause for alarm. Loss of arable land is one of them. Global warming causes either droughts or floods. People will have to move from places experiencing these problems, which leads to humans and animals being forced to fit in a shrinking area of land. 

Thus, food production would be an issue. For example, corn; corn needs a specific type of climate and crop to grow. The loss of arable land also means the loss of areas that can grow corn. The corn production is speculated to be reduced by half by 2050.

Besides, the continuous rising of ocean levels means the loss of land to the ocean. Two percent of Coastal cities’ farms will be lost. If we are not careful, huge cities like New York and Shanghai will be forever lost. There will be a substantial economic loss and the displacement of a lot of population.

The displacement of the population will head inland to meet inhabitable lands due to dangerous heat waves and droughts. Back in the summer of 2016, first city residents in Pakistan and Iran had to go through a record-setting 129 degrees Fahrenheit, threatening the lives of almost 2 billion people, including Indians.

Global warming is threatening our social lives:

The mass migration of Syrians to the European countries created a conflict-climate between the natives and the immigrants. They felt violated as it seemed an invasion of their homeland. Global warming will create far more problems like this. The International Organization of Migration speculates the number of climate refugees to be one billion by 2050.

The US military is concerned about the mass migration making the security almost an impossible task. The irritation between immigrants and natives will create tension in climate-fueled conflicts.

The security risk contributes to the potential loss of coastal megacities, droughts, a decrease in the food supply, mass migration, loss of lives, suffering, and the estimated loss of $535 trillion. 

The second threat to humans is the possible tampering of the human gene:

One of the three catastrophic risks to the human race is genetic engineering.

Genetic engineering is a part of our present-day reality; it’s not something out of a sci-fi movie. The discovery of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or (CRISPR) means that human genes are now editable. The bright side of this discovery is that it offers the chance to end genetic disorders, like Down syndrome.

The sinister side is that the CRISPR allows parents to change the genes of their infants before their birth, making them smarter, healthier, and more attractive. Since this procedure is expensive, it is available to the rich alone. Generations risen from this procedure would make up the “Genrich “class.

Those who are unable to afford the procedure will continue giving birth to natural babies- “naturals.” The gap between the two generations will increase until the interbreeding between the two classes becomes impossible, and therefore becoming two different species; the “Genrich” class versus the “naturals.”

The Genrich will be condemned to rule the top strata of society as they are more enhanced, and the naturals will end up feeding on bones – thereby, the end of the human race.

The emergence of Artificial intelligence is another threat to human existence:

Artificial intelligence, or (AI), is a form of computer technology that is meant to replicate human reasoning, solve problems, and adapt to situations. AI has already considered superior in some tasks like chess. The AI specified to a particular job is known as Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI).

The next stage of AI is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which is, unlike ANI, not specific to a single task. This would provoke it the ability to match and outperform human skills. It will be able to develop its intelligence through its experiences.

The AGI, with its ability to expand its intelligence, can survive without humans. If it sees humans as a threat, it may eliminate that threat, directly putting an end to the human race forever.

Finding life on another planet doesn’t solve the threats of global warming, genetic engineering, and AI:

Si-fi movies and books usually display the idea of the human race surviving on another planet. While this tempting idea might be possible as fantasy, it is almost impossible to attain.

As a start, space is a cruel and unforgiving place. The most qualified planet to be habituated is Mars, which separates from Earth by hazardous, radioactive cosmic rays. Surpassing these rays would be an achievement itself.

Even if one lands safely on Mars, he would be sentenced to live in underground bunkers because Mars’ surface is not suitable for human life. If humans disapprove of living underground on Earth, they would undoubtedly refuse to do so on Mars

The other option is to find a planet with a surface suitable for human life. The most qualified would be a planet in a solar system called Trappist. To reach Trappist, you need to cover a distance of 39 light-years. Even at a neck-breaking speed, to cover this amount of range, you’ll have to spend 180,000 years traveling in space.

The third and best option is to live in a habitable planet extraordinarily close and have the right amount of oxygen and other human resources. Luckily, there is one; we just need to save it from destruction. It’s called Earth.

Saving the human race is much easier than you might imagine:

Protecting human life on Earth only needs a few steps. These simple steps have a strong influence that would make the current and future likelihood of all humans better.

The threats caused by Artificial Intelligence can be avoided by introducing a fail-switch into every machine. It works as an on-off switch that prevents the AI system from being too smart and creating a viable threat to humanity.

Genetic engineering would need world-wild uniform legislation to approve its application. This means that all countries would agree on how genetic engineering should or shouldn’t be used, and it would be illegal to enhance babies.

As for global warming, we simply need to cut down our carbon emissions. We would use instead renewable power sources that don’t require the burning of fossil fuels, such as the sun (solar energy), wind, and hydroelectric power.

The most significant threat to humanity is humanity – or at least a part of it:

All the steps outlined above are easily doable if not already being worked on.

Scientist includes the fail-safes on AI worldwide. Countries can quickly implement laws regarding the use of genetic engineering. The cost of producing power from alternatives is cheap.

Despite all these practical steps, the future of humanity would still be at risk because humans themselves are the ones causing these threats and preventing the needed measures from being taken. How?

Humans, the rich and powerful, to be specific, gain from the status quo at the price of our lives and our planet. The power they thrive on plays a big part in initiating projects, changing public impressions, and affecting the government policies.

For example, companies in the industry of fossil fuels have been attempting to restrain knowledge of global warming.

Politicians and business people are trying to cover-up the facts and blind us with misinformation to hide the real truth about global warming.

Companies initiated grand scale publicity to endorse doubt in the hearts of the public and politicians on the reality of global warming.

The fossil industry is not the only one to be held responsible for these activities. Big tech organizations like Google are at the front of advancing AI systems and searching for viable means of genetic engineering, funded by well-placed billionaires, including Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel.

Going against this number of powerful and wealthy corporations and individuals is going to need a lot of commitment and concentrated efforts. As these entities have invested billions of dollars into this project, they will not back down easily. However, if we decide to save our planet and our lives, this is a fight that must be fought and won.