A couple of days ago I was projecting my frustration of humans to a good friend. He asked me to write a little post on why I am becoming more and more frustrated with us and so here I am, frustrated, disappointed, and a bit pessimistic about the future of our species and projecting all of that to you guys. YIKES.
The situation is so vividly bad that I can probably skip this entire paragraph and not even re-list all of our problems since they are in your face every day anyway. And I am not even talking about the U.S. political climate. I am talking about big global problems here on Earth. So let me list only a few of the ones you don’t hear about often.
There are 40 active conflicts happening right now on planet Earth (yes, in the 21st century we are still actively killing each other in 40 different regions of our planet). We spend more than $2 trillion dollars a year on building tanks and jets that are only & only effective for killing other humans. 40% of Earth’s population is making $2/day or less and are arguably worse off than their ancestors prior to the industrial revolution. 9M people a year die from hunger, and another 32M people a year die from preventable diseases (that is 78 people dying every single hour for no reason). GDP growth is slowing down all over the world at unprecedented rates. Climate change is throwing off the entire water cycle on earth and in the last 50 years we have gone from equilibrium to spending 1.7x more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate.
The list goes on but I will stop here and take your attention to a completely different set of existential problems. These are problems that might not effect our daily lives today and we don’t know when which one of them could happen but at some point in the future one of these is going to wipe out all humans from Earth — yes we are talking complete extinction. We don’t know when, it could be tomorrow, and it could be 20,000 years from now, but what is absolutely 100% clear is that one of these (if not all) will happen and we are not ready for them.
- World Wide Pandemic Due to a Flu virus
Spanish flu of 1918 infected half the population of Earth and killed more than 100 million people in only a few years. The Spanish flu came in 3 waves and the 2nd wave killed every single person that was infected with the flu. The recombinant flu bug is what keeps the center for disease up at nights — a virus that could transmit easily between animals as well as between humans.
Given our sophisticated and active transporation system with more than 80,000 commercial jets that take off every day the virus can make it throughout the globe within just 2 weeks. We can not create enough vaccines at these spread rates and are lacking the capability to stand up a rapid vaccination protocol. The Spanish flu killed half of Earth’s population and it will likely be a lot worse this time. We need to think pro-actively about this before it is too late. Center for disease control is not ready for such a pandemic.
2. Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) From Our Own Sun
Our sun ejects uncountable material into space with a significant release of plasma and magnetic field. Almost all of these blasts miss Earth because our Sun is like a huge yellow beachball in space and we are a tiny little sand away from the beach ball. However, when one of these CMEs hit Earth they create chaos and desctruction. In 1859 a CME completely melted the brand new U.S. telgraph system within a few seconds.
With our total dependency on electronic infrastructure a severe direct hit from a CME would take out the entire world’s power grid as well as all of our communication and GPS satellites plunging us to a 19th century existence within a few days. It would take us at least 20 years to re-store half of our grids since we do not have any back-up grids. Imagine the chaos that would lead to mass destruction, riots, killings, and complete shut down of our way of living. We are not ready for a CME hitting Earth and we are just YOLOing it. We need to think about back-up grids and resiliency in our infrastructure dependent lives.
3. A Lot of Volcanoes Go Off
We are not living on a nice stable solid planet — it is mostly made of molten rock and iron and it probably has a nuclear reactor in the center to keep it hot. Earth’s crust is so constantly folding in on itself that we can not find a rock on the surface of the Earht that is as old as the planet. Our Earth is very active and volcanoes are just part of that activity. 98% of all species on Earth have gone extinct and volcanoes are the biggest reason why.
If a few big volcanoes go off at the same time our sky will be filled with soot and ash which will ultimately block the Sun for so many summers. The ashes and blockage of Sun will eventually kill the plants on land and plankton in the sea. And when they die, we die. Of the 11 biggest extinctions on Earth 4 were causes by volcanoes so don’t think of this as a crazy impossible scenario. It has happened 4 times before. It is just the matter of time before this happens again. Capella Space is actually working on ways to predict volcanoes but I didn’t mean this to be a cheap plug for my company. We need to get more serious about understanding our own planet.
4. Runaway Greenhouse (Ecosystem Collapse)
In 1990 our average atmosphere temperature was 14.5 celsius and in the last 30 years we have gone up by 1 degree and are now at 15.5 celsius. When we get to 16.5 celsius we will lose control of our climate. Every major extinction in Earth’s history has been characterized by rapid increases in CO2 and we are now in an unprecedented period of increases of CO2.
As we heat up our planet more water turns into vapor and more methane and other gases are releases from the northern and southern permafrost. At some point the Earth will work like a greenhouse, gets into a feedback loop, and it will eventually turn us into Venus where the average day-time temperature is 900 Fahrenheit. And if you didn’t catch the memo, that is death for all of us. We first need to get rid of politicians who make this a political issue and acknowledge the problem. Then we can maybe solve this one if we are quick.
5. Nuclear War Breaks Out
India & Pakistan both have more than 100 nuclear weapons each, more than enough to create a “nuclear winter” which can kill us all. These two countries have fought 3 wars since 1947 and India is developing a nuclear submarine fleet so it can fire its missiles from everywhere. Lets not even talk about Iran, North Korea, Israel, and all other usual suspects.
Having that much destructive capability in the most unstable region of Earth can not have any good outcome. It is only a matter of time before something bad happens. And when it does, we have set up our entire defense systems to act in a self-destrucive manner (if I get killed, you get killed too). In fact, this almost happened during the cold war with a false positive alarm that thankfully no one acted on.
6. And my favorite: Asteroid Kills Us All
A large asteroid took out the dinosaurs 65 millions years ago by creating shock waves and fire storms across our planet that created a sky full of debris where summer did not return for at least a hundred years if not a thousand years. I know that sounds really bad but that is exactly what happened and it was pretty bad.
Right now at this very moment somewhere in space there is an asteroid with our name on it that is traveling on a journey. This asteroid could break out of its orbit tomorrow or maybe in 10,000 years, but its fate is sealed, it will hit Earth at some point. And when it does, we will all die.
SO, are we completely screwed?
I don’t want to end this blog with a positive note — I want you to walk away with a very negative perspective. The universe is 13.8 billion years and we have been on this planet for only 300,000 years. On a universe’s scale of time all of these scenarios will happen, maybe not all at once but they have happened before, and they will definitely happen again. I hope we can find solutions before we are victims of probabilities and statistics. The question is whether our species are fit for surviving these existential problems. And unlike the biological evolution that has helped us evolve to where we are today this time it is not about who has the fittest body or mind to survive but rather it’s a challenge that we have to face collectively as one family of species. Unless we stop spending our finite resources on finding clever ways to kill each other and instead start uniting as one species, with one common goal, and one voice, we are most likely doomed for the inevitable extinction.
Looking at how we are spending our finite resources building tanks and jets to kill each other, prioritizing protecting our imaginary borders by creating ‘us’ vs ‘them’, fighting over land and differences of opinions, and destroying our planet with an increasingly unsustainable life-style I am going to claim we are currently not on a path of survival.
Obviously this is not a very sexy and optimistic point of view coming from an entrepreneur running a silicon valley technology company and therefore has created some interesting push-backs and counter arguments from my network. The best counter-argument so far is that “capitalism will solve any problem”. My investor/technie friends argue that if and when there is a problem we will figure out the solution by deploying all of our capital and resources to it and therefore I should not be so pessimistic about our survival. They immediately pose a very humbling question of “wouldn’t you be able to deflect an asteroid if we gave you $10B and all the resources you needed?”
I think my friends are missing the point. The thought that capitalism will eventually succeed even in a potentiality existential scenario is noble and optimistic, but I don’t believe betting our entire continuation and existence on it makes any sense. The reality is that we are currently not deploying enough capital and resources to ensure our survival. As I said in my original post, we are YOLOing our way through life and hoping that when there is a problem we will find a solution — the possibility of us finding a solution when we have 3 months before as asteroid is going to hit Earth is wishful Hollywood thinking at best. If there is anything I have learned running a frontier technology company is that although money could solve a lot of problems it can’t buy you extra time. And I don’t believe betting the continuation of life as we know it on “we will probably solve it” makes any sense.
Can we find ways around protecting our way of life in the face of the inevitable Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) melting our entire power grid system? Yes, I am sure we can, but we have not done that yet.
Can we find ways around protecting our existence in the face of the inevitable multiple massive volcanoes erupting simultaneously? Yes, I am sure we can, but we have not done that yet.
Can we find ways around protecting our planet from the inevitable asteroid that is going to get on a collusion trajectory? Yes, I am sure we can, but we have not done that yet.
So … until we start spending sufficient resources on finding solutions to these problems I am going to stick with my pessimistic view that we are on a path of extinction. Whether it is sexy or not, an asteroid hitting us or a CME taking out our power grids are completely out of our control and yet could happen at any moment:) I would rather be the pessimist that pushes for solutions than the optimist that ignores them all.