The Next 10 Billion Years

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on September 8, 2013

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This week on his Blog The Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer took a look at the REAL long term outcomes of Collapse, on a 10 Billion Year long scale for Homo Sapiens, which basically takes us right to the end of the Working Lifespan of the Sun, the main source of Energy driving forward all life on Earth, not just Humanity.

This is not the first set of such speculations, in fact it is a direct response to a similarly titled article by Ugo Bardi on his Blog Cassandra’s Legacy last year.  Ugo in fact did a bit more in his treatment of the issue, first he chronicled the LAST 10B years up to today, and then presented 2 possible long term scenarios, one more upbeat and hopeful, the other a bit more doomy and gloomy.

The question is, WHY are both these Collapse Bloggers concerning themselves with such long term outcomes anyhow?  Generally speaking at best most people are only concerned with what will occur to them in what remains of their lifetimes, perhaps at most extending into the lifetime of their Children &  Grandchildren.  After that, what does it really MATTER how long Homo Sapiens survives here?  EVENTUALLY we will die out under almost any scenario you care to dream up.  So how different is it for YOU if Extinction comes in 100, 1000 or 1,000,000 Years? Unless you believe in Reincarnation and that said Reincarnation can only occur on THIS planet, in THIS corner of the Universe, it doesn’t matter at all when Homo Sapiens goes the way of the Dinosaur here.

http://spiff.rit.edu/classes/phys240/lectures/future/redgiant.jpg

The lengths of time being bandied about in both Ugo and JMGs posts are quite enormous, Geological Time Scales really.  In fact we have nowhere near 10B years possible for continuation of Homo Sapiens on this Planet, the Sun goes Red Giant and consumes the Earth long before that, and even long before THAT as the Sun burns up its fuel supply of Hydrogen and starts burning more Helium, it will get hot enough to boil off all the oceans on the planet and make it quite unlivable for ALL carbon based life forms we know, INCLUDING my favorite Extremophiles, the Tardigrades.

The Main Sequence
The Sun, like most stars in the Universe, is on the main sequence stage of life. Every second, 600 million tons of hydrogen are converted into helium in the Sun’s core, generating 4 x 1027 Watts of energy. For the Sun, this process got going 4.6 billion years ago, and it has been generating energy this way every since. But there isn’t an unlimited amount of hydrogen in the core of the Sun. In fact, it’s only got another 7 billion years worth of fuel left.

As the Sun creates more helium at its core, the Sun burns a little more hydrogen. This causes the output of the Sun to go up. You won’t notice it now, but in about a billion years, the output from the Sun will have increased by 10%.

A more luminous Sun is bad news for Earth.

In 1.1 billion years from now, the Sun will be 10% brighter than it is today. This extra energy will cause a moist greenhouse effect in the beginning, similar to the runaway warming on Venus. But then the Earth’s atmosphere will dry out as the water vapor is lost to space, never to return.

In 3.5 billion years from now, the Sun will be 40% brighter than it is today. It will be so hot that the oceans will boil and that water vapor will be lost to space as well. The ice caps will permanently melt, and snow will be ancient history; life will be unable to survive anywhere on the surface of the Earth. The Earth will resemble dry hot Venus.

http://www.viceland.com/viceblog/34954711tardigrb.jpgSo really, you are talking MAX about 1B years from today for life to exist on earth in any form at all, because once the water boils off, life of any sort we are familiar with cannot exist.  Indeed, Tardigrades can remain Viable near Absolute Zero and throughly dehydrated and Pop Back to Life once back in an environment with liquid water around, but they don’t “live” while they are dehydrated in the near absolute zero temps of space.  Liquid Water is ESSENTIAL for life as we know it, all the chemistry which life is organized around occurs in Aqueous Solution of one sort or another.

When you consider this fact of life (sic), its actually probably long before all the Water actually Boils Off the surface of the Earth that life disappears in 1-3B years, it really just has to get hot enough that most of the water is Vapor and whatever tough little Tardigrades remain can’t cool themselves enough and end up dehydrating.  So maybe good Outside Possibility for some higher plant & animal life forms is another 500M years.  When you look at how long it took Dinosaurs and other Vertebrates to develop originally, this timescale is on the order of 100sM of years.

File:Geologic Clock with events and periods.svg

http://chinafossils.nhm.org/graphics/time%20scale.jpg

http://ber.parawag.net/images/Aloha_ocean_pH_calculated_by_HOT.jpgAs you can see, this whole Biz began back there in the Pre-Cambrian period around 600M years ago, culminating in anatomically modern Homo Sapiens only in the last 100K years or so, though Proto-Homos existed a good deal earlier than that going back maybe 2M years.  So what do you think the odds are that say our good friends and co-inhabitants of the Earth right now, the Tardigrades who are capable of handling a good deal tougher environmental situation than we can will have enough TIME and good fortune to evolve toward Sentience before the planet becomes uninhabitable even for THEM?  IMHO, the likelihood is quite small.  JMG does overcome this barrier by starting with Raccoons and Crows as the progenitors of sentient species, but based on the current spin out it seems unlikely that any higher organisms have a real good chance of survival when multiple Nuke reactors go super-critical and/or there is a phytoplankton collapse due to ocean acidification.

John Michael Greer thinks at least SOME Homo Sapiens will last a good deal longer than Nature Bats Last’s Guy McPherson’s mid-21st Century prediction for Near Term Human Extinction, he’s projecting out numerous Civilizations of Homo Sapiens rising and falling here over the next bundle of Millenia before finally sputtering out a million or so years down the line.

A hundred thousand years from now:
Carbon dioxide levels drop below preindustrial levels as the oceanic anoxic event finishes its work, and the complex feedback loops that govern Earth’s climate shift again: the thermohaline circulation restarts, triggering another round of climatic changes. Humanity’s seventy-ninth global civilization flourishes and begins its slow decline as the disruptions set in motion by a long-forgotten industrial age are drowned out by an older climatic cycle. The scholars of that civilization are thrilled by the notions of fusion power, artificial intelligence, and interstellar migration; they have no idea that we dreamed the same dreams before them, being further in our future than the Neanderthals are in our past, but they will have no more luck achieving those dreams than we did.
A million years from now:
The Earth is in an ice age; great ice sheets cover much of the northern hemisphere and spread from mountain ranges all over the world, and sea level is 150 meters lower than today. To the people living at this time, who have never known anything else, this seems perfectly normal. Metals have become rare geological specimens—for millennia now, most human societies have used renewable ceramic-bioplastic composites instead—and the very existence of fossil fuels has long since been forgotten. The 664th global human civilization is at its peak, lofting aerostat towns into the skies and building great floating cities on the seas; its long afternoon will eventually draw to an end after scores of generations, and when it falls, other civilizations will rise in its place.
We are a tough bunch of Survivors JMG prognosticates, hammering it out for the next Million Years before finally succumbing to environmental stressors that wipe us out!  Ugo also projects manifest toughness and adaptability for Homo Sapiens in his more Positive Scenario.  While we do suffer a massive Population Knockdown in the Ugo+ Scenario, the Survivors do real well colonizing the Solar System here:
1000 years from now. In the year 3000 A.D. the ecosystems of the planet have completely recovered from the damage done by human activities during the second millennium. A sophisticated planetary control system manages solar irradiation by means of space mirrors and the concentration of greenhouse gases by means of CO2 absorbing/desorbing plants. The planet is managed as a giant garden, optimizing its biological productivity. The Sahara desert is now a forest and the thermohaline currents pump oxygen in the northern regions, full of life of all kinds. The solar and wind plants used during the previous millennium have been mostly dismantled, although some are still kept as a memory of the old times. Most of the energy used by humankind is now generated by space stations which capture solar energy and beam it to the ground in forms easily usable by humans. Research in controlled fusion energy continues with the hope that it will produce usable energy in 500 years. Humans are now less than one billion, they have optimized both their numbers and their energy use and they need enormously less than they had needed in the more turbulent ages of one thousand years before. The development of artificial intelligence is in full swing and practically all tasks that once had been in the hands of humans is now in the “hands” of sophisticated robotic systems. These robots have colonized the solar system and humans now live in underground cities on the Moon. The new planetary intelligence starts considering the idea of terraforming Mars and Venus. The first antimatter powered interstellar spaceships have started their travel to far away stars.10.000 years from now. There are now less than a billion human beings on Earth who live in splendid cities immersed in the lush forest that the planet has become. Some of them work as a hobby on controlled nuclear fusion which they hope will produce usable energy in a few thousand years. The New Intelligence has now started terraforming Mars. It involves similar methods as those used for controlling the Earth’s climate: giant mirrors and CO2 producing plants that control the Martian atmosphere, increasing its pressure and temperature. The terraforming of Venus has also started with similar methods: giant screens that lower the planetary temperatures and immense flying plants that transform CO2 into oxygen and solid carbon. That will take a lot of time, but the New Intelligence is patient. It is also creating new races of solid state beings living on the asteroids and orbiting around the Sun. The exploration of the galaxy is in progress, with spaceships from the solar system now reaching a “sphere” of about a thousand light years from the sun.
Of these two Sci-Fi scenarios, Ugo’s is slightly more grounded in real science with a better grasp of the numbers and timelines involve, but really in both cases the speculation out there past 1000 years is just an exercise in creative imagination.  Obviously none of us will be around to verify if either of them even came CLOSE to the truth, at least not from this side of the Great Divide anyhow.
So what is the underlying motivation for making these WAG projections?  I think it stems from the fact both authors have no real solution to the near term problems we face and so speculate on these long term outcomes, which all eventually end up in Extinction, except for a few REALLY WAGs which have Homo Sapiens leaving earth to go Star Trekking in one way or another.  Going back a few months here, I actually wrote a short such positive outcome in a thread run by Diner Dirdy Birdy:

My best case scenario:The monetary system crashes and Da Goobermint organizes quickly to keep food production and distribution going.  Shortages of fuel take all private carz off the road and people adapt utilizing more bicycles and walking, along with various public transport systems that are kept running a while with the diminished fuel supply.  JIT Trucking is also kept running by conserving fuel, long enough for transition to be made to local production.

A huge Public Works Project is undertaken with people educated in permaculture and small scale renewable energy construction, and a Land Reform Act is passed with Groups of People issued Land Grants all over the country.  Groups can either self-organize or a computer program puts people together based on a questionnaire they fill out about their belief system.  The Land Grants are issued in a Random Order via Lottery, and you get to pick your spot when your number comes up.  The size of the Land Grant depends on the current resources available where it is located in terms of Water and Soil Fertility.  The size is calculated to support the Group size +20% (to allow for fluctuation in reproduction).

Metal Tools and Farm Implements are produced and distributed out as long as possible, and die off is gradual and organic mostly from Old Age as the population returns to the land.

The other part of the Public Works Project involves decommissioning and removing the spent fuel from Nuke Plants.  The fuel si all collected, vitrified and shipped to the Marianna Trench where it is sunk in a subduction zone at the ocean floor.  Specialized Boring Capsules are designed which gather speed during the fall to the ocean floor and begin to spin rapidly.  When they hit bottom, they bore into the crust at the subduction zone.

Industrial plants are shut down and cleaned up also as small scale cottage industries take hold around the country.  Mother Nature does her part also, gradually degrading and rinsing out pollutants.  Ecosystems recover, and carbon content in the atmosphere begins to fall.  Extreme Weather events begin to lessen in frequency.

A century from now, a remaining 1B or so people on the planet live in Harmony with Nature, maintaining a relatively steady state of human biomass.  Story Tellers travel around the country on Horseback and around the World by Sailboat, and information is passed on verbally throughout the world.  Memory spans are vastly increased, and Wisdom is selected for naturally, and Homo Sapiens evolves to Homo Superioris, eventually gaining paranormal abilities with the ability to leave the body at will and travel the cosmos as a Quantum Flux able to instaneously appear anywhere in the Universe, visiting other planets with the ability to Incarnate in a symbiotic fashion with other life forms on these planets.

Human Sentience persists for Eternity, as the Quantum Flux can also jump from Universe to Universe in the Multiverse, once this Universe either cools to Absolute Zero in perpetual expansion, or Collapses back on itself for another Big Bang.

This particular scenario makes just about everybody HAPPY, including George Mobus of Question Everything since Homo Stupidus finally does achieve Wisdom in the end.  LOL.  It resolves the Die Off problem without resorting to Violence or explicit Eugenics making the Peaceniks Happy, and GAIA returns to a lush Green Garden of Eden making all the Tree Huggers very Happy too!  If I wrote more shit like this, I would be a WAY more popular Blogger!  LOL.  Of course, at the end of this exercise in Fantasy Thinking, I ranked the Probability of this outcome around .00000000001% or so.
The theme in JMGs article right from the beginning though is to Poke Holes in Peak Oil theory; the general idea is to demonstrate that we aren’t going to have a massive FAST Collapse, but rather a long Slow Catabolic Collapse where our lives will change only incrementally; and beyond that to express the Belief that Homo Sapiens will NOT go Extinct in the Near Term per Guy McPherson, but rather will persist a good long while Walking the Earth, and in fact have something of a Resurgence before finally giving up the ghost and making way for a New and Still BETTER Sentient Species which will last a whole lot longer before itself going extinct.
http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/17xkn88nxpn1bjpg/ku-xlarge.jpg
If you notice also, JMGs Sci-Fi fantasy also has archetypes in it that make HIM happy, there are future Historians and Anthropologists amongst the Corvins who go out and discover remnants of Human Civilization on the Moon, so the Knowledge of the Ages never gets Lost long as there are SOME Sentient beings around.  For JMG, the WORST possible outcome is not the Extinction of the Human Race, but the idea that all that Knowledge, all those years of tedious research in the Card Catalogues and Stacks of University Libraries would be LOST FOREVER!  Accckkkkk!  In the end, Sentience & Ingenuity Wins the Day in JMGs story, as it does in Ugo’s Positive Scenario also.  JMGs story of Sentience on Earth does come to a close finally, but not until after a real long run through many more Homo Sapiens Civilizations, then Raccoon and Crow Civilizations.  This puts off the inevitable “End of History” (and Historians! lol) for a mighty long time.  He also pops in a nice Upbeat Ending with some other NEW Sentient Species popping up spontaneously on some other planet floating around there out in the Universe, before IT either cools to Absolute Zero in perpetual expansion or Implodes on itself in another Big Bang.
What is noticeably speculative in JMGs post is where the Corvins get their Energy to run a Complex Society, he’s got sufficient Oil reserves rebuilding here inside 100M years to get the Corvins to the Moon and Back, sans any speculative energy technology of the future.  The problem here is that the Oil supply we got to burn up over the last 200 or so years if created in the typically accepted biotic origination goes back right to the beginning of the pre-Cambrian Era, and took a good 700M years to collect up all the Solar Energy and store it in all the dead life forms that existed over this time period.  Generating up the same amount of Oil over 100M years would require 6-7X as many life forms to be born and die over 100M years, and that is not inside the energetic parameters of what the Sun would provide over that time period.  Not to mention the problems of environmental degradation for producing more biomass, already evident.
http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100629151438/memoryalpha/en/images/a/af/Integrator.jpgUgo relies on the old Star Trek meme of Matter-Antimatter Engines to drive this type of society Star Trekking in the long distant future, glossing over the small problem of precisely where we will get hold of the copious amounts of Antimatter necessary to annihiliate Matter in the Perfect Matter-to-Energy Transform.  Dilithium Crystals aren’t Ubiquitous on Earth, not even at Chinese Strip Mining Operations for Rare Earth Minerals.  LOL. Here on Earth Ugo does come up with the slightly more plausible idea of huge space based solar collectors,  however exactly how we will jack that much hardware up into space over the next century or two with depleting fossil fuel supplies is left unexplained.
Assuming Homo Sapiens did die out in a Million Years or so, rebuilding Fossil Fuel resource would take the same 100s of Millions of years it took on the first go-round, bringing you right up to the time the Sun is Vaporizing the Water on the Planet.  Unless you buy into an a-biotic theory of Oil and project a slow refill of the near surface reservoirs, you just won’t have this type of resource around for the next sentient species to exploit, no matter how smart they are.  Even if Infants are capable of solving Fermat’s Last Theorem, without the massive energy necessary to get stuff up OFF the surface of the Earth into Orbit, and then further to power said Starships in the vast and cold interstellar void, no sentient life of any sort is ever leaving this Solar System.  Projecting such on outcome is simply an exercise in HOPIUM for people concerned that in the end all the knowledge disappears, and so the whole exercise of Evolution over lo these long Eons has no real purpose to it at all.
Religions circumvent this problem in all sorts of ways, the most popular being to postulate some type of Afterlife, and/or the existence of some sort of disembodied Soul which can exist and persist in the absence of a corporeal host.  I am OK with this kind of belief structure, in fact I buy into it myself these days in my own idiosyncratic sort of way.  Imagining the Universe to be Purposeless doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and beyond that the Random beginning for Life without some sort of Intelligent Design also seems highly unlikely.  However, you most certainly cannot PROVE anything beyond what can be sensed and perceived, so whatever it is you do believe about this it is in the end just a Belief System which makes sense to you.
http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Overshoot_2.jpgReturning from the world of Sci-Fi and fantasy thinking to the REAL WORLD of Collapsing Economic Structures, Depleting Resources and Population Overshoot, the real questions worth pondering on are not 10B Year Long Timelines for Universal Existence, but much shorter timelines in the lengths of Years, Decades, Centuries and maybe as far out as Millenia, but further than that is really a moot point, since the eventual Extinction of Homo Sapiens is a virtual Lock.  If you can answer the question of what the World will be like in YOUR neighborhood in a Decade’s time, this knowledge people living now can actually USE to better prepare for the world to come for them.  The outcomes won’t be precisely the same everywhere, there are different parameters in different locations clearly.  So being able to make a fairly decent prediction on this timeline also allows people to make better choices in Migration, if they indeed even have the ability and economic resources to migrate at all, which most really do not.  I mean really, if you currently are living on $2/day in a Mumbai Slum, you’re not going to be buying a Plane Ticket to New Zealand to find a better life.  Most people are pretty well stuck where they are, at least on the nation-state level.
http://indiawires.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/mumbai-slums.jpg
A good understanding of the possible Century Long Timeline outcomes is also quite important in the Real Sense, because if these outcomes can be generally distributed and understood, it is possible still that Homo Sapiens could make some better choices now that would lead to better outcomes later.  So it is my belief that it is these timelines we need to focus on, not the long term existential ones.  I would look forward to articles from both JMG and Ugo Bardi which make some informed Projections on these timelines.  In both their 10B Year articles, they do cover the nearer term decades and centuries long outcomes, but they are of necessity Brief in this sort of treatment and not very well fleshed out.  You can make the fairly obvious predictions of lots of Wars taking place, but what will be the political and ecological outcomes of those wars?  What are the best means & method to be one of the SURVIVORS of those Wars?
I will look at some of these questions myself in a follow-up article to this, though next week’s Sunday Brunch article will be about a more current issue, the Submergent Economies of the BRICS nations, currently having some extraordinary currency collapse issues ongoing.  In the intervening time though, I look forward to chatting with Ugo and perhaps JMG on the Collapse Cafe about the various possible long term outcomes on the 10 Billion Year timescale.
RE

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