The Next 10 Billion Years: Part II

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

Published on Cassandra’s Legacy on September 14, 2013

red-giant-sun

Discuss at the Collapse Cafe Table inside the Diner

Thou must now at last perceive of what universe thou art a part, and of what administrator of the universe thy existence is an efflux, and that a limit of time is fixed for thee, which if thou dost not use for clearing away the clouds from thy mind, it will go and thou wilt go, and it will never return. (Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”)

 

You can’t understand a man’s actions if you don’t take into account that what he does on a specific day is the result of events that took place during his whole lifetime and that will result in more events in the future. It is the same for a whole planet, although the lifespan of the Earth is much longer than that of a single human being. If we want to understand what’s happening today on our planet, we must try to understand how it has changed over the eons to become what it his now and what it may become in the future.

That of looking at the whole span of the history of a whole planet or even of the whole universe has a special flavor; even though none of us will ever witness the ultimate end of our biosphere, still the idea that we can imagine it is a source of great fascination. And it is not something new: it is a whole field of human thought that we can call “eschatology”, from the Greek world “eskhatos”, meaning “the last”.

In the history of people musing on the ultimate end of everything, we can see two lines of thought that we might dub, purely for convenience, the “Western” and the “Eastern” views. The Western view sees the universe, humans and everything, as having a finite and limited lifespan, the Eastern view sees the same concepts as an infinite series of cycles. The single cycle view is typical of thinkers steeped in the Greek-Latin tradition and of the monotheistic religions that arose around the Mediterranean area. In its basic form, the idea is that God created the world and that the world will have an end (apocalypse, from a Greek world meaning “revelation”). Human beings are supposed to live a one-time trial. You succeed or you don’t, but God doesn’t give you another chance. East-Asian thought seems to have been based on a different viewpoint: Buddhism sees the soul as forever reincarnating in new bodies. There is no end and no beginning to this endless cyucle that the wise may, however, be able to interrupt.

It is hard to say what factors created these two different schools of thought. One thing we know, however, is that today Western science can be seen as continuing the ancient tradition, that of the single cycle. For what we know, the universe appeared in a specific event called the “Big Bang” and it is destined to end, according to the most recent data, as a cold and dreary place made out of matter scattered over an immensely large volume. Back in  1956, Isaac Asimov was reasoning within this tradition when he wrote a story titled “The Last Question”, where he imagined humankind engaged in a forever quest for how to reverse the cycle and rejuvenate the universe. But Asimov was also thinking outside the Western box when he proposed at the end that the question could be answered, although not by humans themselves but by the computer they had created. As there is nobody to tell the answer to, the computer proceeds to carry on the answer in practice by creating light and restarting the universe.

I must have read this old story by Isaac Asimov when I was, maybe, 15 years old and it inspired a post that I wrote on “Cassandra’s Legacy” with the title “The Next Ten Billion Years” for which I borrowed from Asimov the same finale. This post of mine had a certain success and, recently, John Michael Greer (“The Archdruid”) commented on it and produced his own version of the next ten billion years as he sees them. It is by all means a fascinating piece but different from mine in a deep philosophical sense. True to his role of druid, Greer explicitly rejects the Christian “one-cycle” tradition and leans on the multiple cycle view of the universe, for instance saying that, ten million years from now,

No fewer than 8,639 global civilizations have risen and fallen over the last ten million years, each with its own unique sciences, technologies, arts, literatures, philosophies, and ways of thinking about the cosmos.

and then he goes on to describe several non-human civilizations arising and disappearing in the span of several hundred million years, including one derived from raccoons, one from ravens, and one from freshwater clams. There is no evidence in Greer’s vision of the entropy caused winding down of the universe. The atoms that once formed the Earth and its inhabitants are flung away in space by the last convulsion of the Sun and end up forming another star and a number of planets. The cycle restarts.

As I said, we are discussing philosophical matters and we’ll never find an agreement on what the Earth will look like – say – ten million years from now. So, I’ll just comment here on how science gives us very strong evidence for a “one-cycle” Earth. With that, I don’t mean just an apocalyptic end of our planet when it will be finally consumed by an expanding Sun. No, the Earth has changed all the time over its four billion years of existence, it keeps changing, and the changes are profound and irreversible.

What we call the “biosphere” has been part of this great, long lasting cycle. As all things that are born and are destined to die, the biosphere must peak and decline. Actually, it has peaked and it is declining. The biosphere productivity over the past 3.5 billion years looks a little like a gigantic Hubbert peak according to a paper by Franck, Bounama and Von Bloh,

In a previous post, I wrote about this graph that:

As you see, the Earth’s biosphere, Gaia, peaked with the start of the Phanerozoic age, about 500 million years ago. Afterwards, it declined. Of course, there is plenty of uncertainty in this kind of studies, but they are based on known facts about planetary homeostasis. We know that the sun’s irradiation keeps increasing with time at a rate of around 1% every 100 million years. That should have resulted in the planet warming up, gradually, but the homeostatic mechanisms of the ecosphere have maintained approximately constant temperatures by gradually lowering the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. However, there is a limit: the CO2 concentration cannot go below the minimum level that makes photosynthesis possible; otherwise Gaia “dies”.

So, at some moment in the future, planetary homeostasis will cease to be able to stabilize temperatures. When we reach that point, temperatures will start rising and, eventually, the earth will be sterilized. According to Franck et al., in about 600 million years from now the earth will have become too hot for multicellular creatures to exist.

Of course, the extinction of the biosphere is not for tomorrow or, at least, the calculations say so. But it is like estimating one’s lifespan from statistical data. Theoretically, the homeostatic mechanisms that operate your body could keep you alive until reach a respectable age; sure, but homoeostasis is never perfect. For instance, there are mechanisms in your body designed to reverse the effects of traumas. You may expect these mechanisms to work well if you are young but, if you are hit by a truck at full speed, well, you end up on the wrong side of the life expectancy statistics.

Similar considerations apply to Gaia. Theoretically, the planetary homeostatic mechanisms should keep Gaia alive for hundreds of millions of years, but what about major perturbations, some planetary equivalent of being hit by a truck? Would Gaia be able to recover from a human caused runaway greenhouse catastrophe?

We cannot say for sure. What we can say is that we are living in a period called the “sixth extinction,” similar to other major past extinctions. In most cases, these extinctions appear to have been caused by an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The sixth extinction, too, is taking place in correspondence to a rise of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that may never have happened so fast in the history of the planet. This rapid rise is also taking place under a solar irradiation that has never been so high as it is today. We can’t rule out that the sixth extinction will be the last one.

So, as I said at the beginning, the present and the future of a single person can be understood from his or her past, and it is the same for the Earth (aka, “Gaia”). Science is telling us very, very strongly that the present moment is unique in the history of the planet: the future will not be like the past. It is true that, if we fail to survive as a civilization, there will be probably space for more human civilizations. And, if we go extinct, there may be space for the evolution of new sentient species. But all that will happen in different conditions and along a downward slope.

New human civilizations developing within the few hundred thousand years will not have the coal and the fossil hydrocarbons that we have consumed today. In a few hundred million years from now, new sentient species might find oil that has reformed in shallow anoxic seas – but they won’t have coal, the result of very special conditions occurring only once (for what we know) on this planet. And they will live in a planet with a much reduced biological productivity in comparison to ours. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to develop spaceflight – the future is full of opportunities, but it is never like the past.

In the end, these considerations give us just a hint of the sheer immensity of the future and of how difficult is the human attempt to conceive it. For what we know, we are a small ripple on the top of a gigantic tsunami wave that’s crashing on some remote shore. As a ripple disappears, new ones appear, but the wave keeps rolling onward to its inevitable end. And yet, we know so little: there may be other shores, other waves, the universal sea may never stop to roll, and light and darkness may exchange places in a never ending dance. So, just as Asimov concluded his story, someday, the words “Let there be light” may be said again. And there will be light again.

all-pervading,
ever moving.
So it can act as the mother
of all things.
Not knowing its real name
we only call it the Way

If it must be named, 
let its name be Great.
Greatness means going on,
going on means going far,
and going far means turning back

(Tao Te King, as reported by Ursula K. Le Guin)

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

https://image.freepik.com/free-icon/musical-notes-symbols_318-29778.jpg

Support the Diner
Search the Diner
Surveys & Podcasts

NEW SURVEY

Renewable Energy

VISIT AND FOLLOW US ON DINER SOUNDCLOUD

" As a daily reader of all of the doomsday blogs, e.g. the Diner, Nature Bats Last, Zerohedge, Scribbler, etc… I must say that I most look forward to your “off the microphone” rants. Your analysis, insights, and conclusions are always logical, well supported, and clearly articulated – a trifecta not frequently achieved."- Joe D
Archives
Global Diners

View Full Diner Stats

Global Population Stats

Enter a Country Name for full Population & Demographic Statistics

Lake Mead Watch

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BX686_LakeMe_G_20130816175615.jpg

loading

Inside the Diner

Quote from: Eddie on Today at 06:05:04 AMThe main reason to use PV now is to learn how to use it appropriately, and how to live off batteries. Batteries are the Achilles heel of all DIY power systems.I will dr...

QuoteEddie: My view (and I'm not alone by any stretch of the imagination) is that my highest duty is to myself and my family.I suppose when it comes down to it, this is what we disagree about the most.  You think it a "higher duty" to be sel...

What exactly am I supposed to do to combat this kind of stupid? Lawmaker Introduces Crowdfunding Bill To Pay For Trump’s Border WallSo Mexico’s not paying for it?By Mary PapenfussPresident Donald Trump needs at least $22 billion...

Quote from: Eddie on Today at 06:46:24 AMIt's hard to buy lead acid batteries here now without electrolyte. I remember when I was a kid it was the norm. You bought the battery and added the electrolyte, which came separ...

do it do it now. The pigs are nice but propagation to pass on those genes is essential. Think of how many mini droughts those plants have gone through. They are the survivors of countless tries. In times of trouble they could be worth their weight in g...

Blog Commentary
Recent Facebook Posts

How to Get Rid of the Super Rich

How to Get Rid of the Super Rich– By leveraging the power of the public purse against corporations that pay their top execs outrageously more..

57 minutes ago

Trump Bars Purchases Of Debt, Receivables Owed To Venezuela, PDVSA

ZH is only concerned that the US squeeze of Venezuela will put gasoline prices up. More importantly the action will drive Venezuela into the..

58 minutes ago

The Coming Collapse

Chris Hedges: “All the harbingers of collapse are visible: crumbling infrastructure; chronic underemployment and unemployment; the indiscriminate..

58 minutes ago

Cassandra's Legacy

New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire–

1 hour ago

Karen J. Greenberg: Dismantling Democracy, One Word at a Time

Dismantling Democracy, One Word at a Time–

1 hour ago

Diner Twitter feed

Knarf’s Knewz

Quote from: Eddie on March 13, 2018, 05:21:10 PMAl [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:33:01 PMAU [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:25:04 PM [...]

A new study found that the Great Recession correla [...]

From 2003 to 2005, Gina Haspel was a senior offici [...]

Diner Newz Feeds
  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

Quote from: Eddie on May 21, 2018, 05:04:54 PMWelc [...]

Quote from: Eddie on May 21, 2018, 10:47:52 AMQuot [...]

Quote from: Eddie on May 21, 2018, 05:04:54 PMWelc [...]

Welcome David. I was excited when I saw the book, [...]

I had not seen this one Eddie. I just ordered it a [...]

Quote from: agelbert on May 21, 2018, 06:30:28 PM [...]

 Make Nexus Hot News part of your morning: click [ [...]

TruthdigMAY 20, 2018Trump’s 🦀 Strategic Assault[.. [...]

AgMagTop 8 Farm Subsidy LoopholesBy Scott Faber, V [...]

Quote from: Eddie on March 13, 2018, 05:21:10 PMAl [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:33:01 PMAU [...]

Quote from: knarf on March 13, 2018, 03:25:04 PM [...]

A new study found that the Great Recession correla [...]

From 2003 to 2005, Gina Haspel was a senior offici [...]

Quote from: Karpatok on May 21, 2018, 09:17:53 AMW [...]

Quote from: Golden Oxen on May 21, 2018, 05:05:42 [...]

 Dear readers, Buy Gold, some silver, and if you b [...]

 Just wonderful to know you are well and have foun [...]

https://news.goldcore.com/ie/gold-blog/russia-buys [...]

The medical evidence supports colonoscopies, PSA t [...]

Quote from: Eddie on May 18, 2018, 08:11:50 AMThe [...]

Every graduating class has one guy everyone knows [...]

A new thread chronicling the antics of those Hones [...]

Quote from: Eddie on May 11, 2018, 06:17:08 PMQuot [...]

Alternate Perspectives
  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Stupid Is As Stupid Does By Cognitive Dissonance     The other night, Mrs. Cog and I streamed a movi [...]

A Double Rainbow Graces Cogville By Cognitive Dissonance   It has been a somewhat dry spring so far. [...]

We Prefer Our Sociopaths Well Dressed and Spoken By Cognitive Dissonance   What would you do if I to [...]

A Duty to Know By Cognitive Dissonance   Conversations Mrs. Cog and I have often revolve around awar [...]

The Pendulum – Part Three Seeking Balance By High Desert   Missing in the mix of hundreds of bug-out [...]

Event Update For 2018-05-19http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-05-18http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-05-17http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-05-16http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2018-05-15http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

You know things have taken a turn for the desperate when women have started to drive. Or rather, whe [...]

From Filmers to Farmers is re-launched on the astounding open source blogging platform Ghost! [...]

The blogging scene is admittedly atrocious. Is there really no option for a collapse blogger to turn [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability
  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

The Russians Aren't Coming"What exactly is our strategy for the Malthusian predicament?"  In his autobiography, Holl [...]

Why is your teenage sibling trying to kill you?"We were searching for the tendrils of common language from which we could enlarge the discussi [...]

Straws are a gateway drug, because they are so easy and ubiquitous. That is also what makes them a g [...]

Spring Cleaning"If you’re buying weird tech gizmos, you need to know what you are trying to prove by that. [...]

Mycelial Mind"One thing we can say about our fungal cousins. They are vastly better connected to the natural [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

To fight climate change, you need to get the world off of fossil fuels. And to do that, you need to [...]

Americans are good on the "thoughts and prayers" thing. Also not so bad about digging in f [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Top Commentariats
  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

Kids are killing themselves 100 more than each other but that doesn't sell as well "gunz a [...]

Good to see you still going, though you don't really need to. The archives of this blog will be [...]

Doug Noland is saying that the emerging market debt fiasco is reaching critical mass. We shall see, [...]

It's probably less energy demanding to mine gold than mine bitcoins ... [...]

Sorry, Yanos, artificial intelligence and automation aren’t going to do sh**. Or, if they are, at le [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

Off the Keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Merry Doomy Christmas

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Collapse Fiction
Useful Links
Technical Journals

Knowledge on the impact of climate variability on the decadal timescale is important for policy make [...]

We investigate the feasibility of developing decadal prediction models for autumn rainfall ( R A ) o [...]

By the end of this century, the average global temperature is predicted to rise due to the increasin [...]

For modern infrastructures, structural concrete has been widely adopted for various components and s [...]

The standard deviational ellipse is useful to analyze the shape and the length of a tropical cyclone [...]

Follow on our http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/forum/