“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mass Extinction Math

So if the previous mass extinction 55 million years ago took two thousand years as a result of 2 gigatons per year of carbon being released:

Does that mean that this one, given 30 gigatons per year, will take fifteen times faster, namely about 130 years?

Does anyone know how the math of mass extinction works?


Paul Reid-Bowen said...

Depends whether you mean the likelihood of an extinction event, in which case you are looking at the many variations of the Doomsday argument. These are for the most part applications of Bayesian probability theory, begin with work by Brandon Carter but find more developed forms in John Leslie's The End of the World and many articles by Nic Bostrom.

However, you seem to be asking about the actual math of the extinction timescales. These depend on the primary causes of the extinction event, but for some of the more common suicide attempts by life, the leading theorist of the day is Peter Ward with the Medea Hypothesis, Under a Green Sky and The Life and Death of Planet Earth. It also depends how much of a decline in biodiversity and biomass you think counts as a mass extinction event. It's quite plausible that the Anthropocene is the one that takes hold, what with multiple tipping points being approached and some disparate and gaping holes being torn in the ecological mesh. I tend to agree with Levi and yourself that homeostasis is not the norm, and doesn't autocorrect life in accord with some telos of omega point. Life is just careening around.

Oddly one hundred and thirty years seems a pretty good midpoint between a dozen or so predictions I've seen in the last couple of years. I'll see if I can dig some of the recent science articles on extinctions out of my filing.

Documentary said...

If current trends continue, scientists warn that within a few decades at least HALF of all plant and animal species on Earth will disappear forever. “Call of Life: Facing the Mass Extinction” is the first feature documentary to investigate the growing threat to Earth’s life support systems from this unprecedented loss of biodiversity. Through interviews with leading scientists, psychologists, historians, and others, the film explores the causes, the scope, and the potential effects of the mass extinction, but also looks beyond the immediate causes of the crisis to consider how our cultural and economic systems, along with deep-seated psychological and behavioral patterns, have allowed and continue to reinforce the situation, and even determine our response to it. “Call of Life” tells the story of a crisis not only in nature, but also in human nature, a crisis more threatening than anything human beings have ever faced before.

I would like to share the documentary
"Call of Life: Facing the Mass Extinction"

watch it

Timothy Morton said...

Paul and "Documentary"--thanks for these. I shall watch the documentary.