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    Scientist: It's a Statistical Probability that Earth Is Fucked

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Scientists are notorious for padding their statements for maximum accuracy. Take climatologists. They never say "mankind must stop burning fossil fuels all over the place or else civilization as we know it is doomed." No, it's always something closer to "the latest carbon dioxide emissions continue to track the high end of emission scenarios, making it even less likely global warming will stay below 2 °C" and upon that trajectory snooooore.

    Not that scientists should be evangelists. But few scientists are any good at looking the public in the eye and, speaking their language, telling them like it is.

    Complex systems theorist and geophysicist Brad Werner doesn't have that problem. He bluntly titled his most recent talk at the American Geophysical Union, "Is Earth Fucked?" And he gave the answer too, which is pretty much, yup.

    During the talk, iO9's Dave Levitan reports that Werner pointed out that "the economy very fast chews up the environmental resources, depletes those reservoirs, resulting in a significant amount of environmental damage." Global consumerism, resource depletion, and pollution are making it a statistical probability that the Earth will be fucked. But his discussion wasn't really focused on doom and gloom. 

    Slate's Jonathan Mingle explains that

    The bulk of Werner’s talk, as it turned out, was not profane or prophetic but was a fairly technical discussion of a 'preliminary agent-based numerical model' of 'coupled human-environmental systems.' He described a computer model he is building of the complex two-way interaction between people and the environment, including how we respond to signals such as environmental degradation, using the same techniques he employs to simulate the dynamics of natural systems such as permafrost, glaciers, and coastal landscapes. 

    But it's not just globe-demolishing that plays into Werner's model. Humans can also do good. Mingle notes that "Active resistance by concerned groups of citizens, analogous to the anti-slavery and civil rights movements of the past, is one of the features of the planetary system that plays an important role in his model."

    That's right. His model is showing that the economic forces of capitalism are currently overwhelming "resistance" movements (grassroots environmentalist, anti-corporate, and indigenous movements, etc). And Think Progress points out that resistance is not futile: his work can be viewed as largely optimistic–activism, it posits, can turn the tide. 

    But Levitan followed up with Werner after the talk. "I asked him afterward to clarify if his model had answered his baseline question. Is Earth fucked?" Levitan asked. 

    Werner's response was blunt: "More or less."

    If Earth is doomed, at least humans and bacteria will still be able to eke out an existence in the rubble. 

    Topics: complex, system

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