Earlier, I discussed how faulty the human brain can be on account of its evolutionary origin and the role of natural selection in the development of the brain. But the role of culture cannot be overlooked, either. In particular, doomsday prophecies, especially those derived from Biblical knowledge, have invariably come up short. There is just no way to find the expiration date on our society by checking scripture. But that doesn’t mean that our society is going to last forever. We may not know when the last call on our civilization is coming or how it’s all going to end, but we can brace ourselves against the certainty that if we wait long enough, the survival rate of any society is zero. So if we don’t know when or where or how our way of life will come to an end, how do we protect ourselves from the final blow? Some scientists have weighed in on the likelihood of many doomsday scenarios, and have calculated the probability that any one situation will result in the end of the world. While we may not know how the world is going to end, we can know what is necessary to our continued survival on this planet and assess how vulnerable those assets are to changes in our environment. For instance, humans draw everything they need from the ecology around them. In order to assure our continued survival, we need to take care of the natural world and preserve the biodiversity of life on this planet. We also need to preserve our culture and knowledge for future generations to benefit from and build off of our legacy.
The Georgia Guidestones are a monument meant to endure through the end of days. Inscribed on the granite face of these pillars are commandments for other civilizations to heed when life as we know it no longer exists. The commandments range from the practical such affirming the need to balance personal rights with social duties, to the bizarre call to unite humanity with a living new language, to the downright disturbing demand to cap humanity’s population below 5.5 billion and to guide reproduction wisely. Little is know about why its benefactor erected the monolith; Robert C. Christian came to Elbert County, Georgia in June 1979 and commissioned Elberton Granite Finishing Company President Joe Fendley to quarry a massive block of granite out of which he and a group of “loyal Americans” could construct a 6 meter tall, 110 metric ton astronomical instrument. Inscribed on its granite blocks is a list of commandments written out in twelve languages. When word began to spread that this enigmatic man was funding such a bizarre project in rural Georgia, it attracted the ire of nearby religious groups whilst simultaneously attracting Wiccans to pilgrimage to the site. No living person, except for Wyatt Martin, a confidante of R.C. Christian, knows the true purpose of the Georgia Guidestones, leading many to speculate about its mystical purpose or sinister purpose. Like Christian, many doomsday preppers have taken steps to address Armageddon, stocking up on canned food items and gasoline to make it through the end of days. But are governments prepared for our collapse? If so, what steps have we taken to ensure we can rebuild our civilization after the fall?
The Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway is a heavily-fortified bank that houses the potential of our world’s botanical diversity. It was started by conservationist Cary Fowler working with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Norwegian government, the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) and financial support from governments around the world. Built deep into the permafrost of the Norwegian snow, the natural freezer-like conditions of the surrounding geology will help keep the plants suspended in hibernation if the electricity fails. Across the ocean, the Millennium Seed Bank Project coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens has also cataloged the biodiversity of the plant kingdom. Working with the United Nations as part of the Millennium Development Goals, the Millennium Seed Bank Project is the largest ex-situ conservation project in the world. Researchers at the Royal Botanical Gardens predict that between 60,000 and 100,000 plant species are faced with the threat of extinction, which accounts for about a quarter of all plant species. To date, the Millennium Seed Bank Project has preserved the seeds of 10% of all dryland plant species known to science, with the goal of reaching 20% of all dryland plant species by the year 2025. Should climate change or any other unforeseen global catastrophe spell extinction for our rarest and most delicate plant species, the Svalbard Seed Vault and the Millennium Seed Bank Project assures that we will have samples to repopulate the world when the damage is mediated.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman has pondered the end of the world. In a recent presentation that he gave during a Long Now Foundation conference, Eagleman highlights six ways that we can help avert disaster before they strike, how to build more resilient systems that can withstand disasters when it strikes, and how to rebuild systems after disaster strikes to ensure that loss is minimized. Eagleman highlights the importance of the internet to our continued survival and warns that the internet is especially vulnerable in the 21st Century to assaults from cyber-terrorists. Computer viruses aren’t the only concern; outbreaks can become full-blown epidemics if the contagion can pass from one human being to another, therefore, the internet can be used to identify areas where diseases are spreading and on-line tools like skype or WebMD can diagnose patients without ever making them come in contact other human beings and spreading the contagion. Furthermore, the internet can be used to transmit emergency warnings to ensure a rapid response to natural disasters. The internet can be used as a lifeline to unbiased information in countries ruled by a despotic dictator; it can also be used to organize citizens against tyrants and foment a revolution, as the world saw in the Arab Uprisings of 2011. The internet can provide us with several ways to disaster-proof our society, but only if we take steps to disaster-proof our internet. Not only do we need to archive information in case the internet goes down but we need to archive information about how to rebuild the internet.