Sunday, February 23, 2014

Climate Change and counting humans

Assume that climate is changing and the agency for the change is the species Homo sapiens. Assume also that the theory of evolution by natural selection is more than a theory and in its foundational aspects, it is the truth. One further assumption – climate change creates new environmental and ecological niches.
Now, what does it say about the number of humans who have ever been born (or conceived, if you are pro-life), not now, but at some long time in the future, say a couple of millennia later? The time frame I am talking about in this regard includes the possibility of further speciation of Homo sapiens.
Homo sapiens is the result of the latest event of speciation of the genus Hominid. So, when you are trying to figure out how many humans have ever lived even as of now, we need to go back some tens of thousands of years. This exercise has been carried out and I have read that as many as 60 billion humans have been born since the last speciation. I had posted on this in a different context [1], but here I plan to take off on a different line of thought. Please stay with me.
Recently I read that this number – the number of humans who have ever been born – has been upped to 108 billion, counting from about 50,000 years ago as the date of the most recent speciation giving rise to our species. In the deepest discussions on biological evolution, there is a severe argument going on whether evolution has stopped along the Homo sapiens line. This is an interesting question that bears on how we think about climate change and what it foretells for the future of human life.
The evangelicals in the US have it easy, as they do not have to ponder over such weighty questions. They have God’s promise to Noah after the floods (a qualified omnipotence) – “Never again will I destroy all living creatures.” [2]. Ergo, the doomsday scenario consequent upon climate change as sketched out by the votaries of AGW is hocus pocus. But, in my humble opinion, they had not cottoned onto God’s deviousness! I will come to it later.
But for the others, the question boils down to who human beings are. Is what we call, self-assuredly and vain gloriously, our level of self-awareness as the ultimate and all that there is to being a human being? What if a species arose that is more self-aware than we are? Is this possible, is self-awareness a graded quality? I would imagine so as a newborn is not as self-aware as a grown adult. It has got brain development as its crux.
We do not know what will follow us, if anything. Please understand that the event of a speciation is discernible only post facto. We can assert speciation only by noting, long after speciation has occurred, that the new species is not able to fruitfully mate with its ancestor.
I wish to argue that speciation should be the central theme of the discussions on climate change. The climate change proponents implicitly argue for delaying further speciation, which is inevitable if the environmental and ecological niches that support human life change. The GREENS want human beings, as they are, to survive for as long as possible.
It is not just the matter of low lying lands being inundated, killing lot many people. It is not just matter of more devastating hurricanes. It is not merely deserts becoming arable lands and vice versa. It is that the warming of the world that will create new niches for which we, the current Homo sapiens, may be ill suited. For example, mosquitoes going places where they have not gone before. Some mutation in the human genome will occur that would find itself in a better position to exploit the extant conditions. This may go beyond the technological capabilities of our species. Your geo-engineering can get you thus far, not as far as evolution by natural selection.
The above implies that there is a definitive upper limit to the number of human beings who would have been born, through the course of history of evolution of Homo sapiens. This is an uncomforting thought for those who worry about climate change.
Now, coming to the evangelicals, please understand that God did not promise that human beings will always be there. He was talking about life as such going extinct on the planet. He will not “destroy all living creatures”. But, there is no implicit guarantee for Homo sapiens. Now, it appears that these evangelicals, who are also opposed to the theory of evolution by natural selection, are not worried about human life, as it is now, but are content with the knowledge that life will survive, as God promised.
My argument must make evangelicals very uncomfortable, on two counts. One, God is devious. Two, he gave a promise as lawyers do, hedging every which way! He never promised that evangelicals will survive climate change. He merely promised that life as such, with or without Homo sapiens, will survive on earth. It is for human beings to take care of themselves.
This is what those who argue for mitigation and adaptation in the light of AGW argue for. And, I am with them; indeed I am one of them.
Raghuram Ekambaram



dsampath said...

may be
you are right..

mandakolathur said...

I am just speculating, DS sir ...