Re: Coming Ecological Catastrophe

Hal Finney (
Mon, 3 Feb 1997 07:47:42 -0800

From: Anders Sandberg <>
> In my personal ethical system, I regard complex, diverse systems as a
> fundamental good (this is a completely arbitrary basis, but it works quite
> well). This of course implies that a biosphere is something *very*
> valuable, and that keeping it viable and diverse is an ethical act. It
> also implies that ideally, I should not interfere in it to decrease its
> (long run) diversity, and that to achieve this I should also try to
> convince others about the same thing (see the meme? :-).

How about interfering to increase its diversity? Should we seek out
forests which are dominated by one kind of tree, and strive to introduce
competitors? Irrigate the desert?

This seems different from traditional environmentalism. Environmentalists
would usually seek to preserve even rather stark ecosystems.

> On the other hand, how protection and extension of the biosphere should
> be implemented in practice, that is another matter; there are several
> approaches ranging from fiat by nanotechnological superiority to free
> markets, and the debate between them tends to run hot.

Perhaps technology will soon vastly outdo nature in generation of
diversity, comparable to the degree by which rockets outpace cougars.
Our nanites and computers will create ecosystems far exceeding the
complexity and diversity nature has been able to clumsily stumble upon in
its few billion years of undirected evolution. If so, then demolishing
the rain forests and replacing them with the ultra-exotic designed
ecosystems of the future may be the road to maximal diversity. I don't
think we'll sign up many traditional environmentalists for this program.

> BTW, the widespread belief that we are nearing an ecological catastrophy
> might in some sense be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many people seem to
> become passivated by this idea, thinking that it is inevitable and hence
> not doing anything practical about it. And the people who become activated
> by it unfortunately tends to demand harsh solutions with little regard for
> other opinions (after all, they are saving the world). Just goes to show
> that we need to develop the human mind a bit further...

The February 1997 issue of Wired has a nice article on Julian Simon and
his refutations of environmental catastrophism. I am optimistic that
the continual failures of the apocalyptic predictions will eventually sink
in, and that in the next decade we will see a retreat from environmentalism.