Re: Coming Ecological Catastrophe

Anders Sandberg (
Mon, 3 Feb 1997 19:09:46 +0100 (MET)

On Mon, 3 Feb 1997, Hal Finney wrote:

> 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?

What is more diverse, a djungle and a desert, or two djungles? As I see
it, even if a desert is rather sparse, it contains its own unique
lifeforms that are much more different from the lifeforms of the djungle
than any two comparable djungle lifeforms will ever be. I'm sure this can
be put more stringently, but that is the general idea.

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

That is true. There are many kinds of environmentalism. Some (perhaps the
loudest) want to preserve nature as it was without any human influence (of
course, then we would have to bring back the wooly mammoths :-), beliving
this state to be optimal in some sense (and hence implying that humans
have a negative moral value; not healthy). A more reasonable approach is
the "harmony with nature" idea, which can range from the extreme to the
downright tame. Then there is what I would call the "playing together with
nature" school which I regard myself in: humans play an active role in
nature, let's make the best of it. I'm sure there are many who dislike
this view.

> 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.

Hardly any. In my opinion, I would still think a world with both
rainforests and digital diamond coral reefs would be richer than just a
world covered with the reefs.

I also think it is quite possible we will reach this state. In my studies
of jupiter brains one thing is sure: there is room for *tremendous*
diversity in powerful computing systems. Imagine a Dyson sphere
containing nanocomputers, all of them running an interconnected digital
biosphere at high speed...

> 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.

Ha! You think people will be that rational? Just remember the number of
times Jehova's Witnesses predicted the end of the world at the turn of
the century, and they are still around...

Environmentalism has been retreating lately at least here in Sweden, but
that is mostly due to bad economy. If you have a job, you can afford to
worry about nature, but if it is a choice between unemployment and a tree,
guess what people choose?

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y