What Cosmic Expansion Teaches us About Human Resource Use

Joel Primack: Just as the universe ended its exponential expansion rather abruptly, we’re going to have to do the same thing.

We know that at the beginning of the Big Bang, or depending on how you like to think of it, in the moment just before the Big Bang, the universe underwent a very, very rapid expansion, an exponential expansion.  That means that in any given unit of time the universe expanded by a factor of two, and then in the same amount of time, another factor of two and then another factor of two, and so forth.  This is explosive growth.  And during that period, the skeleton on which the universe would later form, the skeleton of the distribution of galaxies and clusters of galaxies and so forth, was laid down by quantum fluctuations.  


And then, the process ended abruptly.  And the Big Bang started and the universe expanded, but much, much more slowly than this explosive expansion of the exponential inflationary start to the Big Bang.  

How is this relevant for humanity?  Well, we are undergoing an exponential expansion in our numbers and even more rapidly in our use of resources on planet Earth.  And of course, our environmental impacts as a result of the expanding use of our resources.  And this process has to end extremely rapidly over the next generation or so or else the effects on Earth are going to be catastrophic.  We’re just beginning to see the effects of global climate change due to an increase in global temperatures of about one-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit.  

But the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we’ve already emitted have committed us to a much larger increase in global temperatures with corresponding global climate change.  And depending on how rapidly we can bring this tremendous increase in greenhouse gases to a halt and start to reverse it, we may have truly enormous changes in climate.  There are many other examples of the huge impact that we’re having on the earth to our very rapid expansion of the technological use of resources per capita as well as the increase in the number of people.  

So, we’re at the end of an exponential expansion in resource use that began around 1800, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  And just as the universe ended its exponential expansion rather abruptly, we’re going to have to do the same thing.  Now, the universe, after it ended its exponential expansion at the very beginning of the Big Bang, the universe then developed galaxies and within the early galaxies, stars, which began to produce the heavy elements that our planet Earth and we are made out of.  And then after planets of that sort started to form, life evolved.  In other words, all the great things that make the universe so interesting and Earth such a wonderful place for us to live developed during this rather slow period of growth after this exponential expansion of the Big Bang.  

But it’s important to understand that the exponential expansion laid down the whole pattern on which the later development would occur.  That pattern is now being frozen in by the choices that we humans make or don’t make in the last decades of exponential expansion of humanity.  And so I think that the lessons that we can learn from the Big Bang are two-fold.  One, that we can anticipate a wonderful period, a very, very long period of development evolution growth of human consciousness and interactions and wisdom, but at the same time, we have to be aware that the decisions that are being made now are going to have affect over an enormous period of time, probably longer than most humans can even anticipate, certainly many thousands of years.  And so we should begin to think with a very long-term perspective as we go through this tremendously important, essentially unique, human transition of the end of human exponential expansion. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Moon mission 2.0: What humanity will learn by going back to the Moon

Going back to the moon will give us fresh insights about the creation of our solar system.

Videos
  • July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — Apollo 11.
  • Today, we have a strong scientific case for returning to the moon: the original rock samples that we took from the moon revolutionized our view of how Earth and the solar system formed. We could now glean even more insights with fresh, nonchemically-altered samples.
  • NASA plans to send humans to a crater in the South Pole of the moon because it's safer there, and would allow for better communications with people back on Earth.

Top vets urge dog lovers to stop buying pugs and bulldogs

Pugs and bulldogs are incredibly trendy, but experts have massive animal welfare concerns about these genetically manipulated breeds. 

Photo by terriermandotcom.blogspot.com
popular
  • Pugs, Frenchies, boxers, shih-tzus and other flat-faced dog breeds have been trending for at least the last decade.
  • Higher visibility (usually in a celebrity's handbag), an increase in city living (smaller dogs for smaller homes), and possibly even the fine acting of Frank the Pug in 1997's Men in Black may be the cause.
  • These small, specialty pure breeds are seen as the pinnacle of cuteness – they have friendly personalities, endearing odd looks, and are perfect for Stranger Things video montages.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. Air Force warns UFO enthusiasts against storming Area 51

Jokesters and serious Area 51 raiders would be met with military force.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Facebook joke event to "raid Area 51" has already gained 1,000,000 "going" attendees.
  • The U.S. Air Force has issued an official warning to potential "raiders."
  • If anyone actually tries to storm an American military base, the use of deadly force is authorized.
Keep reading Show less