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Easter Island Shows Why Humanity Will Be Extinct Within 100 Years
We’re about to kick off the sixth great extinction event. And we’ll follow shortly after.
Like any other system, capitalism has its positive and negative qualities. Inarguably, it has lifted nearly a billion across the globe out of extreme poverty, between 1990 and 2010. But as with other socioeconomic systems of the past, such as with feudalism, a time can come when revolutionary changes make such systems anachronistic. So too has capitalism’s time come, at least the kind which exploits the biosphere.
A more sophisticated system must replace it. One reason is because we are on the verge of a technological shift which will make almost all working and middle class jobs obsolete within the next 25 years or so. Currently, middle and working class families are already getting squeezed in developed countries. Their wages have remained stagnant for decades while costs have steadily risen.
Today, 15% of the US population is below the poverty line. If you include children under age 18, the number is 20%. All the gains in productivity over the last several decades have gone to the top one percent of income earners, while the economic prospects for the vast majority stagnated or worsened. Then there’s the environmental impact. We’re about to kick off the sixth great extinction event, and we'll follow shortly after.
10% of all animals and plants will vanish from the Earth by 2050, according to biologists from Leeds University in the UK. That’s over a million species, all due to human enterprises, leading to what’s being called anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Say goodbye to leatherback turtles, rhinos, elephants, and almost every large predator. There’s a reason why the “Doomsday Clock,” which used to predict the likelihood of nuclear annihilation, is now two minutes and thirty seconds from midnight. It crept closer by half a minute last January.
Elephants and other large land animals aren’t expected to be with us much longer.
Deforestation, infrastructure projects, overfishing, commercial agriculture, and widespread usage of fossil fuels are together, causing an extinction rate 1,000 times faster than all other events in the last 65 million years. Overfishing alone is set to erase commercial fishing by 2050, as marine environments will no longer be able to replenish themselves. No one knows how this will effect world ecosystems or human populations. Three billion people in the world today depend on fish as a part of their diet.
Yale sociologist Justin Farrell says that corporations have used their great wealth for over two decades to sew uncertainty about climate change in the public, to a level that doesn’t exist among the scientific community. The authors of the book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations, say companies will only become more exploitive. This linear, constant growth model can only hollow out the Earth and exhaust all resources, leaving nothing behind. But it isn’t just the destruction of the environment. Overpopulation also plays a role.
By midcentury, there is set to be an explosion of city dwellers. This will result in overcrowding, greater spreading of infectious diseases, and more strain on water supplies and sanitation. Since our cities are terrible at conserving energy, more fossil fuels will be consumed, accelerating global warming. We’ll also see more deaths from air pollution.
Sea levels are rising 25% faster than predicted in the 1990’s. Most people in the world live by the coast or rivers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that US coastal cities will see daily flooding by 2050. While some places grow wetter, others become dryer. Those cities that get their water from snowmelt will see less and less of it. This includes the parched but highly populated American Southwest, not to mention Southern California—the most populous state.
US coastal cities could see near daily flooding by 2050, the NOAA warns.
Today, 1.1 billion lack proper access to water. But that number is expected to grow to two billion by 2050. Another 9.7 billion will live in water stressed areas, according to researchers at MIT. Lack of water to irrigate crops could also threaten the global food supply. Food production will drop two percent by 2050 projections claim, with staples like corn, wheat, and millet yields plunging 10%, one forecast claims.
Climate change, “unbridled consumption” and overpopulation have lead Prof. Frank Fenner of Australian National University, to predict that humanity will be extinct within a century. Fenner is an emeritus professor of microbiology, famous for helping rid the world of smallpox. He told The Australian in 2010 that he believes the decline of humanity is irreversible.
Fenner used the disappearance of the inhabitants of Easter Island as an example. It was sudden population growth which swallowed the resources of the island, making the civilization that formed there unsustainable. “There will be a lot more wars over food,” Fenner predicts. Water resources might become another flashpoint. China and India have already fought over disputed water rights, and lots of hotspots around the world could easily plunge into war.
Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond had called the comparison between our global situation and Easter Island “chillingly obvious.” Fenner’s colleague, retired professor Stephen Boyden, is more optimistic. It isn’t scientific capability but the political will that serves as an obstacle, he said.
Easter Island’s advanced society dried up by the time Europeans arrived, due to over population and a lack of resources.
Shared ownership is one idea that can have a powerful impact. 70% of the public stock exchange today is owned by fund managers and financial institutions that have no stake in the areas where companies operate. Meanwhile, equity in such companies is controlled by a CEO and a handful of top executives. If we got corporations or their equity into the hands of the stakeholders who live where these companies operate, the ability of those enterprises to exploit the environment would become limited. Cooperatives and other forms of collective enterprise could also work. But these actions won’t be enough.
We’ll have to decide on an individual basis to vote with our dollars. Those companies who are ecologically exploitive should see their customers run to responsible competitors. More peaceful demonstrations and protests must be conducted to keep the issue in the public’s mind. We also have to change how we live, dramatically. Everyone should recycle, eat less meat, and compost. Clean energy initiatives should be erected at the largest scale possible. The food waste problem must also be addressed. Almost 800 million worldwide suffer food insecurity today, while a fifth of the world’s food is lost through waste or overeating. Dramatic changes must occur or the Earth will lose much and we may lose it all.
To learn more about the sixth great extinction event, click here:
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."