In short wise sentences written in “Origins” in December 2009 Phil Poland expressed the possibility that the planet’s next mass extinction may have begun. The topic merits a thread of its own. Title and the discussion’s introduction follow here, slightly modified.

“The next mass extinction may be underway. On a geological scale, a few hundred years is an almost instantaneous event. Population growth and environmental destruction are out of control. Meanwhile, technology builds a house of cards that is higher and more fragile every year. There is no evidence of a political will to fix the problem. Even now, we cannot begin to talk resolutely about world population control. A huge collapse and mass extinction within a few hundred years seems inevitable for these reasons and because of the intransigence of authoritarian religions and the alarming, hostile actions of fundamentalists.”

How did it come about that Homo sapiens in the space of its 200,000 years got itself into such a mess?
What CAN be done about it?
If religion is a principal cause, can religion be marginalised and the threats reduced and eliminated?
Don’t we need to start now? ---- and can the movement be initiated by the piercing discernment of freethinking atheists?
Indeed, can atheists become influential enough to provoke governments and the United Nations into decisive action about a substantial and meaningful population and arms control?

Phil Poland and Terence Meaden

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Replies to This Discussion

By "mass extinction" do you mean the loss of species variation or do you mean a massive die-off which could end civilization? The human population growth is certainly reducing the number of species, and this process has been going on for the past 200,000 years. Religion has been an obstacle in enlighten birth control, but recent studies show that humans will limit their own population growth in spite of religion. Some have predicted that world population will level off at 12 billion. This could mean the end of many more species, but the species favored by humans will flourish.

A world of 12 billion people, but less species variation, may not be bad, assuming we can supply the necessary energy. The problem is that our current energy is carbon based. The global warming scenario could lead to a massive die-off that would not eliminate humans or human favored species, but the loss in numbers could destroy civilization.

The danger is the lack of political will to get off carbon based energy. Right-wing religious groups in the United States has played a disproportional role in keeping the US away from a leadership role to solve the global warming crisis. Fortunately, not all nations are hampered by religious political factions; China comes to mind. The world may have to solve global warming without the US.
I was watching PBS last night, just long enough to catch something said, by a man who's name I don't know... the important thing is what he said, something like, "...the time to disolve an idea is at its inception, because every step along its way it builds momentum." I understood the statement as being true and the very reason why things are the way they are. Anything that has persuaded our societies to change for better or worse has developed in secrecy, allowing for thurough examination of thoughts shared by like minded individuals. Who would travel into the woods, find a cave, ect, to explore ways to make life better(for the most part, obviously, making life better for them and their kind). That was LONG before the internet, which, in my oppinion, is to transparent to help an atheist movement. An Atheist movement, just like the masonic movement or any religious movement, "needs" to, at the very least, be built, germinate and allowed to grow within atheist walls, to become solid, before they are brought to the attention of anyone else, if they are at all.

I guess what I am trying to say is, I do think real change can be made, however the "movement" needs to be an intimate and personal one. Unless you want to say, "Well, we tried.?."

"...the time to disolve an idea is at its inception, because every step along its way it builds momentum."
The problem with this approach, I think, is that it has been tried for over 2,000 years -- since at least the Greeks (in Western culture.) Hiding in Plato's Cave or equivalent for millennia has not done what needs to be done -- to open the Cave to daylight. There has been plenty of "getting our shit together", some of it hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. But it does no good if nobody else hears it.

Anything that has persuaded our societies to change for better or worse has developed in secrecy, ... I don't think the American and French Revolutions developed in secrecy. Maybe particular military or civil disobedience tactics did but the ideas of the Enlightenment were spreading pretty openly and freely through the cultures.

Changes occur when sufficient numbers believe they have sufficient numbers to effect a change. That might be a majority, it may be a smaller number who are confident of winning over the fence-sitters in the process. Especially if the regime being challenged does stupid things in response and trips the tipping point for the wafflers.

The power of personal, grassroot campaigns should not be underestimated but without a larger, more public, campaign, all that will flourish for a little while are local greener spots. Knowing there are others in the same boat can provide hope for those who feel they are fighting a losing battle all by themselves.
In response to the comment "It's even sillier to assume that one group of people is more likely to solve the problem solely based on their belief or disbelief of gods" I respectfully disagree. Those who live in the here and now would seem to have a better chance to offer solutions to problems than those who base their existence on what they'll be doing in their next life.

I fear there is no way to marginalize the threat posed by religion. People will never feel the need to take personal responsibility for their actions (be it a matter of becoming proactive environmentally or something as basic as practicing birth control) as long as they buy into the notion of receiving their rewards in heaven. Why would they? Must be nice to think there's a Grand Poobah perched on a cloud somewhere just waiting to plant a pair of wings on your back, a harp in your hand and you're through the pearly gates to the streets of gold (or 40 virgins or whatever fairytale you happen to like).

That being said I do believe we have a responsibility to try to fight the good fight. I'm just not sure how you can battle such indoctrination on a large scale in a short time.
Theoretically it does. In practice it should only be marginally more difficult than moving mountains, since appeal to emotion has proven a very effective counter to reason for ages. I suggest we start with a simple task - like abolishing the Papacy.
The answer may possibly partly depend on something this:

In an article titled “The church fights back against Islamification”, Damian Thompson (Daily Telegraph, London, 8 January 2010) suggests that “in the long term, the future of Western civilisation can be secured only by an alliance between Christians and secularists against the totalitarian ideology of Islamism.”

He explains: “. . . the Church’s respect for the dignity of the human person is broadly shared by those secular intellectuals committed to a free society. The Pope recognises this, which is why he has spent so much time talking to them; so does Bishop Nazir-Ali, whose friends include atheist thinkers whose respect for the West’s Christian heritage is far greater than that of Muslim community leaders or their multiculturalist allies.”
In terms of loss of species the consensus in the scientific community is that we are currently undergoing the Sixth Mass extinction. This was pretty much clear 10 years ago and widely discussed 30 years ago: so its hardly a news flash - does anyone even remember the Diversity Summit at the Hague in 2002? It would be nice to go into a discussion about the validity of the data and whether it has been correctly interpreted or even whether ELE's matter considering the earth is still here after five of them, but that's rather beside the point.

As for religion being the cause; I fail to see any evidence for this. What or which exactly "intransigence of authoritarian religions and the alarming, hostile actions of fundamentalists" are responsible? Perhaps for cultural genocide, racism and untold millennias of human suffering but that hardly translates into environmental overexploitation and overpopulation. With regards to the latter we can unfortunately blame the Green Revolution (resulting in a reliance on petrochemical derived fertilisers) and vast improvements in medicine. On the bright side the UN expect the population to level off at 9 billion, but then again the UN is possibly one of the most ineffectual, corrupt and self-aggrandizing institutions aside from the one in Rome. Clearly relying on the UN to provide positive action in controlling human population numbers and arm control is hope mislaid and they'd rather let natural forces do their work.

Ultimately the cause is human greed, shortsightedness, apathy and indifference are responsible which would be present whether religion existed or not. For example China is hardly guided by religious principles considering that "state atheism" has been implemented since 1949, yet tragically the Chinese have one of the worst environmental records of any country. Which neatly brings me onto my next point the use of the term "atheist" in your question is a misnomer as from my humble point of view: people who don't believe in god(s) don't necessarily share the same morality or ideology; for example Stalin could hardly be called a Humanist but he was an atheist (and yes I know he trained to be a priest).

As for the influence of "atheists" on government; it entirely depends on the veracity, drive and organisation of the "group" and the leaders within it to motivate the general populous as democratic governments/parties (and specifically those) will only act when its in their own best interest in retaining or gaining power. Surely the best way is to join the political system?

What is needed at least in Europe is some real gutsy leadership and long-term clear cross-party plans on dealing with our energy dependency on fossil fuels and food security. At the moment taxing "non-green" modes of transportation, recycling and efficiency are the terms of use when really a more radical shift in the way we live and how our economy is run is required, with enforced deadlines for transition. For example the European Parliament unbundled the electricity Grid in 2008 and the power companies vaguely promised carbon neutrality by 2050. Considering the technology to transport electricity 7000km exists in HVDC lines; solar-wind plants have been designed, built and shown to work; the sahara is uninhabited and an ideal location; a mega-project could have been state funded by the trillions spent bailing out corrupt bankers - generating millions of jobs AND completed within a decade. So why hasn't this happened already? I'm sure Buckminster Fuller who dreamed this up back in the 70's wouldn't be so optimistic at our present idiocy.
Too bad. Your contributions are thoughtful and appreciated. The fact that they come from so young a person made them even more worthwhile. Teens open to philosophical debate are a rare breed.
i do not believe we are on our way to a mass extinction. but it is scary that people have been emotionally beaten to believe, in their youth, they are worthless and evil for stupid reasons which make them desire to be controlled by something more powerful then themselves. which there is no such thing. i think a good start is to build people up instead of taring them down. the individual must learn they need to help each other. not something bigger than they are.
one step at a time. i believe having and raising children or teaching them about how strong they are and when circumstances push them down they can push themselves back up. warn them it will be a hard road and if they need something to help them emotionally refer them to meet up groups and websites like this. encourage intelligence not ignorence. as long as we are there as an individual to help other individuals we are doing our part.
I think humans are destined to keep making the same mistakes. Occasionally, an individual may develop into a genuinely mature adult over the course of a life time.... But the next generation starts over at square 1 (or there abouts)and must learn the exact same life lessons as their predecessors.
I know that species come and go and that humans too will become extinct one day, but why does this extinction need to happen in such a harmful way to other species? Because of our history, chemistry, and psychology? Because we were born into a violent world we must exercise violence to a fault? Because our brain chemistry has been warped by our becoming civilized? Because most human's psychology can not bare up under the weight of sentience?

One of the things that I don't think is stressed enough in discussions of evolution is the "places" or "niches" which life fills. Australia with its marsupials has its equivalents of dogs, cats, moles, etc. Same kind of things in other places. There are many openings in the tree of life job world -- somehow, something seems to develop to fit the openings in the current environment.

Dinosaurs had to disappear for large mammals (like us) to have a chance. Maybe we are the dinosaurs of our times. But the other niches still seem to be doing pretty well overall.

So, I don't find it disheartening but inspiring how true "evolution is smarter than you" really is.



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