Eminent Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox, predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change. “We’ll undergo the same fate as the people on Easter Island," he says.
Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world. Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA." Wells is director of the Genographic Project, launched in 2005 to study anthropology using genetics.
The migrations of humans out of Africa to populate the rest of the world appear to have begun about 60,000 years ago, but little has been known about humans between Eve and that dispersal. The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa which appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago.
The researchers led by Doron Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel and Saharon Rosset of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and Tel Aviv University concluded that humans separated into small populations prior to the Stone Age, when they came back together and began to increase in numbers and spread to other areas.
Eastern Africa experienced a series of severe droughts between 135,000 and 90,000 years ago and the researchers said this climatological shift may have contributed to the population changes, dividing into small, isolated groups which developed independently. Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, commented:
"Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction." Today more than 6.6 billion people inhabit the globe, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Frank Fenner, emeritus professor of microbiology at the Australian National University (ANU), says homo sapiens will not be able to survive the population explosion and “unbridled consumption,” and will become extinct, perhaps within a century, along with many other species. United Nations official figures from last year estimate the human population is 6.8 billion, and is predicted to pass seven billion next year.
Fenner told The Australian he tries not to express his pessimism because people are trying to do something, but keep putting it off. He said he believes the situation is irreversible, and it is too late because the effects we have had on Earth since industrialization (a period now known to scientists unofficially as the Anthropocene) rivals any effects of ice ages or comet impacts.
Fenner said that climate change is only at its beginning, but is likely to be the cause of our extinction.
“We’ll undergo the same fate as the people on Easter Island,” he said. More people means fewer resources, and Fenner predicts “there will be a lot more wars over food.”
Easter Island is famous for its massive stone statues. Polynesian people settled there, in what was then a pristine tropical island, around the middle of the first millennium AD. The population grew slowly at first and then exploded. As the population grew the forests were wiped out and all the tree animals became extinct, both with devastating consequences.
After about 1600 the civilization began to collapse, and had virtually disappeared by the mid-19th century. Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond said the parallels between what happened on Easter Island and what is occurring today on the planet as a whole are “chillingly obvious.”
While many scientists are also pessimistic, others are more optimistic. Among the latter is a colleague of Professor Fenner, retired professor Stephen Boyden, who said he still hopes awareness of the problems will rise and the required revolutionary changes will be made to achieve ecological sustainability.
“While there's a glimmer of hope, it's worth working to solve the problem. We have the scientific knowledge to do it but we don't have the political will,” Boyden said.
The Daily Galaxy via Stanford University
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