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Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

By Bill McKibben
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Falter by Bill McKibben

Falter (2019) provides a rather sobering counterargument to the rash of optimistic books about the present and future that have been appearing on the market lately. Instead of everything being pretty good and set to get even better, author Bill McKibben argues that things are already pretty bad and are on a course to get even worse, due to the threats posed to humanity by climate change, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. He then goes on to provide some suggestions for how we can deal with these threats before it’s too late.  

Key idea 1 of 10

The threat of global warming and environmental destruction is already here.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you already know that global warming and environmental destruction in general present a very real threat to the human game. But what you might not realize is the extent to which the threat isn’t something that lies in the future; it’s already here, in the present, damaging our world as we speak.

Let’s start with some sobering facts and statistics.

Twenty out of the past 30 years have been the hottest ever recorded. As a result of climate change, an entire third of the Earth’s landmass has already been significantly degraded in terms of its ability to support animal life.

At the same time, there have been continually declining trends in the Earth’s ability to provide the plant-based energy upon which that life ultimately depends for sustenance. And since 1970, the overall population of land-based animals has been cut in half.

Now, even if you’re somebody who couldn’t care less about the beauty of nature or the well-being of animals, these facts should be of deep concern to you, if only from a purely selfish standpoint. For instance, rising temperatures have already led to increased wildfires, droughts and lethal heat waves around the world.

And these problems can have huge ramifications for humanity.  

In Syria, for example, one of those droughts caused economic instability that helped to spark the Syrian Civil War, which led to the mass migration of a million Syrian refugees to Europe. That, in turn, provoked the rise of extreme right wing political movements in many European countries, where certain segments of the “native” populations felt threatened by the arrival of so many “foreigners.”  

Meanwhile, in the Earth’s oceans, the average water temperature has risen by up to one degree Fahrenheit in certain locations, such as the coastal waters of Texas.

That might not sound like much, but it was enough to increase the amount of water in the local atmosphere by about three to five percent. As a result, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August 2017, it dumped 127 billion tons of rainwater onto the state – the worst rainstorm in US history.

With that amount of water, you could fill 26,000 stadiums. The water was so heavy that the city of Houston actually sank by a couple of centimeters.

Now, let that fact sink in for a moment – and then realize that it’s just a taste of things to come.

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