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sasa sasa: on 4/25/17 at 2:03am UTC, wrote iinfo mengenai OBAT DARAH TINGGI untuk mereka yang sedang mencari OBAT...

David Wiltshire: on 6/6/14 at 21:04pm UTC, wrote An excellent essay, Flavio. While you draw on Jared Diamond a lot, there...

Peter Jackson: on 6/6/14 at 20:47pm UTC, wrote Flavio, Thanks for your question on mine, I reproduce my answer below for...

James Hoover: on 6/5/14 at 21:42pm UTC, wrote Flavio, Clever title and clever first section: "Who's the stonehead now?"...

Janko Kokosar: on 6/5/14 at 20:43pm UTC, wrote Dear Flavio Mercati You found good and very clear examples for depletion...

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December 11, 2017

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: U-turn or u die by Flavio Mercati [refresh]
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Author Flavio Mercati wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 13:59 GMT
Essay Abstract

Humanity is at a turning point in its history: it is rapidly reaching the limits of its development in its current form. The whole of humanity now faces a situation which several human societies encountered in the past: their success depended for a long time on unsustainable exploitation of their ecosystem, which they thereby destroyed. Many of those societies perished, typically at the height of an exponential growth. However, some of them changed their ways, and survived for a long time in equilibrium with their environment. There are many well known reasons for us to do the same and change course as quickly as possible. In this essay I want to stress a further such motivation: we need to save the biodiversity of our planet from the mass extinction we have triggered. The reason to do so is, apart from our immediate survival, the fact that on a very long timescale we will end up valuing this biodiversity more than any other resource present in the Universe. In fact Terrestrial Life is a unique feature of our planet, not to be encountered anywhere else in our Universe, while all the other (energetic and mineral) resources we consider so important are absolutely abundant. We value them only because they are hard to get with present technology. But in the future, if we survive the impending ecological collapse, we will have to colonize and `terraform' other planets, and the huge diversity of life forms on Earth will become the most precious thing in the Universe, for it will be necessary to create functioning ecosystems on other planets. Life forms which we have little regard for now, and we are bringing to the edge of extinction while pursuing our immediate needs, might turn out to be essential for our survival in the future.

Author Bio

F. Mercati is a postdoctoral researcher at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He got his PhD from the University of Rome `Sapienza' in 2010. After that, he held postdoctoral positions in Zaragoza, Spain and Nottingham, UK. Mercati works on Quantum Gravity, and is one of the proponents of a new theory of gravity called `Shape Dynamics'.

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 18:23 GMT
Diversity of life stabilizes resistance to evolving new pathogens. The Earth naturally produces vary large volumes of Greenhouse gasses.

The evolving of change needs to be done so intelligently.

If we adopt a loving partnership with all life (maximizing diversity) then our space-based and colonized worlds should similarly be based upon the largest diversity of life consistent and sustainable with the existing resources. Or in the case of terr-forming, to provide the resources to support an equalized sustainable eco-system.

But because of naturally caused degradation, a weather control system will be required to offset the influences of both natural causes and human causes.

A broadly controlled ethical system will need to monitor everything (NSA) so that corruption (illegal/unethical allocation) does not destroy the delicate equilibrium in support of personal gains.

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Alan M. Kadin wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 22:49 GMT
Dr. Mercati,

I read your essay with interest. I agree with your observation that there is a developing worldwide ecological disaster, but in my essay I focus on the one approach that will mitigate the problem: "Just Too Many People: Towards a Sustainable Future Earth". We have already overshot the sustainable carrying capacity of the globe, and we need to reduce the population. On the one hand, this is obvious; on the other, nobody wants to admit this. I suggest 1-2 billion as a long-term goal. That was the population during the 19th century.

Alan Kadin

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 6, 2014 @ 14:47 GMT
Dear Kadin,

I agree with you that a reduction of the population is desirable. The number of humans on Earth should obviously be determined by the capacity of the planet to support them sustainably, and not left to chance. However I think that at the moment we are facing a crisis which puts the overpopulation problem somewhat in the background: it is the growth in the per-capita impact of developing countries. That has the potential of multiplying by an order of magnitude our current ecological footprints, with terrifying consequences.



Ross Cevenst wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 09:27 GMT
Interesting essay Flavio. I think you're right as to how, if we achieve large-scale interplanetary colonisation, we will look back upon this period with considerable dismay.

I wrote an article with similar arguments recently. It's slightly different style but its a quick read if you're interested:

I think the measures you propose are logical but would be widely opposed, so I think its worth us considering other measures that might be taken. The UN recently suggested insects as a far more efficient source of protein, though I think that will also be a difficult sell in Western countries. More thought is clearly needed on this topic.

I think your arguments also lend weight to the need for an accelerated space program, however my understanding is that actual large-scale colonisation is so insanely high in energy costs that we won't be getting a release in population pressure from that direction for many decades to come. Still, perhaps a breakthrough or two in exploration would help inform our thinking on the topics you discuss.

Thanks for a great essay, I hope you have a chance to view and rate my own entry at some point:

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 6, 2014 @ 14:52 GMT
Thank you Ross,

I agree that space colonization won't help at all mitigating the population problem. It is something for the more or less far future, as at the moment it is overwhelmingly beyond our powers. So we need to fix our problems at home now, counting on having only one planet. If we fail at that we won't have any chance to even think about a colonization program.

I'll read your essay and article asap.



Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 16:05 GMT
Dear Flavio,

your idea of contrasting the relative `values` of living matter (terrestrial life) and non living matter (e.g. oil), here and now as opposed to in the outer space in the future, is interesting, and well expressed. I like also the image of the biosphere as a sort of multi-purpose swiss knife that can be used for future experiments of ecosystem creation in otherwise hostile,...

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 19:24 GMT
Hi Tommaso, thank you for your cooments.

1. I take your point, but I still think that even the rarest and/or hardest to collect resources are a piece of cake compared to the challenge of reviving a species that got extinct in the past!Btw, I haven't mentioned the possibility of gene banks in my essay... it m..ght be a good idea, but of course it's not at all like having them alive with their working environments.

Re oil, well you might not find it in gas giants, but yhey're certainly full of hydrocarbons of all sorts. Sure, it would require more energy to extract them than the energy they contain... not that I think that spacefaring civilizatafions would go after fossifuel for real! that was more for. the sake of the argument

Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 19:44 GMT
2. Yes there are of course, bus as you say their hospitality is massively offset by their distance and the trouble of getting there. Massively.

3. I respect your opinion. My impression is that people tends to overestimate the possibilities of technology. Also because most of us live in virtually completely artificial environments, like cities, and it looks like our necessities are all satisfied by machines. Well that is a false impression, I think, because we don't have in front of our eyes the huge amount of work that the biosphere is doing to allow us to survive (or we are forcing it to do for us). We are still essentially an (industrialized) agricultural society. Also the air we breathe and the water we use are a cocktail produced by the biosphere. The question is: could a human society survive on a planet without terraforming, without a biosphere? At the moment it's obviously impossible. I guess this question will be answered here, on Earth: if we complete the `ecocide' we started, we will have to learn how to survive in a lifeless dystopia. If we can do that, we will maybe be able to export that model to other planets. I just don't think that works very well: with present technology we're bound to go extinct, in such a scenario. And the kind of technological advances that we would need look extremely far in the future, to me, if not impossible altogether.

anyway thanks again for the comments and best regards,


William Amos Carine wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 20:53 GMT
Hi Mercati,

As a comment, the driving sense of concern for life in this essay was found very motivational!

I do not have much faith in our ability to find other life giving conditions. I don't know about it to any arguable extent, but it the little I caught on quickie articles or blurbs here and there just seems hopelessly basic. I wonder if you have any comments on this topic and the general feasibility of pinpointing life outside of the earth system. Any additional information about where to look for more on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

I think there is a fair number of people in Sweden who only eat game meat, if that is ever a valuable tid-bit for your use!

Best regards,

Amos C.

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 20:07 GMT
Thank you Amos.

If I understood you're asking what are our chances to detect life in other solar systems?

At the moment it's not possible, but I am kind of hopeful for the not-too-distant future.

One possibility is that, if we improve our ability to detect the spectrum of light scattered by the atmosphere of an exoplanet, then we might find a `smoking gun' for the existence of life there, by examining the composition of these atmospheres. Look at this amazing TED talk:

thank you again and all the best,


Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on May. 1, 2014 @ 13:16 GMT
Flavio, from what I can tell, the way we will make this U turn is by focusing on taking good care of ourselves, honestly and consciously, rather than leaving our health and growth up to corporate governments and other "authorities". Once we concentrate our available resources, as individuals, on serving our biological needs (see: Maslow), instead of serving institutions and hoping they will serve us in return, I see that we'll have eliminated most, if not all, of the roadblocks that have been getting in the way of our planet flourishing. In other words, the solution will be bottom-up and naturally emergent, rather than top-down and artificial/forced.

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 20:20 GMT
Dear Turil,

unfortunately we seem to be very attached to things like social injustice, handing over all our rights and power to corporations and private interests, and so on... I agree that it would be great to remove all the `roadblocks' that get in the way of a truly just and enlightened society. But I'm afraid that if we have to wait for that utopia to be realized in order to solve our environmental problems, then we're even more in trouble than I suggested in my essay...



Turil Sweden Cronburg replied on May. 11, 2014 @ 21:26 GMT
Flavio, we won't have to wait, and it's not utopia, it's the normal, automatic evolution of life. It's what we're made to do. (If you read my essay, you'll see the logic behind this is pretty much rock solid.) There's no guarantee that we'll succeed, but there is nearly a guarantee that it's what we're designed to do by physics and genes.

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James A Putnam wrote on May. 1, 2014 @ 16:02 GMT
Flavio Mercati,

This is a good essay well suited for the subject. It deserves to do well in this contest. Thoughtful, well developed, balanced, and opinionated in a tolerant manner. It gets a high rating.

James Putnam

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 20:21 GMT
Thanks a lot, I appreciate...


Georgina Woodward wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 01:25 GMT
Hi Flavio,

I really enjoyed reading your essay. The comparisons and lessons to be learned from different island civilizations are great. I agree with you about the value of terrestrial life.I like that you went from a very pessimistic outlook to one of hope that our behaviour can be reversed.U-turn or u die is a catchy slogan.

Have you come accross this brilliant TED talk?How to green the world and stop climate change,Allan SavoryThis guy has made a u-turn as he once was advocating mass slaughter of animals to prevent desertification but is now advocating their return in greater numbers to reclaim damaged land.

I hope your essay does well,as you are giving really good advice backed up by important lessons from history.You could have ticked another box by getting some science in there but nevertheless a good approach to the question and an excellent read. Good Luck, Georgina

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 21:35 GMT
Thank you very much Georgina!

And thank you for the TED talk, I'll check it out immediately.



Eckard Blumschein wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 05:07 GMT
Hi Flavio,

Currently essays are on top which claim serving the world. I wonder if you don't agree with them and will vote accordingly ;). I was not heard when I objected that common sense tends to use the expression "save the world" with an ironic undertone. The question is: save from what?

Karl Marx observed cyclic economic crises and envisioned a general one because in capitalism goods are jointly produced but privately appropriated. The Latin word privare means to steal. Well, inequality might be unfair to some extent. However, is mankind and its basis the Earth really endangered by economic bubbles and social inequality?

Or should we follow Shirazi and fight against political ponerology?

Or will loving-kindness save us from all evil?

Or should we accept our fate?

I think the name FQXi reminds us to strive for revealing more foundational questions. What might be wrong in our ideals of humanity and responsibility?

Some essays are dealing with growth of population as "alarming". Kadin's good essay didn't get much support because it collides with old doctrines. I agree with him: The logical contradiction between continuing forever growth and limited basics suggest a taboo question: how many people does humanity need?

My essay tries to reveal a related necessity: We all must outlaw nationalism and aggressive religions in order to save global peace.

While your essay more dramatizes the need for responsibility I got the impression you are evading unwelcome conclusions. What do you mean? How many people does the Earth need?

Also you wrote:

"we will have to colonize and `terraform' other planets".

I maintain: According to my knowledge, this is not an option at all.

Nonetheless, I strongly support our common position.



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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 21:49 GMT
Dear Eckard,

what "unwelcome conclusions" do you suggest I'm evading?

Is it the conclusion that we need ro reduce our population?

On the contrary, I support this idea. I don't see why it should be "unelcome" or embarassing:

advocating population reducion doesn't mean to support mass murder! The population can (and will) be reduced by birth control. The responsible for the worldwide birth rate recently going below replacement level was ultimately the emancipation of women in countries where they were having many children...



Anonymous replied on May. 14, 2014 @ 15:35 GMT
Dear Flavio,

My most unwelcome primary conclusion is that our basic ethical perspective and perhaps also the perspective taken in mathematics and physics not just by the Perimeter Institute deserve scrutiny without taboos and most likely corrections.

I confess having killed my possible sibling when my mother asked me whether I would like to have a small brother or sister and I...

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James Dunn wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 18:36 GMT
Do not introduce technology, or the opportunity to support technology use by the mining of resources in eco-systems. The local increase in population destroys the local eco-system. Bigger populations are not progress. There is more starving people today than there were 100 years ago, because we look at percentages in statistics and not the total number impacted.

Many people's sole purpose in life is reproduction; offering little and contributing to the destroying of eco-systems.

I tend to convey disdain to media activists in "Feed the Children" marketing, because they do NOT convey any information about the total impacts they have on the eco-systems impacted by their efforts.

I would rather teach a small community how to better coexist with the local eco-system to include serious methods of limiting population growth to what the local environment can support.

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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 18:44 GMT
Dear Mercati,

Your writing, "even if our development came to a full stop now, that would probably not arrest the ongoing ecological collapse. We need to make a U-turn, and start operating actively to heal our environment." is true.

But what I think is that the Earth is having its own metamorphosis cycle, in that we may delay the commencement of its destructive phase on organic matter, by regulating anthropogenesis.

Apart from this I think, massive use of solar panels will increase the anisotropic radiation of Earth and thereby we may anticipate remarkable delay in the commencement of the destructive phase in the metamorphosis cycle of Earth on its organic matter.

With best wishes,


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Anonymous wrote on May. 3, 2014 @ 13:11 GMT
Dear Flavio,

Your passionately argued essay made some good points:

* That terrestrial life is effectively UNIQUE in the universe. I would add that Fermi's Paradox indicates fairly conclusively that we are also alone in being the only intelligent species. Otherwise the Milky Way would be lit up with the Cherenkov radiation of starships.

* North Americans eat too much...

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Tihamer T. Toth-Fejel replied on May. 3, 2014 @ 13:18 GMT
Apparently, if you don't type fast enough, FQXi logs you off, and then accepts your submission as anonymous. I guess that gives trolls opportunities to leave anonymous messages, but they'd have to be *awfully* patient. Maybe it's a feature, not a bug. :-)


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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 9, 2014 @ 12:57 GMT
Thank you Tee, you raised some interesting points. It is true that higher wealth correlates with higher environmental responsibility. But i would be careful with the per capita GDP as an indicator of wealth: the US have a high per capita GDP but also a huge inequality in the distribution of wealth: it's really two countries, one with a tiny population and an enormous concentration of wealth, and another one which is doing way worse...



Member John C Baez wrote on May. 3, 2014 @ 18:28 GMT
I think this is a great essay. I wanted the Azimuth Project to write an essay on a similar theme, but this makes that unnecessary.

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Eckard Blumschein replied on May. 6, 2014 @ 15:56 GMT
Hi John Baez,

May I ask you to assist Flavio and reply to my question and objections instead of him?


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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 9, 2014 @ 12:58 GMT
Thank you professor Baez,

I strongly support the ideals and motivations of the Azimuth Project.

best regards,


Anonymous replied on May. 27, 2014 @ 07:49 GMT

Having looked at the Azimuth Project, I maintain my unwelcome question:"What do you mean? How many people does the Earth need?"

I see all the problems listed in the project ultimately based on that unanswered question. Therefore the question is a foundational one while the huge majority of contestants seem to believe that it might be best to merely mitigate the symptoms mentioned in the Azimuth project by means of even better education, treatment of science as a playground (Dickau), meditation (Singh), improved peer review (Gibbs), etc.

U wrote you turn or you die. Isn't "turn" somewhat cryptic? What exactly must decrease and to what extent? You will agree on that in the long run global consumption of resources will anyway necessarily decrease while problems with waste etc. will increase, and it is at least reasonable to turn in time. Mentioning symptoms is not enough and is coward. Let's learn from Nobel's attitude and take the appropriate perspective, which is improper called bird's view, and which is of course unwelcome to those who put us at risk.



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Judy Nabb wrote on May. 5, 2014 @ 08:28 GMT

Some valid concepts but I must admit to failing to see how they came together into a clear direction. I was also looking for any justification of your view that terrestrial life is unique to our planet, but found none.

You didn't make it clear if you agreed with the view that technological advancement wasn't needed, but your argument for population of other planes seems to require major advancements in scientific understanding, which is the part I most agree with. I also agree your fundamental tenet. Not just politically but scientifically we're locked into beliefs that are taking us in the wrong directions, and perhaps which only evolution of thinking methods and intellect can now remedy.

What interested me most was your effective reference to the successful application of eugenics in the Pacific Island case. That's an important area which needs addressing, as my own essay discusses. Bonus marks for that. Some suggest lower population but don't face the realities. Utopian theorising is useless, we need to face realities with practical solutions.


P.S I wonder why you haven't engaged with the posts. You should be aware that it indicates the arrogance and disrespect becoming a serious disease in science, incubated in physicists I'm finding. I hope that's not the case. It takes just a few minutes s I'm very interested in your reasons.

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 9, 2014 @ 13:22 GMT
Dear Judy,

first of all if it took so long for me to answer it is because I'm busy. I'm taking the time to gradually answer each and every post, in order of appearance, but it's hard to keep up. However I must warn you that I won't accept ad hominem attacks, on this forum, and will stop interacting with people who address me aggressively.

Re your points:

my main argument for the unicity of terrestrial life is that, considering what we know of evolution and molecular biology, it would take a colossal fluke for the same kind of RNA/DNA-based life forms with similar biochemistry to have developed independently on two different planets. If it didn't evolve independently, (like in so-called `panspermia' scenarios: seeds of life deposited on multiple worlds by agents like comets - a very unlikely scenario, I think), then it might be more similar, but it would be surely separated by billion years of evolution (in probably wildly different conditions). This would probably amount to the same effective degree of difference.

I'm not sure I understood your sentence ``you didn't make it clear if you agreed with the view that technological advancement wasn't needed''... I assume you're talking about Jared Diamond's view that we don't need new technologies to solve our ecological problems, we just need the will. Well I didn't take the time to ponder this hard question enough to form a confident opinion. I would say I basically agree with it, but there are probably several exceptions, particular problems for which a solution does not yet exist.

Re other planets, yes it will require major advancements to be able to terraform them. That is a problem for the far future, which we will be able to start to address only if and after we solve the ecological problem.

thank you and best regards,


Joe Fisher wrote on May. 6, 2014 @ 14:36 GMT
Dear Dr. Mercati,

Your essay was quite excellent to read and I do hope that it does well in the competition.


Joe Fisher

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 9, 2014 @ 13:25 GMT
Thank you very much!

Charles Gregory St Pierre wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 04:02 GMT
Dear Flavio,

The biodiversity of the earth is our most precious legacy to future generations, period. And you are right, we must reduce our impact on the global ecology ASAP.

However, unless you can provide the wealthy of the world a good life, and the poor of the world a better one, I do not think you will find the political will to even mitigate the impending disaster. There must be a short term payoff, or at least a minimization of cost and equitable distribution of cost. And a visible horizon, or at least goal posts. I do not think you can scare the pants off them, which is the other alternative.

You must redefine virtuous behavior.

I agree that we in North America and Europe must lead by example.

What small lightening of the load on the earth we are seeing is the result of political and economic repression, austerity by force and fiat, rather than popular choice, and I think this will make making it a matter of popular choice, which it must become, more difficult.

Enjoyed your essay. Good luck in the competition.

Please find time to read my essay. Thanks.


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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 9, 2014 @ 13:30 GMT
Point taken. Regarding the problem of finding/forming the political will to attack the ecological problem, I can answer by quoting Winston Churchill, who famously said about Russia:

"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma;"

However he also proposed a key:

"but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."

well our key, I suppose, is our interest as a species....

all the best,


Author Flavio Mercati wrote on May. 9, 2014 @ 21:05 GMT
Dear Aaron,

Thank you for reading my essay. I'll read and rate yours asap.

But I don't believe in exchange-vote either... I don't think we should

rate each someone's essay only at the condition that they rate ours...



Aaron M. Feeney replied on May. 10, 2014 @ 05:31 GMT
Hi Flavio,

You raise a great point about exchange-voting, which was not a concept I was trying to promote. I will surely rate essays I'm interested in, even if their authors choose not to communicate with me or tell me that they have rated mine. I put that part in because I just can't read every essay. Those who aren't interested will not reply to me, and that's fine. Thanks for responding, I have you now on my spreadsheet. Have a great weekend.


P.S., I've since added the following rating system and comment to almost everyone's message (what a long process communicating everyone has proved to be, but it is well worth it to meet new thinkers):

I will use the following rating scale to rate essays:

10 - the essay is perfection and I learned a tremendous amount

9 - the essay was extremely good, and I learned a lot

8 - the essay was very good, and I learned something

7 - the essay was good, and it had some helpful suggestions

6 - slightly favorable indifference

5 - unfavorable indifference

4 - the essay was pretty shoddy and boring

3 - the essay was of poor quality and boring

2 - the essay was of very poor quality and boring

1 - the essay was of shockingly poor quality and extremely flawed

After all, that is essentially what the numbers mean.

The following is a general observation:

Is it not ironic that so many authors who have written about how we should improve our future as a species, to a certain extent, appear to be motivated by self-interest in their rating practices? (As evidence, I offer the observation that no article under 3 deserves such a rating, and nearly every article above 4 deserves a higher rating.)

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Anonymous wrote on May. 9, 2014 @ 23:03 GMT
Privet Dr. Mercati,

Kak dela? Vi gavorite pa-Russki? (My transliteration from Cyrillic and also my grammar is probably bad).

I very much liked your essay!! (nd the fact that in section 4 you threw in a bit of Russian). I also think highly of Jared Diamond's books. I borrowed some of his arguments from "Guns, Germs and Steel" for my essay. "Collapse" was also a great book but a bit...

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Douglas Alexander Singleton replied on May. 10, 2014 @ 00:17 GMT
The above was me. Somehow got logged out.


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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 16, 2014 @ 13:32 GMT
Zhal', ya ne gavaryú pa-Russki...

thank you for your appreciacions. Yes the Tikopians refer to directions as `ocean-side' and `inland-side'. This detail struck me as well.

I agree with you that we are absolutely unprepared to speak about the workings of extraterrestrial life. We understand so poorly our own life on Earth... my personal opinion, for what it counts, is that the exterior/macroscopic forms of extraterrestrial life might be similar to terrestrial ones (same problems, same solutions: this is the often-cited concept of `evolutionary convergence'). But the I don't see how the biochemical minutiae could possibly be similar: a macroscopic form is a large-scale, emergent aspect: what characterizes emergent properties is precisely the fact that there are innumerable ways in which the microscopic details can be configured to obtain the same macroscopic property. So form is just the tip

of the iceberg, I think that statistical reasoning suggests that the rest of the iceberg is bound to be completely different. And that's what counts for biological compatibility.

But I'm open to discuss the subject, which fascinates me a lot. Anyway I agree with your caution.

This `terra preta' story is very interesting! I didn't know about it. I'll check also out that book, which I haven't read. Thank you for pointing this out.

best regards,


John G Hartley wrote on May. 10, 2014 @ 13:55 GMT
I agree strongly with the authors position that we urgently need to conserve the diversity of the biosphere, in the near term we will be engineering life by design, but engineering a human compatible biosphere is a long term project. Meanwhile, we only have one biosphere to study and it is irresponsible to damage our only specimen!


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Roberto Paura wrote on May. 12, 2014 @ 10:36 GMT
Dear Flavio,

I'm so enthusiast about your essay! I really share your view, as it is similar to the opinions I've expressed in my essay "An anthropic program for the long-term survival of humankind". I hope your essay will go well in the competion, and maybe we can collaborate for the achievements of our common goals.

Best regards,

Roberto Paura

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Robert de Neufville wrote on May. 14, 2014 @ 05:10 GMT
This a beautifully-written call to action, Flavio. I completely agree with you (and Jared Diamond) that we don't need new technologies to solve our problems. What we need, as you say, is to radically change our way of doing things.

There's one thing I would put differently. I don't think the problem is really that we have the wrong values—although we do value some silly things—but that what we want for ourselves as individuals often is often at odds with what we know to best for humanity as a whole. Most people don't prefer skyscrapers to biodiversity. The problem is that most people want to be the ones who enjoy the benefit of fancy buildings while other people make the sacrifices to preserve our biodiversity.

In my view—this is what I argue in my own essay—we face a huge collective action problem. We're fighting over who should bear the costs of changing course while we drive off a cliff. Changing course, I think, will mean aligning the incentives of individuals with what's best for everyone collectively.

Great essay in any case—I hope it does well in the contest!


Robert de Neufville

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Mohammed M. Khalil wrote on May. 14, 2014 @ 16:34 GMT
Hi Flavio,

Wonderful essay! It is well argued and beautifully written. I agree with you that a dramatic change is needed to solve humanity's environmental problems.

Best regards,


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Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 15, 2014 @ 21:03 GMT

Well argued essay on "why we should preserve biodiversity" and "avoid the ecological disaster". I can even accept to "give up animal husbandry altogether". But, are these not too long-term objectives? Or as you say "we don't have the "millennia like the Tikopians". What realistically would you expect we can accomplish on biodiversity in, say, 2 decades i.e. a generation?

-- Ajay

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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 20, 2014 @ 00:39 GMT
Dear Ajay,

I don't expect us to be able to do much over 2 decades. If you think about it, the ecological issue has been raised already in the 70s, at least in western countries. My impression is that the level of awareness of the people grew rapidly at the beginning, reached a certain plateau and didn't change much since then. The maiin change we saw was a major shift of emphasis towards...

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Michael muteru wrote on May. 16, 2014 @ 12:41 GMT
Dear Mercati

Fantastic essay.Facing reality asking some of these questions what is humanity ,Who are we,Does our future mirror our past,repeating mistakes that have previously felled us,A very STRAIGHT message from you to us my essay here- - LIVING IN THE SHADOWS OF THE SUN: REALITIES, PERILS ESCAPADES MAN, PLANET AND KARDASHEV SCALE.MAKING THE GREAT TRANSITION by Michael muteru.i have suggested how the U turn should begin kindly take your time to rate/review the essay.thanks ALL the best

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max david comess wrote on May. 18, 2014 @ 07:27 GMT
Dear Flavio,

Interesting essay on preservation of bio-diversity. I whole-heartedly agree and strongly support your point that in order for us to repair the damage that we have already done, that the answer is not in relinquishment or some return to a primitive state, as many ecologically minded folks may assert, but will require the application of more powerful technologies, such as geo-engineering. In my view, partially laid out in my essay on risks of runaway artificial intelligence, I feel that there are a variety of competing exponential trends, with the growth of AI and other powerful technologies on the one hand that may have the potential to save (or destroy) humanity, and on the other hand are the growing risks of ecological disaster and/or large scale war due to large scale resource conflicts, severe climate change, or biosphere collapse (similar to what you sketch out in your discussion of the rapanui. Which trends ultimately dominate will be settled by history.

I have to quibble a bit with one of the points you made in the appendix, which is the survival and development of humanity without a fully diverse biosphere. While I agree that this is true for biological humans, post-biological humans (uploads, AIs) will not necessarily have this limitation. For the comfort and survival of biological persons, I agree that the biosphere must be preserved, although I'm not sure how much of an effect this will have on the terraforming of other planets. Of course it goes without saying that the biosphere in and of itself is special, sacred, and worth saving, even if humanity's survival were not involved at all. I do think you tend to underestimate the progress that we will make in biology such as cloning, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, or the rapid impact that the growth of AI will have when it matures.

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on May. 19, 2014 @ 15:25 GMT

A very important essay, indeed. We strongly agree on the urgency to preserve (in fact, also facilitate the increase of) diversity in life on Earth, and its variety of forms. We also agree on Jared Diamond's call for the political will to do it.

High score from me, and thanks for this thoughtful, well argued piece! It needs to be published to a wider audience.



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Author Flavio Mercati wrote on May. 28, 2014 @ 14:03 GMT
A UN report urges us to curb meat consumption:

Aaron M. Feeney wrote on May. 31, 2014 @ 17:36 GMT
Hi Flavio,

Your essay is wonderful. It is definitely one of the best essays in the contest, and I sincerely hope you win a prize for it. Your argument that the biodiversity of our planet will one day be seen as its most valuable resource, and that many of the resources we value now should properly be seen as having far less value was amazing. For sheer truth and effectiveness, this should become the primary message of environmentalists everywhere.

I agree also that something drastic needs to be done about animal husbandry--certainly, it would behoove us for all nations to ban the barbaric practice of factory farming (yes, pun intended). Meat ought to be viewed as a luxury foodstuff (luxury for meat-eaters, that is, though it disgusts the rest of us).

I give you the very high rating you deserve. All the very best!



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Author Flavio Mercati replied on May. 31, 2014 @ 19:52 GMT
Thank you very much Aaron!

I'm doubtful, but maybe you're right that my argument might turn out to be an effective slogan for ecologists?


Aaron M. Feeney replied on Jun. 1, 2014 @ 03:20 GMT
Well, it might take a while, but people will eventually come to precisely the conclusion that you demonstrated the vision to realize today, so far in the ancient past of the full scope of humanity. The biodiversity of our planet is something unique in the universe, and it is surely the most precious resource we have, or will ever have.


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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Jun. 4, 2014 @ 14:50 GMT
Greetings Flavio,

I still intend to read your essay, whose central thesis I already strongly agree with, but on seeing your comment to Hoekstra and Estep, in their essay space, I wanted to alert you that I have deeply considered the question you pose there. In my essay, I talk about the value of play both in Education and in Research, as an essential element of how we learn about the universe. In brief; my essay's central thesis is an answer to the question "what is it that makes a mind good at science?"

If that is a question you find intriguing, I think you will like what I have to say. And I look forward to reading your words as well.

All the Best,


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Peter Jackson wrote on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 16:30 GMT

I found your essay beautifully written with some very interesting and valuable concepts among the more obvious ones. You did perhaps seem to rest a little too much on Diamond, but the Easter Island story is valuable worth properly understanding.

I struggle a little to see the real advantages of 'game' over farmed livestock. The needs of wild animals are more difficult to sustain, and many are carnivores. Would it not be better to husband cows, sheep, pigs and the like who do not eat what humans eat so broaden our food source base?

I certainly agree; "we are at least as foolish as the Rapanu", that we must far better protect our resources, and also; "What we consider valuable now, we will laugh at in the future."

However is Diamond then really correct in suggesting; "We don’t need new technologies" to help solve our problems? i.e. just one simple 'step change' advancement in solar collection efficiency, fusion or any one of a dozen potential energy resources could change everything. Fossil fuels consigned to history overnight! But that's a quibble with Diamonds vision not your essay.

I hope you may get to read my essay which picks up the the point shown by history that all real leaps forward are driven by advances in understanding of nature. That's treating cause not 'symptoms'. I suggest we're in a theoretical rut which only less foolish thinking methodologies can get us out of. I show that logical explanations and unification may be staring us in the face but we're too dimwitted to recognise it. I don't expect that to change soon, but shouldn't we try anyway?

I found yours well considered and produced. Well done and very best of luck in the judging.


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Peter Jackson replied on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 20:47 GMT

Thanks for your question on mine, I reproduce my answer below for your convenience. I hope you may get to respond to my queries on yours. Also perhaps see Judith Nabb's on eugenics and the long history of issues with population control. War is another one not discussed.


"For Earth's future population I chose the ~90th percentile of the many estimates, but trivially to remind us that we don't 'know', so may have serious problems from many more areas than just climate change. I recognize stabilization as a low-end scenario.

The curves I've seen give little indication of that yet (but didn't add the putin factor!) Have you seen better data? My point is anyway that treating symptoms almost certainly won't advance us enough. Why not then take the fundamental quantum leap in unifying our understanding of nature if available?"


Best wishes. I hope the judges smile on you.


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Janko Kokosar wrote on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 20:43 GMT
Dear Flavio Mercati

You found good and very clear examples for depletion of earth. The example will domesticated animals is obvious, example with Rapa Nui waits for us. What do you think about electric cars? Are we people inhibit their arrival.

My essay

Best regards

Janko Kokosar

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 21:42 GMT

Clever title and clever first section: "Who's the stonehead now?" I must admit I'm a pun lover.

Many of us, at least those taught to be self-effacing, can laugh at our values now -- In my second section, for example: "Pharmaceuticals often demonstrate our cosmetic priorities and limited precision in targeting ailments – treatments for ED, toenail fungus, and diabetes, for example -- most evidenced by TV ads that pitch drugs with ludicrous litanies of side effects, ending with rapidly-stated murmurs of possible death."

"U-Turn or U Die" is catchy and could be a global slogan to pitch climate change action -- more effective than Nancy Reagan's "say no (to drugs)."

I'm sure your exhortation, "Let's all become Tikopians" is in the spirit of their future survivalist skills -- ritual suicide is a bit radical, but some cultures deemed honorable, and thus it was not unprecedented.

An informing and entertaining read. Good marks.

I would like to see your thoughts on mine:


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Member David L. Wiltshire wrote on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 21:04 GMT
An excellent essay, Flavio. While you draw on Jared Diamond a lot, there are plenty of fresh ideas here. Very well argued. Yes, as a species we have to do something. Now.

Best wishes, David

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