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The list below intends to inform, to help explain the focus of and to help avoid repetition. It is far from comprehensive, and does not imply endorsement. Please add references and relevant categories.

Perspective similar to asks everyone to consider what follows from the assumption that civilizations continues on planet earth while the sun provides a suitable environment, and the concept of civilization is limited to the sharing of information between self-aware beings. Many probably have, although none have been found so far who thought about it in the same way and with the same perspective.

Please add any relevant information.

Effective Altruism, Longtermism

[Effective altruism] using evidence and reasoning to look at the consequences of actions and determine the most effective ways to benefit others, prioritising protection from existential risks, existential security and longtermism (Toby Ord's [discussion] on [80.000 hours]) and Toby Ord's book The Precipice - Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. The concepts of Existential Security that allows the Long Reflection needed to take steps towards other solar systems seem very much in line with the thinking and objectives of milliongenerations, from a complementary angle, existential risks (of which more below).

Good Ancestors

Jonas Salk observed:
"The most important question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we being good ancestors?” Given the rapidly changing discoveries and conditions of the times, this opens up a crucial conversation – just what will it take for our descendants to look back at our decisions today and judge us good ancestors?"
* 1972 Jonas Salk: Man Unfolding
* 1973 Jonas Salk: Survival of the Wisest. Harper & Row ISBN 006013738X
* 1981: Jonas Salk and Jonathan Salk: World Population and Human Values: A New Reality. Horizon Book Promotions ISBN 0060909072
* 1983 Jonas Salk: Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason. Columbia University Press
* 1985 Jonas Salk formulated the question above in an interview with Bill Moyers in The Open Mind in 1985
The approach has inspired the Uplift Academy. It asks in its wiki "What can we do to create a flourishing civilization?" and organizes workshops on the Good Ancestor Principle e.g., in 2007 and May 2010. Jamais Casico described in his blog how the 2007 workshop on the subject was overshadowed by questions around what these descendants will be like, even though their nature must be considered much less important than their existence.
Tom Munneke founded the Uplift Academy (earlier as Giving Space). He organizes and hosts the 2010 workshop on the Good Ancestor Principle and is working to figure out the Good Ancestor Principle. "How do we shift our perspectives and metrics to that of the future looking back at us?"
This work is the closest yet found to the perspective of milliongenerations, milliongenerations should learn from it. milliongenerations' long term perspective facilitates letting go of projections of current situations while maintaining the goal of the existence of (at least memetic) descendants and hoping to avoid making detailed assumptions on what the descendants or their future look like.

Friedrich Nietzsche apparently wrote that 'Love unto the uttermost generation is higher than love of one's neighbor. What should be loved by man is that he is in transition.' (as quoted by Gregory Benford)
Jörg Tremmel argues for intergenerational justice as enabling advancement in A Theory of Intergenerational Justice. This concept seems a legal implementation of the good ancestor principle combined with the thought that advancement i.e., development of civilization, is beneficial without having to make assumptions about the nature of the descendants or their circumstances. This seems identical to the purpose of this site to make continued civilization more likely. As Tremel's intergenerational justice concerns the implementation rather than the conditions milliongenerations' deductive exercise is looking for the perspectives complement each other well.
Nick Beckstead argued for the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future'.


Backcasting starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect the future to the present. For milliongenerations' deductive exercise, the desirable future is the ability to exchange information in a very far future, the assumption that information can consciously be passed on for billions of years.


The classic Greek concept of Eudaimonism values human flourishing or happiness as the goal of virtue. Consequentialism and Utilitarianism turn the consequences, benefit or utility or "Greatest Happiness" (as in greatest overall happiness) into the basis or definition of virtue. These theories seem to have been mostly discussed theoretically as a tool to shape actions or rules to optimize society and to base theories of justice. Less commonly and only more recently have they been associated with a temporal dimension.

The focus on organization of society is not surprising. Future people do not yet exist (Identity Problem), and the idea that human activity has global and long-term consequences on the processes sustaining life has started to gain widespread consideration only since the 1970ies. Additionally, human longing for status, the distribution of which is influenced by the chosen form of organization, puts the focus on societal order. More relative status should in the past have increased the chance for the survival of offspring, especially for men. The absolute (rather than relative to others) aspects of happiness would have been much less effective in promoting the survival of offspring and unfortunately would not have been selected for.
  • 1984 Derek Parfit: Reasons and Persons. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824908-X In Part IV Parfit discusses possible futures and identifies the Mere addition paradox asserting that averaging or total utilitarianism would lead to overpopulation (the Repugnant Conclusion).
Note on Parfit's repugnant conclusion: With a temporal perspective, securing continued existence becomes more important than optimizing the number of individuals at any one time. A population near the limit of what can be sustained with the available knowledge risks conflicts that endanger the knowledge of a civilization, reducing the carrying capacity dramatically and even risking extinction. The assumption of continued existence therefore requires a population much smaller than one where the addition of one more individual would reduce overall happiness.
  • 2006 Tim Mulgan: Future People: a moderate consequentialist account of our obligations to future generations. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-928220-X
milliongenerations asks about most happiness and attempts to focus on the temporal dimension and at looking back from a desired result. The possibility to continue then becomes dominant. Whatever poses a risk to the continuity of existence of a civilization of self aware beings is likely to reduce happiness, whatever increases the chance of continuation should increase happiness. The overall happiness integrated over time will deviate more or less from the maximum that could possibly be. Whereas happiness is a difficult subject, existence is much clearer, it avoids tautological discussions. Limiting the question on this planet removes any hypothetical infinitarian problems. Not all questions can be answered this way but placing the need for continued existence central should prove beneficial. All that is required is a conviction that existence can be beneficial, a notion that should be shared by most that exist.

Intergenerational Justice, Obligations to Posterity

The obligations of the living towards posterity, towards future generations is pointed out (but not universally accepted) as an important (and usually missing) aspect in the theory of justice or as an important basis for environmental discussions.

  • The Torah/Old Testament establishes the society as an intergenerational community
  • Plato let "the Athenian" explain that individuals' property rights are limited in significant ways by the interests of both prior and later generations: "[N]either you nor this property of yours belongs to yourselves, but to your whole clan, ancestors and descendants alike. . .." (Plato, The Laws, (Book XI, 923), 464 & Book IV, 707-708) 464-465. from
    • Nicolai Hartman traces Plato's intergenerational concern to his conception of eros ("Love of the Remote," in Ernest Partridge, ed., RESPONSIBILITY TO FUTURE GENERATIONS (Buffalo, NY, Prometheus Books: 1981) 305-308 "In Plato's 'eros' . . . the passion is a personal commitment . . . to a work that transcends the present for the uncertain future, for sacrifice not just to present others but to the remote. The strength in the Platonic eros is the ethos of love, not just of one's neighbor, but of the one who is to be, a love which cannot be returned" from
  • The oath sworn by Athenian citizens contains "We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, . . . we will transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us."
  • St Augustine in De Civ. Dei II, 21 cites Cicero to explain the decline of the Roman empire as resulting from political policies motivated by shortsighted factional interest rather than by concern for the long term interests of the intergenerational community
  • 1215 The Magna Carta begins with an invocation to posterity stating that "...we wish and firmly enjoin . . . that the men in our kingdom shall have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights and concessions well and peacefully, freely and quietly, fully and completely, for themselves and their heirs from us and our heirs, in all matters and in all places for ever . . . ."
  • St Thomas Aquinas emphasized preservation of the human species as a primary ethical value, a factor to be weighed carefully when determining the morality of a variety of present acts and practices
    • see William George: Regarding Future Neighbors: Thomas Aquinas and Concern for Posterity. 33 HEYTHROP J. 283-306 (1992)
  • The constitution of the Iroquois Nation mandates that "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." (from
  • John Locke's intergenerational ethics come from a concern for preservation of the human species (Locke, ESSAYS ON THE LAW OF NATURE, 113-14 & TWO TREATISES OF GOVERNMENT (1689), Ed. Peter Laslett. 2d ed. (Cambridge: 1967) 7, 16, 134, 135, 149, 159, 171, 183.
  • 1689 The English Bill of Rights proclaimed "that all and singular the rights and liberties asserted and claimed in the said declaration are the true, ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom. . . ; and . . . all officers and ministers whatsoever shall serve their Majesties and their successors according to the same in all times to come. . ."
  • 1698 Algernon Sidney, DISCOURSES CONCERNING GOVERNMENT (London, 1698) claimed that "The power of a father belongs only to a father. . . that absolute power . . . which the patriarchs exercised, [has] been equally inherited by their children, and consequently by every one of their posterity. . .") (Ch.1, sec IX, p. 22 and Ch II, sec 4 p. 71, 73; from
  • Edmund Burke criticised social contract theory by claiming that society is indeed a contract, but "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born".
  • 1787 The Constitution of the United States of America lists among its purposes to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" reflecting a stewardship doctrine
  • 1971 John Rawls' A Theory of Justice proposes a "contractarian" approach to the "justice between generations"
  • 1972 R. I. Sikora and Brian Barry edited Obligations to Future Generations (ISBN: 0-87722-128-6)
  • 1972 Martin P. Golding: Obligations to future generations. Monist 56:85-99 Golding argues that our obligations to future generations are, at best, minimal.
  • 1976 Ernest Partridge: Rawls and the Duty to Posterity, PhD Thesis (Ernest Partridge operates a website, the Online Gladfly with a lot of information and many links on the subject of obligations to posterity and environmental ethics)
  • 1979 Hans Jonas published Das Prinzip Verantwortung: Versuch einer Ethik für die technologische Zivilisation, 1984 in English as The Imperative of Responsibility, in which he discussed in depth the changes to Ethics brought about by the power of knowledge and the divergence between the ability to predict the future and the power to influence it, and argued that a lasting civilization has to be based on a precautionary principle and an ethical imperative that considers not just contemporaries but mainly the possibility of lasting posterity: „Handle so, daß die Wirkungen deiner Handlung verträglich sind mit der Permanenz echten menschlichen Lebens auf Erden“ (rough translation: "Act so that the results from your actions are compatible with the permanence of true human life on earth.")
  • 1980 John Searle publishes the Chinese Room Argument, exemplifying our difficulty to explain sentience or even (self-) consciousness, relevant to the difficulties in putting a value on life or existence.
  • 1986 Ronald Green: "Future Generations, Obligations to" in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics, James F. Childress and John Macquarrie, eds, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1986) 242, 243
  • 1990 Ernest Partridge: On the Rights of Future Generations in D. Scherer (ed.): Upstream/Downstream: Issues in Environmental Ethics, Temple University Press
  • 1995 Avner de-Shalit: Why Posterity Matters. Environmental policies and future generations. Routledge, London and New York. ISBN 0-415-10018-6 & ISBN 0-415-10019-4.
  • 1995 Bruce Auerbach: Unto the Thousandth Generation: Conceptualizing Intergenerational Justice. Peter Lang, New York
  • 1997 incorporation of the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations (Stiftung für die Rechte zukünftiger Generationen), a think-tank that considers intergenerational justice to mean that today's youth and future generations must have at least the same opportunities to meet their own needs as the generation governing today. It publishes the publishes the journal "Intergenerational Justice Review"
  • 2001 Dale Jamieson (Ed): A Companion to Environmental Ethics (Blackwell), which contains a an excellent overview Future Generations by Ernest Partridge in which he explains why philosophical interest in the rights of posterity is relatively recent (moral responsibility arose only as advances in science and technology have led to an understanding that human activity has any lasting effect on the future) and discusses the moral status of future persons and the Libertarian and Utilitarian motivations and efforts to resolve various issues
  • 2003 William B. Griffith: Trusteeship: A Practical Option for Realizing Our Obligations to Future Generations? in Andrew Light and Avner de-Shalit (eds): Moral and political reasoning in environmental practice. MIT ISBN 0-262-12252-9 (an earlier version was presented at the conference on Moral and Political Reasoning in Environmental Practice, June 27-29, 1999 at Mansfield College, Oxford University.)
  • John Nolt explains why we care about future generations by motivating sustainability from classical humanistic utilitarianism: maximize happiness for “all people”, which obviously should include future generations. Nolt notes difficulties with shaping population policy from this premise and discusses ways to improve on it. He also dismisses common objections to the notion of a resposibility to future generations:
    • argument from temporal location (we have no obligations to anything that doesn’t yet exist)
    • argument from ignorance (we can’t know what future people will be like)
    • disappearing beneficiaries argument (We have obligations only to specific people whom we can make better or worse off
  • 2006 Jörg Tremmel: Handbook of Intergenerational Justice, 366 Pages, ISBN 13-978145429003 (review)
  • 2006 Tim Mulgan: Future People: a moderate consequentialist account of our obligations to future generations. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-928220-X Mulgan claims that our obligations to future generations deserve to be the central topic of moral philosophy
  • 2007 Krister Bykvist: The Benefits of Coming Into Existence. Philosophical Studies 135 (3). Bykvist argues that we can benefit or harm people by creating them, but only in the sense that we can create things that are good or bad for them. What we cannot do is to confer comparative benefits and harms to people by creating them or failing to create them.
  • 2007 The World Future Council is founded, a concil of luminaries from around the world striving to express a 'Voice of future generations' and providing policy recommendations.
  • 2008 John Broome: calls for a theory of the value of life in ‘What is your life worth?’, Daedalus, 137 (2008), pp. 49–56, earlier he had expanded on 'Should we value population?', Journal of Political Philosophy, 13 (2005), pp. 399–413 along the same lines.
  • 2009 Nils Holtug: Who Cares About Identity? : Harming Future Persons : Ethics, Genetics and the Nonidentity Problem. red. Melinda A. Roberts ; David T. Wasserman. Dordrecht : Springer Publishing Company, 2009. s. 71-92 (tailored towards ethical issues in genetic engineering)
  • 2009 Jörg Tremmel: A Theory of Intergenerational Justice ISBN-10: 1844078264
  • 2009 Axel Gosseries and Lukas Meyer (Eds): Intergenerational Justice ISBN: 978-0-19-928295-1 Describes libertarian, Rawlsian, sufficientarian, contractarian, communitarian, Marxian and reciprocity-based approaches to the subject.
  • 2010 (May) International Conference "Ways to Legally Implement Intergenerational Justice" in Lisbon organized by Marisa dos Reis in collaboration with the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations with support from the World Future Council and others. Speakers were Marisa dos Reis, Jörg Tremmel, Patrick Wegner, Sándor Fülöp, Shlomo Shoham, Lucy Stone, Abel de Campos, Pedro Barbosa, Marisa Matias, Axel Gosseries, Viriato Soromenho-Marques, Emilie Gaillard Sebileau, Maja Göpel, Sébastian Jodoin, Armando Marques Guedes, Manuel A. Ribeiro, Francisco P. Coutinho.
  • 2012 on March 13 to 15, Samuel Scheffler of New York University delivered the Tanner Lectures at Berkely turned into the 2013 book 'Death and the Afterlife' (reviewed e.g., here and here). Scheffler argued that we strongly depend emotionally on the continued existence of others after our own death, that people not yet born matter more to us than those we now know and care for. (note: not sure Sheffler's thoughts belong 100% in this section, but they certainly belong on this page)
thoughts on intergenerational justice have a long tradition, yet does not seem widely enforced in today's society
milliongenerations' approach assumes that civilization continues while life is possible. This is probably desirable, but whether or not it is desireable is more relevant to the implementation than to the debate. By taking a different perspective, this approach might be able to avoid some of the difficulties such as the Identity Problem or the nature of the individuals, but it probably does not serve as a basis to solve deep philosophical questions. This culture-centric approach probably is an anthropocentric one (even if the culture-centric would allow for changes to the protagonists) and less a nature- or biocentric perspective. milliongenerations hopes to help people of various conviction to generate insights that can be of practical benefit to present and foremost to possible future people.

Organisations working on intergenerational justice (and collaborating in Intergenerational Fairness Day

Spaceship Earth / Footprint

Many have looked at the earth as limited, like a well-provisioned spaceship.

  • 1966 Kenneth E. Boulding: THE ECONOMICS OF THE COMING SPACESHIP EARTH. Boulding discussed entropy and how the 'cowboy' economy of an open system delights in consumption, whereas the 'spaceman' economy of a closed system, that can not have any consumption but where man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material. He also discussed how we naturally tend to discount the relevance of future generations due to distance in time as well as uncertainty, which requires conservationist efforts to be sold under a pretense. Furthermore Boulding argued that our obsession with production and consumption to the exclusion of the "state" aspects of human welfare distorts the process of technological change in a most undesirable way. He thinks that the "long-run vision... of the deep crisis which faces mankind may predispose people to taking more interest in the immediate problems and to devote more effort for their solution".
  • 1969 Buckminster Fuller: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (ISBN 3-037-78126-2) (text available here). Buckminster Fuller claimes a whole systems, synergistic approach. He states that "The fossil fuel deposits of our Spaceship Earth correspond to our automobile’s storage battery which must be conserved to turn over our main engine’s self-starter. Thereafter, our "main engine," the life regenerating processes, must operate exclusively on our vast daily energy income from the powers of wind, tide, water, and the direct Sun radiation energy." Buckminster Fuller also realized that the demographic transition would make the population explosion a myth.

milliongenerations' assumption purposefully limits the view to this planet, with its limitations. Even if it were possible to expand human civilization to elsewhere in the universe, life on the planet would likely go on for billions of years, so the question on how to maintain civilization here remains even if interstellar travel is possible.

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence

  • The search for extraterrestrial intelligence requires assumptions on the nature of civilizations. This search has been conducted in earnest as a significant effort since about 1960 and so far succeeded in establishing that there are no civilizations at comparable stage of development within several hundered light years from earth. It seems that no one has succeeded to colonize the galaxy. Apart from radio signals the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy looks for signs of e.g., Dyson spheres of hypothetical civilizations that harness a significant part of the energy output of a star, possibly artificial "blue straggler" stars, whose lifetime would be extended by interference and suspicious composition in the atmosphere of planets.

How many planets exist which might support life? Indeed, what is required for life to exist? How does life start? How does it evolve, and what fabulous creatures can evolution produce? How often do intelligent creatures appear in the giant tapestry of life?

None of these efforts so far seems to focus much on what is required to enable civilizations to last or what follows from the assumption that one did.

(Online) collaborative efforts

  • Global Sensemaking (GSm) is "a group of people dedicated to helping humanity address complex, interrelated global problems—such as climate change, energy policy, poverty, and food security—by developing and applying new web-based technology to assist collaborative decision making and cooperative problem solving." - "Humanity faces an emerging mess of global challenges (often called wicked problems) — such as, climate change, poverty, peak oil, population pressure, water shortages, declining biodiversity, and failing food supply — that are the product of patterns of thinking and behavior that no longer make sense. We need new tools of thought if we are to adapt to the scale and complexity of these challenges; tools that augment individual intelligence with the structured insights of many minds. We are building those tools." - "We are guided at the outset by a voluntary steering committee currently consisting of: Mark Aakhus, Mark Klein, Simon Buckingham Shum, George E. Mobus, Jack Park, David Price, Andy Streich, Jeff Conklin, and Mark Szpakowski. Further volunteers are welcome." - "To realize our vision, we are creating a web portal, developing open source software, and fostering international standards to create a scalable, collaborative, deliberative, and global discourse environment (e.g. web-based global sensemaking platforms) for addressing the most pressing problems of our time."
  • The Oil Drum (TOD) is organized by the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future in Colorado. It exists to facilitate civil, evidence-based discussions about energy and its impact on our future. It raises awareness, conducts research, hosts a civil discussion and creates a global community to work on the subject. It seeks to leverage the open nature of the internet to create a global forum for the discussion of energy problems and solutions. Great stuff!
  • On the Commons is a citizens’ network that highlights the importance of the commons in our lives, and promotes innovative commons-based solutions to create a brighter future. The commons movement: the commons is what we share together. From parks and clean water to scientific knowledge and the Internet, some things are no one’s private property. They exist for everyone’s benefit, and must be protected for future generations. A movement is emerging today to create a commons-based society.
  • Open Source Ecology is creating the Global Village Construction Set — the blueprints for simple fabrication of everything needed to start a self-sustaining village (briefly explained here).
  • Our Common Future 2.0 is a crowdsourcing effort to repeat/update the Brundtland commission's efforts that produced the first report "Our Common Future" in 1987. The introduction on the site translates as "OCF 2.0 Roadmaps for our Society's Future is a crowdsourcing project to get to the identification of a new ambitious vision on making society sustainable and that will conribute to the acceleration of transitions". The project calls for serious contributions (Dutch language). It was started in early 2010 by Jan Jonker and is supported by several well known people in Holland.
  • The SpaceCollective organizes an exchange of information by participants / bloggers as well as projects by universities, architecture and design schools.
  • Sustainability Science organizes a Forum
  • Us Now is a film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet, asking what happens to power and government in a world in which information is like air. It outlines the scope of change that collaboration might bring about. (Not quite sure whether or not it is a collaborative effort itself)
  • Wiser Earth explores various ways of collaboration including a network, forums and Wiki Pages.

Long term thinking

(see also Futurology below)

  • " Every person has the right to inherit an uncontaminated planet on which all forms of life may flourish. "
Jacques Cousteau in the early 1990's launched a campaign for a formal resolution to inscribe this first Article of this Bill of Rights in international law. It is carried on by the Custeau Society and in 2001 the motion was deliverd to the Secretary General of the United Nations.
  • The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. ( would like to encourage long term thinking but was started in the belief that thinking about a steady state is in many respects easier than thinking about developments in tens, hundreds or thousands of years.)
  • Also in 1996, Walter Kistler founded the Foundation for the Future with the mission to increase and diffuse knowledge concerning the long-term future of humanity. Its website has a list of Futures Organizations & Consultants, including The Arlington Institute, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), Joseph Coates Consulting Futurist, Inc., Evolution Shift, Extropy Institute, Foresight Institute, Futuribles, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studie, Institute for Alternative Futures, OECD International Futures Programme, The Long Now Foundation, Meridian Programme, Millennium Institute, AC/UNU The Millennium Project, New Civilization Network, New Zealand Futures Trust, SETI Institute, UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), Graduate Program in Studies of the Future/University of Houston/Clear Lake, The Venus Project, World Future Society, World Futures Studies Federation.
  • In 2000 Jem Finer's Longplayer, a one thousand year long musical composition started playing. It was conceived around thoughts about time and considering survival strategies.
  • From 2007 to 2015 Zukunft25 e.V. hosted an open platform for long term thinking initiated and driven by Claudius Gros in Frankfurt, Germany.
  • The TiWalkMe Escapement is an immense timepiece in planned in the form of a park where trees are planted to mark the passage of time, serving to internalize deep time.
  • The storage of nuclear waste has prompted thoughts about the integrity of structures and systems on time scales of 100.000 years. The Onkalo Final Repository in Finland is the subject of the 2009 documentary film Into Eternity.
  • In 2014 The Cultural program of the National Academy of Sciences organized an art exhibition 'Imagining Deep Time' in Washington, DC, USA. The catalogue is available here.

Motivating and explaining sustainability

this section became extensive and was moved, now appended to the project page on sustainability.
The motivations behind sustainability should be also those that motivate resilience.

Lasting civilizations, the continuation of knowledge

Will (high) intelligence, once emerged or developed beyond a certain threshold, inevitably continue?
Will it invariably be of short duration?
Or can we influence the likelyhood that it will last, or its duration?

  • Ernst Mayr, in a SETI debate with Carl Sagan (oringinally published in Bioastronomy News, beginning with vol. 7, no. 3, 1995) states that all civilizations have only a short duration asks why high intelligence is so rare, answering that either high intelligence is not at all favored by natural selection, or it is extraordinarily difficult to acquire.
  • The growth of knowledge could be self limiting as it increases the potential for damage or mishaps (see notes on information)

The debate at milliongenerations is about necessary conditions to make the development of civilization last, starting from the assumption that it is possible. The assumption might not turn out to be achievable but seems worth a try.

Theories about lasting economies

  • In 1848 John Stuart Mill wrote Of the Stationary State, as part of his "Principles of Political Economy". He challenged the idea of eternal economic growth and welcomed the "impossibility of ultimately avoiding the stationary state", maintaining that the "stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement".
  • 1966 Kenneth E. Boulding: THE ECONOMICS OF THE COMING SPACESHIP EARTH. Boulding discussed entropy and how the 'cowboy' economy of an open system delights in consumption, whereas the 'spaceman' economy of a closed system, that can not have any consumption but where man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material. He also discussed how we naturally tend to discount the relevance of future generations due to distance in time as well as uncertainty, which requires conservationist efforts to be sold under a pretense. Furthermore Boulding argued that our obsession with production and consumption to the exclusion of the "state" aspects of human welfare distorts the process of technological change in a most undesirable way. He thinks that the "long-run vision... of the deep crisis which faces mankind may predispose people to taking more interest in the immediate problems and to devote more effort for their solution".
  • 1971 Georgescu-Roegen, N.: The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, Cambridge.
  • 1973 Herman Daly (Editor): Toward a Steady-State Economy, 1973 W. F. Freeman & Co. ISBN 0-7167-0793-4, containing contributions of Barry Bluestone, Kenneth E. Boulding, Preston Cloud, John Cobb, Herman E. Daly, Paul R. Ehrlich, Richard England, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Garret Hardin, John P. Holdren, Warren A. Johnson, Leon R. Kas, C.S. Lewis, Donella Meadows, William Ophuls, Jorgen Randers, E.F. Schumacher, Walter A. Weisskopf. I Biophysical Constraints on Economic Growth. II The Social World and Adjustment to a Steady State. III Values and the Steady State.
  • In 1980 the discussion between "Cornucopians", who expect that growth of knowledge inevitably causes endless abundance and "Malthusians" (or "Doomers" or Peakists) who expect doom due to limited resources, came to a head in a wager between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. Ehrlich selected copper, chomium nickel, tin and tungsten and forecast that their price would rise in real terms over the following decade while Simon held they would fall. Simon won the bet. Ehrlich would have won if the bet had been until 2011 rather than 1990, as pointed out by Jeremy Grantham of GMO
  • Richard A. Easterlin, now at University of Southern California, found in the mid-1990s that beyond a certain threshhold our happiness is depends on relative wealth (i.e., status), which growth can not raise for everyone. At least it depends on status much more than on absolute wealth. Whether or not the Easterlin paradox in its strong form is true, the additional benefit of extra absolute wealth certainly reduces as wealth increases. Easterlin publishes about The Economics of Happiness.
  • Since at least 1996 Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, has worked extensively on the link between circumstances and happiness, and links papers and presentations on his website.
  • 2005: Herman Daly: "ECONOMICS IN A FULL WORLD", Scientific American, September 2005, Vol. 293, Issue 3. Daly maintains that man-made capital (e.g., boats) can not substitute for natural capital (e.g., fish) and advocates steps to strong sustainability:
    • Limiting resources use of to rates that result in levels of waste that can be absorbed by the ecosystem.
    • Exploiting renewable resources at rates that allow their regeneration
    • Deplete nonrenewable resources at rates that, as far as possible, do not exceed the rate of development of renewable substitutes.
updated (in German) 2009 in Steady-State-Ökonomie – Ein Wirtschaftssystem des langfristigen Gleichgewichts, in: Zeitschrift für Sozialökonomie 162./163. Folge, S. 39 – 42.
  • 2007, 2009: McKibben argues in his book Deep Economy that we need to move beyond "growth" as the paramount economic ideal and pursue prosperity in a more local direction, with cities, suburbs, and regions producing more of their own food, generating more of their own energy, and even creating more of their own culture and entertainment. Video of Bill McKibben.
  • 2010: Matt Ridley in his book The Rational Optimist: How prosperity evolves nicely describes the importance of trade (exchange/specialization) in saving time to meet needs i.e., the creation of prosperity by the development of a collective effort, a "collective brain" that makes possible much more than any individual could, and improves much faster (innovation / the invention of invention). Ridley describes the dramatic improvements in historical development and is confident that the transformation of technology will advance our living standards, that the collective creativity and innovation will find solutions to whatever problems may come up. He thus critizises those that hope to achieve a better future by limiting growth or enticing people to reduce their standard of living and points to earlier doomsayers who have warned that 'we've seen our best days' centuries ago. He discusses the two great pessimisms of today (Africa, Climate Change) and the book closes with a prediction and corresponding appeal 'The twenty-first century will be a magnificent time to be alive. Dare to be an optimist."
    • Ridley summarized these ideas e.g., in a good TED Talk: "When Ideas have Sex" and in the Wall Street Journal.
    • Ridley quotes Thomas Babington Macaulay: "On what principle it is, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?"
      • Macaulay is himself an earlier proponent of the idea - usually associated with those "in power" - that the progress made improves life ("we're on the right track"). This view of history has been critizised as the retroactive creation of a line of progression toward the glorious present (The Whig interpretation of history). It is, however, easy to see - and important to remember - that civilization has improved the lives of most, in quality and length, and vastly increased the number of individuals. The debate at milliongenerations is about necessary conditions to make the development of civilization last.


  • Status. In a society relative status seems to have been beneficial if not determining reproductive success, so the longing for status, especially in young males, would have evolved and is not something we can easily get rid of. Thus it does not surprise that status or relative income/wealth is a major factor in our happiness, making us healthier and live longer. Even if growth does not advance everyone's relative income, absolute gain temporarily suggests relative gain, driving growth. Unless we find a way to deal with it, our hardwired wish to pass on our genes would cause the end of civilization or maybe even the species. Any viable vision on sustainable economy would have to take our longing for status into account, channeling it in other ways than material growth.

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Enable the future of human civilization, increase resilience of human civilization, make human civilization sustainable

    • Wiser Earth is "an online community space for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and those that support their work." It lists organizations that form what Paul Hawken, the founder of Wiser Earth, says is "humanities immune response to resist and heal political disease, economic infection, and ecological corruption, caused by ideologies." The project is run by the Natural Capital Institute. Paul Hawken explains the movement in his address at the Bioneers conference 2006.
    • Project Worldview has list of links on sustainability and enoughness
    • The Sustainable Development Network is a coalition of individuals and non-governmental organizations who believe that sustainable development is about empowering people, promoting progress, eliminating poverty and achieving environmental protection through the institutions of the free society.
    • Encyclopedia of Earth contains a collection of articles about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society.

  •, an organization started and headed by Bill McKibben with the mission is to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis—to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet. Its focus is on the number 350--as in parts per million, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere and take the number as a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.
  • The Alliance of Civilization (AoC) was established in 2005, at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the United Nations to explore the roots of polarization between societies and cultures today, and to recommend a practical programme of action to address this issue. The Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) aims to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions and, in the process, to help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.
  • Ray Anderson has implemented an impressive program on "Mission Zero" to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by 2020 at his company Interface, a maker of carpets, and spreads the word of responsibility towards future generations e.g., on youtube or at TED in 2009, where he cited a poem by Glenn Thomas: Tomorrow's Child, follow the links to the lyrics and the [poem performed as a song.
  • Yann Arthus-Bertrand's film "HOME" makes the point that in 200.000 years on earth humanity has upset the balance of the planet, established by nearly four billion years of evolution. The price to pay is high, but it's too late to be a pessimist: humanity has barely ten yearsto reverse the trend, become aware of the full extent of its spoilation of the Earth's riches and change its patterns of consumption. The film wants to lay a foundation for the edifice that, together, we must rebuild.
  • In the same direction are two more projects Yann Arthus-Bertrand is involved in:
    • 6 billion others / 6 milliards d'autres: in 2003, after "The Earth seen from the Sky" Yann Arthus-Bertrand, with Sybille d’Orgeval and Baptiste Rouget-Luchaire, launched the project “6 Billion Others”
      • 5,000 interviews were filmed in 75 countries by 6 directors who went in search of the Others.
      • From a Brazilian fisherman to a Chinese shopkeeper, from a German performer to an Afghan farmer, all answered the same questions about their fears, dreams, ordeals, hopes
      • "What have you learnt from your parents? What do you want to pass on to your children? What difficult circumstances have you been through? What does love mean to you?"
      • Forty or so questions that help us to find out what separates and what unites us. These portraits of humanity today are accessible on this website.
    • The Good Planet Foundation works on public’s awareness raising and on the elaboration of concrete solutions in favor of a more responsible lifestyle ; more respectful of the planet and its inhabitants by
      • Sensitizing a large number of citizens to the world’s problems to give each one an active role in the future of the planet and its inhabitants ;
      • Mobilizing the economic actors and policies by linking them with the activities of the association and by helping them to set up their own sustainable development related procedures ;
      • Acting on the implementation of programs which intend to give concrete answers to the environmental crisis.
  • Colin Beavan, the "No Impact Man" started a No impact experient in 2006 which was turned into book, film, and blog and inspired the No Impact Project. It's mission is "To empower citizens to make choices which better their lives and lower their environmental impact through lifestyle change, community action, and participation in environmental politics." It invites to join a No Impact Experiment in "a one-week carbon cleanse."
  • Charles Birch argues in Regaining Compassion: For Humanity and Nature that there is a credible alternative to the materialistic worldview and a credible alternative to the traditional concept of God and that the transition to an ecologically sustainable society involves many steps that run counter to present trends.
  • The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists informs the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences and suggests measures to reduce the threats.
  • Jamais Cascio's piece in Foreign Policy on The Next Big Thing: Resilience. Resilience hopefully is more than another fad but something intelligent beings can build into their way to communicate knowledge. His list of principles for resilience (diversity, redundancy, decentralization, collaboration, transparency, fail gracefully, flexibility and foresight) is a bit of a wish list rather than a scientific analysis of resilient systems, but a very good start. It does not include understanding some principles that govern the system one lives in, which would not include real foresight, but would probably help more.
  • Carbonrally is a web-based activism platform offering individuals and groups a fun, simple and social way to have a measurable impact on climate change.
  • The Charter for Compassion, initiated by Karen Armstrong, emphasises the Golden Rule, the principle of compassion to improve human society and its future. It closes with: "we urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community."
  • Captain Jacques Cousteau in the early 1990's launched a campaign for a formal resolution to inscribe "Every person has the right to inherit an uncontaminated planet on which all forms of life may flourish" in a Bill of Rights in international law. It is carried on by the Custeau Society.
  • The Darwin Project (started by David Loye) intends to support and expand Darwin's original full vision to reveal caring, love, moral evolution, and education as the prime drivers for human evolution. It's website has Links to a Better World.
  • De Kleine Aarde is a Dutch organization providing inspiration for sustainable living.
  • Denkwerk Zukunft, a foundation started in 2007 in Germany, with the main aim to renew western civilization, in order to make it future compatible and generalizable. Its events and publications contain a search for alternatives to growth and a focus on well-being.
  • The Designers Accord is a global coalition of designers, educators, researchers, engineers, and corporate leaders, working together to create positive environmental and social impact. Its mission includes createing a web platform to enable the conversation about opportunities and challenges associated with creating products and services that make positive social and environmental impact.
  • Dot Earth is a blog on the NY Times website where reporter Andrew C. Revkin examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits.
  • The Earth Charter Initiative s a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society for the 21st century.
  • The Earth Policy Institute founded by Lester Brown is dedicated to building a sustainable future as well as providing a plan of how to get from here to there. Lester Brown's books are on sale and available online on their site for free, including Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress & a Civilization in Trouble (2003) and its 2009 update Plan B 4.0. "Brown argues that food may be the issue that convinces the world of the need to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020. Every major environmental trend from climate change to deforestation and water scarcity affect food supplies. In this completely revised edition, Brown focuses on details of the plan and how it is already emerging in the energy economy."
  • The Earthship Biotecture is a company promoting "proven, totally sustainable designs, construction drawings & details, products, educational materials, lectures / presentations, consultation & guidance toward getting people in sustainable housing".
  • The Ecological Design Institute is a non profit organization dedicated to research and education that applies ecological principles and practices to the redesign of our environment. Founded in 1969 by Sim Van der Ryn, the Ecological Design Institute was one of the first non profit organizations to focus on a whole systems approach to the design of the built environment by integrating architecture, human and natural ecology.
  • Apparently to reduce environmental problems in the US, the Federation on American Immigration Reform organizes a debate around immigration, overpopulation and environmental disaster. While immigration policy may be necessary for nations, the author of these lines fears that such interests will not contribute ultimately sustainable solutions to environmental issues. In light of million generations on this planet the focus on one nation seems neither obvious nor helpful, humans come in one kind and unless someone finds sustainable ways to live on this planet no single part of it is will be able to continue.
  • The Future of Life Institute catalyzes and supports research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges, started with a seminar 24 May 2014 at MIT.
  • The guardians of the future believe that people who live today have the sacred right and obligation to protect the commonwealth of the Earth and the common health of people and all our relations for many generations to come.
  • Global Shift Unleashed, initiated by Ervin László is The Graduate Institute’s new series of Graduate Courses and Certificate Programs focused on working effectively towards the solution of the world’s most vexing and universal problems, those undermining the attainment of productive, happy and healthy human life, ecological equilibrium and world peace.
  • Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) is an organization that searches for better outcomes, including new solutions, to the management of knowledge resources.
  • Raymond Kurzweil is the author of several books on artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism, the technological singularity, and futurism and a leading optimist regarding technological developments. He points to the exponential nature of both evolution and technological progress and believes we will succeed in reverse engeering the human brain in the 2020ies resulting in a technological singularity. One of his websites presents a discussion of the various dangerous technologies and the Mind·Exchange, an open forum with a focus on emerging trends in technology and related fields. The site also contains a large number of articles by "big thinkers" on the subject. Wikipedia's article on Raymond Kurzweil references a lot of his work, and its entry on his book The Singularity is Near contains a summary and a list of Kurzweil's predictions.
  • The The Loka Institute's vision is to kindle a vibrant popular movement for community-driven policies in research, science, and technology that will advance democracy, social justice, and ecological sustainability at every level.
  • La Marguerite is a blog started by Marguerite Manteau-Rao "focused on behavioral solutions to climate change and other sustainability issues"
  • Tim 'Mac' Macartney founded Embercombe to "to champion a way of living that celebrates the opportunities inherent in this challenging time and that inspires people to contribute energetically towards the emergence of a socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually fulfilling human presence on earth". He uses the image of the 'Children's Fire' to point out the necessity to put the concerns of the next generation at the center of our institutions, as seen at the Qi conference in Singapore in 2010.
  • The UN's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was initiated by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and involved a US$24m effort from 2001 - 2005 to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being. In a number of reports it found that human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital and that with substantial changes in policy and practice, which are not currently underway, it is possible to reverse the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next 50 years.
  • The Natural Capital Institute serves the people who are transforming the world. It describes itself as a team of researchers, teachers, students, activists, scholars, writers, social entrepreneurs, artists, and volunteers committed to the restoration of the earth and the healing of human culture.
  • The Oil Drum (TOD) Great stuff! Focus energy and resources. Described above under collaborative efforts.
  • Redefining Progress a public policy think tank dedicated to smart economics works on solutions that ensure a sustainable and equitable world for future generations by integrating assets as clean air, safe streets, and cohesive communities into a more sustainable economic model. It offers a quiz to estimate one's ecological footprint, simlar to the one of the World Footprint Network's.
  • The Resilience Alliance is multidisciplinary research group that explores the dynamics of complex adaptive systems to research resilience in social-ecological systems, a basis for sustainability
  • Sharing Democracy attempts to develop a common philosophy and shared value system based on four core values (golden rule, responsibility for others, freedom to be, accountability for actions) on which future civilizations can co-exist
  • is a web based people-powered guide to sustainable living. contains personal accounts of how-tos, news, and local business and product reviews for sustainable living. SustainLane US City Rankings is a national survey that ranks the largest 50 US cities in terms of their sustainability practices.
  • The David Suzuki Foundation has worked to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us. Focusing on four program areas – oceans and sustainable fishing, climate change and clean energy, sustainability, and the Nature Challenge - the Foundation uses science and education to promote solutions that conserve nature and help achieve sustainability within a generation.
  • Transiton Network and Transition Culture were both started by Rob Hopkins.
    • Transition Netorks states its mission (in Jan 2010) as: to inspire, to encourage, to network, to support and, to train communities as they consider, adopt, adapt and implement the transition model in order to establish a Transition Initiative in their locale. The transition model emboldens communities to look peak oil and climate change squarely in the eye and unleash the collective genius of their own people to find the answers to this big question: for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how are we going to: significantly rebuild resilience (in response to peak oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (in response to climate change)? Typically, self-determined solutions will involve some flavour of relocalisation.
    • At TED in 2009 Rob Hopkins asked us in an inspiring talk "to begin the creation of a world that is more resilient more nourishing, in which we find ourselves fitter, more skilled and more connected to each other".
  • Twin Oaks is a small intentional community in rural central Virginia started in 1967 declaring to be self-supporting economically, and partly self-sufficient. They have been cited as a serious attempt at a resilient and sustainable community.
  • Foundation Urgenda intends to stimulate and accelerate processes that aim for a more sustainable civilization, starting in The Netherlands.
  • Worldchanging magazine is a solutions-based online magazine that works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together.
  • Wonderingmind42 created a series of videos making a compelling case for action against climate change based on a risk management perspective, from which resulted the Manpollo Project (as in Manhattan & Apollo project].
  • YESSS, Young Ecosystem-Scholars Support Services is an initiative of Paul Horan who offered a reward to “deserving young eco-geniuses” for their reflections on “what’s sustainable and what’s not"
  • ZeroGrowth answers the question "why zero growth?" with another question: "why not?" The concept would seem to deserve a clearer explanation.

In many instances, "sustainable" unfortunately seems to have become a fashionable adjective rather independent from a long-term, steady state perspective

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Futurology, Predicting and Shaping the Future

  • Nick Bostrom's article on the future of human evolution argues that evolution does not naturally  points in a desirable direction and  to avoid bad outcomes one needs to assume control over evolution, which require the creation of a singleton.  
  • Richard Hanson's paper on Burning the cosmic commons offers an economic style analysis of the consequences of a wave of colonization having expanded from some source for long enough, and in a decentralized enough manor, that a selection effect determines frontier behavior.
  • IEET: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies intends to become a center for voices arguing for a responsible, constructive approach to emerging human enhancement technologies. It believes that technological progress can be a catalyst for positive human development so long as we ensure that technologies are safe and equitably distributed. They call this a "technoprogressive" orientation.
  • IFTF: the Institute for the Future is an independent, nonprofit research group with nearly 40 years of forecasting experience. The core of its work is identifying emerging trends and discontinuities that will transform global society and the global marketplace. It launched a multiplayer forecasting game Superstruct Game in October 2008.
  • The Millennium Project of The World Federation of UN Associations is a global participatory futures research think tank of futurists, scholars, business planners, and policy makers who work for international organizations, governments, corporations, NGOs, and universities.
  • The The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University convenes symposia and conducts interdisciplinary, policy-relevant, and future-oriented research that contributes to long-term improvements in the human condition. The center’s focus is defined by its longer-range vision and is not confined to any particular set of issues. Its work seeks to identify, anticipate, and enhance the long-term potential for human progress; in all its myriad dimensions. The longer-range future the Pardee Center looks is in the 35-200 years range. In a very interesting and wide ranging lecture in 2005 Murray Gell-Mann describes the "Big Picture" and discusses the problems of modelling (prothesis for the imagination), and warning, “We have to get rid of the idea that careful study of a problem in some narrow range of issues is the only kind of work to be taken seriously, while integrative thinking is relegated to cocktail party conversation.” The Pardee center published 'Shaping the Next One Hundred Years' by Robert J. Lemper, Steven W. Popper and Steven C. Bankes and made it available as pdf. It also has list links to organizations concerned with the long term global future.
  • The SpaceCollective "where forward thinking terrestrials exchange ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction today."
  • UNIDO's Technology Foresight provides inputs for the formulation of technology policies and strategies that guide the development of the technological infrastructure. In addition, technology foresight provides support to innovation, and incentives and assistance to enterprises in the domain of technology management and technology transfer, leading to enhanced competitiveness and growth.
  • The World Future Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan scientific and educational association of people interested in how social and technological developments are shaping the future
  • The World Transhumanist Association advocates the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities. It also explores risks as well as benefits, with the ultimate aim of developing workable strategies and policies to enable societies and individuals to navigate the waters ahead.
  • In 1974, the Venus Project founded by Jacque Fresco in Venus, Florida, that "proposes a feasible plan of action for social change; one that works toward a peaceful and sustainable global civilization ...[and] presents a vision not of what the future will be, but what it can be if we apply what we already know in order to achieve a sustainable new world civilization. It calls for a straightforward redesign of our culture in which the age-old problems of war, poverty, hunger, debt, and unnecessary human suffering are viewed not only as avoidable, but as totally unacceptable." Apart from colorful designs and concepts the project promotes the transition to a resource economy rather than a monetary one. A documentary film Future by Design about it has been released in 2006, and the Venus Project features in the Zeitgeist movie by Peter Joseph. The Zeitgeist Movement has resulted from the movie, is called the activist arm of the Venus Project.

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Collapses of civilizations

  • William Catton describes industrialization as a prelude to collapse in an excerpt of his 1982 book "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change" ISBN 0252009886.
  • Theodor Mommsen described the fall of the Roman Empire in his work History of Rome (Deutsche Fassung) where he tended towards a biological analogy of "genesis," "growth," "senescence," "collapse" and "decay" for the phases of civilization.
  • Carroll Quigley: The EVOLUTION OF CIVILIZATIONS ISBN 0913966576 John Robb: "Quigley sees civilization as a patchwork of wealth/solution creation engines that fail when they become self-serving institutions (organizations that perpetuate the problem they were built to solve) that fight renewal."
  • Joseph Tainter: The Collapse of Complex Societies (ISBN 052138673X). The author suggests that while invasions, crop failures, disease or environmental degradation may be the apparent causes of societal collapse, the ultimate cause is diminishing returns on investments in social complexity. Listen to Tainter's audio comments
  • Annenberg Media's interactive online teaching aid discusses history of collapsed societies and reasons for the collapse.
  • Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes) (published 1918). He wrote that "for the first time it is tried to predetermine history". The decline of societies and cultures in the past would give an indication how the current culture would decline - all this similar to other organic substances. All cultures towards decline undergo the phase of civilization i.e. predominance of technique, agglomeration of masses in metropoli, rule of money, democracy as a mean of capitalists to conceal their real dominion. Then the mayor achievements of culture, arts, music, poetry and philosophy would go to hell. Dictators and wars would arise. The Europeans would fall back to the being of ahistorical fellahs, Berlin and London comparable with Nineveh.

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Expectations of an End of the World

Historical examples attest to civilizations that collapsed for "homemade" reasons, with disastrous consequences for their population and the ability to maintain it (see above).

This section is prompted by the "end of times" calendar of Club Interbellum, which counts down the days to the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec 21, 2012 with a collection of short and generally ludicrous texts around the end of the world. Volunteers on wikipedia collected a long list of examples of predictions of apocalyptic events i.e., an end to mankind or at least civilization, the world "as we know it", ranging from Assyrian predictions almost 5000 years ago to the 2012 phenomenon and dates further in the future. The attention these predictions get attests to a fascination with an end not only to one's own life but that of all others, too.

A general expectation of an ultimate end attributed to external causes such as fate or God is a part of many traditions, though on different time scales. See e.g., on wikipedia End Time, Last Judgement, armageddon, Ragnarök, Kalki, Li Hong. A countdown to an end of the world is found on many websites, some funny, instructive like, (targets the numerous predictions for an end of times in 2011 and recently the focus seems to have shifted to the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012), (a collection of end of times scenarios). Other sites try to capitalize on other's fears by selling doomsday information material or gear.

Physicists generally expect the "second law" to describe nature adequately and determine the ultimate fate of an ever expanding universe as the equalization of all differences ('heat death'). This requires that information processing and life are temporary phenomena. Such an end to any life, however, would be inevitable only on time scales long beyond even those of the lifetime of stars (black holes are expected to evaporate on a time scale of 10 to the 100 years), so life, while not eternal, might exist in the universe for very long time scales. Nature demonstrates how the biosphere can survive, evolving over billions of years, resilient even in face of extreme challenges. The sun is expected to provide conditions suitable to life on the earth for a billion more years or more. The earth will stay (for a very long while).

The question whether the growth of knowledge can be combined with long term existence is undecided. It would seem to depend largely on ourselves. Milliongenerations is about finding useful perspectives.

Threats to survival of civilizations, existential risks

Several initiatives or institutes study existential risk and how to reduce them

Intrinsic factors

  • Intellectual progress, societal developments, increase of knowledge and technical capability could pose a threat to humanity e.g.,
    • Bill Joy's influential call to contain dangerous technologies (robotic, genetic, nanotechnology) "Why the future doesn't need us".
    • The development of machines able to build even more intelligent machines is usually expected to lead to a runaway development of machine capability commonly labelled (technological) 'singularity'. Vernon Vinge suggested that it is the most likely non-catastrophic scenario for this century and that if such an event can happen it will happen. Philosopher David Chalmers speculated on what the singularity could mean for humanity in a paper in 2010. Chalmers underscores our lack of understanding of concsiousness and identity, which are central to the assessment of the possible effects of such developments on humanity and human individuals, making any judgement on the effects of such an event speculative.
    • Martin Rees estimates a 50:50 chance that this will be our last century, a point made in a book and in a brief presentation at the TED conference in 2005.
    • Daniel Suarez' thriller "Daemon" describes the onset of an attempt to save civilization from forces within that threaten it, and it looks from a rather unusual angle. It touches on the risks of progress and narrow artificial intelligence, and also on the dependence of finance, power and welfare on technology and the susceptibility of society's monoculture to catastrophic developments. Its main relevance in this context is rather briefly mentioned at the very end; to explain that in more detail might at least partially spoil a fascinating read. The author elaborated on the risks of narrow AI in a presentation to the LongNow Foundation in the summer of 02008.
    • The assymetry of offensive versus defensive capability and the difficulty to predict complex systems make the prospect that with continued progress it is only a question of time until anyone can create pathogens or weapons of mass destruction a serious concern and a leading contender for the solution to Fermi's paradox.

  • Changes in climate
    • popular subject, effects on carrying capacity and way of life, similar to the exhaustion of resources
    • 1982: John Hamaker in "The Survival of Civilizations" (www editon 2002 with annotations by Donald Weaver) discusses the threat of a glacial period
    • Eugene Linden's "The Winds of Change" discusses weather and the destruction of civilisations.

Many other risks have been discussed, human caused or external. Examples (should be organized better):

  • The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists informs the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences. In 2007, its Doomsday clock is set at six minutes to Midnight (2010).
  • Exit Mundi, a large collection of end-world scenarios by Maarten Keulemans (also available as book in Dutch)
  • The Guardian April 14, 2005: "What a way to go" Scientists name the greatest danger to civilization.

  • Jay Hanson, Tom Robertson site provide a lot of links and information on sustainability and energy
  • Stephen Petranek: 10 ways the world could end Video at the 2002 TED conference
  1. Asteroids, a question of when and how big
  2. Black Hole about a billion miles away could alter earth's orbit
  3. Epidemic
  4. Solar flares
  5. Poles reverse
  6. Biotech mishap
  7. Particle accelerator mishap creates lasting black hole or strangelets
  8. The Ecosystem collapses, solve by ecosystem modelling and huge biodiversity reserves
  9. Aliens invade earth
  10. We loose the will to survive due to the spreading of depression, the biggest epidemic humans have ever faced

  • The Worldshiftnetwork issued a declaration on the state of global emergency listing in Annex 2 Main Threats to Human Survival in the 21st Century (Global Warming and Nuclear War) and Current Global Challenges:
    • World Population Growth
    • Resource Depletion
    • Food Production and Distribution
    • Air Quality
    • Freshwater Availability
    • Arable Land

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Surviving threats, resilience

  • The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, as we move towards a technological singularity.
  • Wikipedia entry on Survivalism contains a many references, mostly about surviving on a personal level rather than as a civilization.
  • The Dark Mountain Project, conceived and is curated by Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, starts with a sense that civilisation as we have known it is coming to an end and is driven by a belief that this age of collapse could also offer a new start, if we are careful in our choices. The "bubble" that "is civilization" needs to go. Paul Kningsnorth wrote: The "Dark Mountain Project... won’t save the world, but it might help us think about how to live through a hard century."
Collapses of civilizations have in the past always been accompanied with rapid reductions of population, undesirable themselves, and with loss of knowledge. Looking from milliongenerations's perspective such deliberate shedding of "the world as we know it" and writing with "dirt under our fingernails" therefore doesn't strike as a particularily obvious solution and does not seem a viable basis to allow the passing on of cognitive information for very long time scales.
  • ALLFED researches and encourages food supply after catastrophe (how to feed everyone no matter what), founded by David Denkenberger and Ray Taylor.

The length of a generation increases

100 years a go a generation whas about 20 years, now it is closer to 25 and still increasing. For MG, this implies that in years, the envisioned 25 million years might as well be a shear underestimation. Will it be closer to 50 million, 100 million, or even a milliard?

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