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What is the greatest threat to human civilization?

In short, what do you think is the greatest threat to human civilization?
Anything from nuclear war, to global warming to alien invasion will be accepted as an answer. Note that actually causing humanity to go extinct in the process is not a requirement.
I would however prefer concrete answers, not abstracts like "lack of wisdom".

I'd have to say plague myself, though whether artificial or natural, I wouldn't know.
We're more interconnected, and travel faster, easier and more prevalent then ever before, and the rapid response and forceful quarantine infrastructure and personnel that would be required to prevent it are simply not in place.
It doesn't help that the vast majority of nations today are too slow to respond to emergencies and/or too softhearted to properly enforce a proper quarantine in the early stages when its still effective.

Seeing as I have some characters left, let me list off other common answers and why I don't think they're as dangerous:
--Global nuclear war simply doesn't seem very likely since the end of the Cold War and the gradual stripping down of arsenals. Localized cases like the India/Pakistan standoff are still there, but they don't threaten global civilization as a whole.
--climate change, man made or otherwise, simply isn't as apocalyptic as people make it out to be. Human civilization has existed for more then 5000 years in a wide range of fluctuating climatic conditions, and in many ways, we've actually grown more robust to their sudden change, not more vulnerable. Don't get me wrong, there is room for tremendous damage, but its not at "deathblow to civilization" levels.
--Zombies would be quickly wiped out by the military. For an army used to fighting against people with guns, zombies would be something of a vacation.

But back to being serious, what do you think is the greatest threat to human civilization, and why?

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    • Feb 16 2014: Bingo....... You winner the lottery.
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      Feb 16 2014: Kudos, Brendan! If you want two words - HUMAN NATURE.

      In the near future, anthropogenic extinction scenarios exist: global nuclear annihilation, total global war, dysgenics, overpopulation[1] or global accidental pandemic; besides natural ones: Meteor impact and large scale volcanism; and anthropogenic-natural hybrid events like global warming and catastrophic climate change. Naturally caused extinction scenarios have occurred multiple times in the geologic past although the probability of reoccurrence within the human timescale of the near future is infinitesimally small. As technology develops, there is a theoretical possibility that humans may be deliberately destroyed by the actions of a nation state, corporation or individual in a form of global suicide attack. There is also a theoretical possibility that technological advancement may resolve or prevent potential extinction scenarios. The emergence of a pandemic of such virulence and infectiousness that very few humans survive the disease is a credible scenario. While not necessarily a human extinction event, this may leave only very small, very scattered human populations that would then evolve in isolation. It is important to differentiate between human extinction and the extinction of all life on Earth. Of possible extinction events, only a pandemic is selective enough to eliminate humanity while leaving the rest of complex life on earth relatively unscathed. Wikipedia
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    • Feb 18 2014: An interesting insight, but its far from the complete picture.

      People may be less inclined to start killing and dying if they don't believe in an afterlife, but they don't cease completely. Case in point, militaries around the world have atheists in them, and the famously "godless" communist block did a fair bit of fighting while they were still around.

      Nationalism and other political ideologies actually serve just fine as religious substitutes when it comes to motivating fighters.
      The trick is to get people zealously believing in them to the point they stop thinking straight. This might sound like a tall order, but I can tell you from experience that its depressingly easy right up to the point the bodies start piling. Especially considering that there's no shortage of people that already don't think straight without any further encouragement.
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        • Feb 19 2014: From what I've heard, the Chinese (or the ruling majority anyway) consider themselves to be good godless communists. Well, they're most capitalist at this stage, but still anti religious, even if superstition is more prevalent then they like to admit.
          The Russians have also completely separated church and state since their communist days, and haven't really reversed the trend since (though they did grow more moderate when they stopped actively prosecuting religious groups--moved onto homosexuals instead recently; it would appear a Putin needs an enemy to unite the people against).

          While France and Britain still retain a fair bit of religious traditions and rhetoric, they're slowly turning more secular as time goes by, as is standard in most developed nations nowadays (the US has been traditionally more religious, so its taking longer in that regard).

          Of course, where religion goes, secular ideas must take its place. When we're lucky, its science and philosophy. When we're not, its nationalism or some other political ideology.
          When we're really unlucky, its a combination of nationalism and religion intertwined in inseparable cesspool. This particular variant is more popular in the Muslim world, where there has been traditionally no separation of church and state. While some are growing out of it, other regions like Syria have only seen an increase in this brand of fanaticism.
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          Feb 21 2014: Human stupidity and apathy are the greatest threats---religious fanaticism included. We can even say that it's religion alone since at the end of this world, the final war will be religious.
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        • Feb 19 2014: Something to consider in distant future perhaps.
          Problem is, I don't fit in any political party, and probably never will unless by some freak occurrence I start my own. I'm a dead set pragmatist--I find most ideology to be counterproductive and detached from reality.

          Most people don't follow political pragmatism. It involves too much thinking, and being too flexible in both your morals and state of mind. You actually have to consider all your actions instead of mindlessly turning to a rigid pre-established ideology or dogma--madness I tell you!
          It simply not built for mass appeal. Its the same reason the more rational philosophies and more philosophical and abstract religions tend to fade away and take a backseat to more ritualistic and dogmatic alternatives. Thinking is hard; someone else doing the thinking for you is easy, especially concerning issues of a grander scope.
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      Feb 20 2014: Brendan, where and how do you get all these ideas?
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        • Feb 28 2014: Awesome.

          "Main trick is to read much more widely than deeply- acquire a working knowledge of a field and move on to the next one so you can synthesize a thesis from several fields that can survive assaults from single-field scholars and withstand the test of time"

          Reading widely and deeply is the key to understanding the truth.

          "I could not have done this in the cannibalistic "publish or perish" academic world that forces scholars to crank out theses that are often weak and untested, and then defend them for years after... sheer insanity."

          Most of the theses cranked out by these scholars see things in bits and pieces and also in a isolated way rather than in a holistic way.
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      Feb 20 2014: Brendan,
      You say...."The greatest threat to human civilization is the belief in a "life hereafter,"...."

      Is it the belief that is a threat? Or is it how some people choose to act/react to that belief that is the threat?
      It goes back to people making choices....does it not?
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          Feb 20 2014: No problem is an open obligations...nothing to be sorry about:>)
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          Feb 20 2014: Brendan
          Regarding your edit...
          "Why don't you ask atheist Nadav that question... it is his chat, after all, and I'm sure he would have very similar replies."

          You are the one who wrote the comment. It makes no sense to me, to ask someone else to respond to your comment. It's perfectly ok for you not to respond if that is what you choose:>)
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          Feb 20 2014: Welcome to the day Brendan:>)

          I am aware that the idea of an afterlife is a mainstay of many religions, and I do not agree that it has a "life of its own". I believe that how one acts/reacts to that information is a choice. There are quite a few people in our world who believe in an afterlife and are not destructive or violent.

          I do not perceive a belief in an afterlife as a threat to human civilization. I believe it is how one uses and/or abuses that information.

          And it's certainly ok if we do not agree:>)
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          Feb 21 2014: Hi again Brendan!
          I think I understand your main point, and sorry you feel that I ignored it. I simply do not agree that "The greatest threat to human civilization is the belief in a "life hereafter," .

          My point, is that a belief cannot be a threat until/unless it is acted upon, and while many people in our world believe that there is an afterlife, there are many who do not adversely, destructively, violently act on that belief.

          So, in my humble perception, the belief itself is not a threat. Those people who act violently against others because of their belief are a threat, and I don't perceive that to be the majority of people who believe in an afterlife.

          Are you suggesting that I have "long-held personal dogmas"? For your information, I do not practice a religion or believe in a god. I am however, open to both sides of an issue, and I probably will go on my "merry way" continuing to be open to information.....thanks for noticing:>)
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          Feb 23 2014: Thanks Brendan,
          I looked at your profile when we had our fist conversation, as I usually do when a new person appears on TED, because I like to learn about people, it gives me a sense of the person I am interacting with, and I've read many of your comments.

          Thanks for the offer of your illustrated paper, and I will pass. I did my own research regarding "mental minefields we must traverse to survive" after a near fatal brain injury years ago. I appreciate the information I explored, as well as the practical applications:>)

          Although I was right brain dominant most of my life, the injury seemed to encourage new neural pathways which interconnect the right and left sides of the brain, and now there seems to be more of a balance, using right and left interchangeably, which I LOVE!
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    Feb 23 2014: IMO, the greatest threat is the human ego’s endless & desperate need for recognition and what this need leads to. This need, which incessantly seeks ways to gratify itself, creates immediately the endless desire in our minds to find ways towards this gratification. This desire finds its expression in the diverse forms of the humanity’s endless greed for power, money, fame, acquiring materialistic possessions, acquiring Facebook friends, overpowering the fellow person in various competitive scenarios in order to be recognized as more capable than the others….etc. The need for recognition creates also a counter-reaction in case one feels that he//she has less than others the above objects of recognition (power, money, fame, possessions, capability….etc). This counter-reaction, due to having less than others (interpreted as being less capable than others), is expressed in the forms of jealousy, frustration, hatred, bitterness.

    I have read the discussion hereby between Brendan and Nadav about god, religions and what actually god is. But IMO there’s even more basic question which should be asked and that question can also be related to the human ego’s need for recognition.

    The question is, why there has been such a universal need for external god and deities ?? It does not matter which religion or which type of religion (monotheistic or polytheistic) we choose to look at. IMO, this universal need is originated from the human ego’s basic desire for recognition – a recognition by some intelligent entity with superpower in the human existence and in the human mundane needs. This also explains why and how the humanity has always placed itself at the center of any divine creation, no matter what’s the religion. The various religions are the mean for the human ego to be and remain universally and eternally at the focus of whatever universal superpower’s attention and thus actually attain the highest possible recognition in its (the ego’s) existence.
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        Feb 23 2014: Very interesting points. I saw the video and it all makes sense.

        In the line of my original comment I would say that the humanized external god is the creation of the human mind which is fooled by its own lunatic ego.
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        Feb 26 2014: Hi Brendan,

        This is a reply to your last comment, "Good points, Yubal- We are expanding the topic here,....."

        The Human Epigenome Project you are introducing looks very intriguing and promising. The search for scientific Hard-Wiring solutions must be kept on as science has been proven until now to be very successful in giving practical answers and reaching practical solutions to vast many specific problems.

        But the question is, whether the project is going to touch the root cause for the main question raised in this discussion. Suppose this project indeed succeeds very well and somehow a cure is found for the over-growth of the left (masculine) side of the brain. But will this annihilate the basic and deeply rooted nature of our ego ?? Perhaps the project will reduce the aggression, as aggression is more associated with masculinity. But I doubt the project could delete the ego’s need for recognition. One does not need go far to see this. For example, even today, if we take the women, who we agree are less aggressive than men, the women possess equally the same need for recognition like men. The feminine ego is not less demanding to whatever concerned with self-gratification. One can find a lot of examples for this.

        Besides this, there are other factors than just aggression which are related to the need for recognition, that I had specified in my original comment. All these make me think that this and any other scientific project or cure will not be capable of annihilating the root cause which risk us. I think what Colleen calls “Mindful Awareness” or I call “Self Awareness”, in their highest capacity, can be the real cure for the problem raised at this discussion.
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          Feb 27 2014: I agree Yubal, that Mindful Awareness/Self Awareness, in the highest capacity, can be the real cure for the challenge raised in this discussion.

          I don't like making this a gender issue, or a right brain/left brain issue, because the question is...."What is the greatest threat to human civilization?" We are all humans, with some of the same capacities, and some different.

          Society has instructed us for years regarding male and female roles. Boys/men were supposed to be the financial supporters, and in that regard had to be more aggressive and competitive. Girsl/women were taught to be the emotional was ok to cry and show emotions.

          As we evolve with a different paradigm, we are learning that women are just as capable of math and science, which are generally thought of as motivated by a stronger left brain, while the new "stay at home dads" are strengthening more emotional components, which are generally thought of as right brain dominant.

          We CAN ALL find a balance, which may contribute to us being less of a threat to each other and our civilization......I like this article:>)

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          Feb 27 2014: I just watched this DELIGHTFUL TED presentation. What do you think? Is she left brain, or right brain dominant? My guess is that she is using BOTH hemispheres of her well nurtured, balanced brain:>)

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        Feb 27 2014: Amazing…… as I too live very close to the IAF museum, around 10 KMs drive from my home. I had visited there several times. I have seen pictures of the USAF museum. It’s very huge containing thousands of even very old airplanes from WWII and on. I wish and hope someday I would visit it.

        Yes, it looks paradoxical that technical guys discuss philosophy. But IMO, it’s only seemingly paradoxical. It looks paradoxical from the traditional view of differentiation and categorizing which is dominant for centuries in the western thought. You call it the domination of the left-side brain. But in this era we are going through, it’s becoming increasingly clear that everything is intertwined together. I think that those who are capable of mastering numerous fields and view things from various and seemingly unrelated perspectives, have much better chances to get closer to the truth.

        About fighting and having conflicts with certain sides within us, have you seen the TED talk “The voices in my head” ? If not, it’s here:

        And my TED comment relating both this and one another talk:
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          Feb 27 2014: Dear Brendan,
          That is a very old "brain test" which has been circulating around on e-mail for a very long time, and is fun to try.

          You "command" her to change? Make her "obey" you? That is funny!

          From the first time I saw it, I observed the dancer turning in one direction a couple times then switching directions back and forth....that is what I continue to observe without any commands or obedience! Perhaps it is proof that I am using both "brain hemis" simultaneously! Cool!
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      Feb 24 2014: Your comment has some Interesting points which make sense Yubal.
      As I wrote in my first comment in this discussion..."I think humans are the greatest threat to ourselves". Any threatening behaviors or practices I can think of are initiated by humans.

      I agree that the need for recognition and the fear of not having "enough", often fuels many underlying emotions, which manifest into threatening behaviors against others.

      I have also read the comments about a belief in a god/religion in this comment thread and many others on TED, and as I stated in another comment, a belief is not threatening until/unless it is acted on in an aggressive, threatening way.

      There are many people in our world who believe in a god, religion, afterlife, etc., who do not behave aggressively or threateningly toward others. Perhaps those who are not aggressive do not have fear of not having enough, or need for recognition? As we know, there are many who are aggressive toward others.....they say....because of their belief in a god/religion.

      I agree with you when you say...."The various religions are the mean for the human ego to be and remain universally and eternally at the focus of whatever universal superpower’s attention and thus actually attain the highest possible recognition in its (the ego’s) existence."

      This might help explain why fundamentalists or extremists like to tell us their religion/god is the one and only, they are "blessed" because they know this (sense of recognition by their god/religious leaders, etc.), and they are going to heaven (they will finally be recognized and have enough of everything) while the rest of us go to hell and suffer for not embracing THEIR belief! This concept suggests that they are better and more intelligent than the rest of us, and need recognition for that?
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        Feb 25 2014: It’s definitely true that NOT the belief by itself in god or in whatever else idea (like science) causes the trouble, but the misuse or the misunderstanding of them by the humans IS the source of all the troubles. Humans are the doers of both the good & evil. This is very important to remember and remind each and every possible opportunity. That’s why I gave you twice Thumbs Up for 2 of your comments below.

        Definitely the fundamentalists crave the recognition. Their ego is intoxicated by their certain deep understandings and they lose control of it. Their minds do not pause to ponder about the comprehensive picture which those certain deep understandings lead to, which actually should lead them towards mental modesty and tolerance. Their ego runs wild due to certain spiritual and intellectual insights they gain, as this is the very nature of every ego. But their minds or mentality is not strong enough to restrain their own exhibitionist ego. They lack the sufficient presence of the very important thing called Self-Awareness.
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      Feb 24 2014: Ego can be a good thing; it depends on if the need for recognition comes from rather if "you value yourself as others see you", or if "you desire others to see you as you value yourself."

      For example Richard Branson values himself highly and wants others to see his value, and I think that is a good thing.

      As to faith and religion; we really need to keep in mind the egos of the leaders are not a reflection of the egos of the followers. You can say science has no ego, and yet its faithful has a variety of egos.

      Imagine being raise with others seeing as having no value, you’re just a peasant, lower class, untouchable, at this point it would be unlikely for you to learn to value yourself. Then imagine you find god and he is saying you are wonderful, at this point it would be Likely for you to learn to value yourself.

      Personally my value comes from within, and my spirituality is a boost and a shield against those doesn’t see my value.

      For those who value is external, I’m glad that there are good religions to help them.
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        Feb 24 2014: I agree Don, that the ego is neither good or bad. It is part of us for a reason.

        As defined:
        "the self esp. as contrasted with another self or the world; one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality esp. by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality"

        I perceive that like anything in the life adventure, mindful awareness is important to keep things in balance....including the ego. Understanding our "self" and how the ego impacts us as individuals is the important piece. As you say....does our value or perception of our "self" come from within and "knowing" our self, or do we depend on external influences to sustain and nurture our "self"?

        If the ego has an "endless & desperate need for recognition", as Yubal says, I suspect that one is seeking that outside oneself.
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        Feb 25 2014: I completely agree ego can do both good and bad things. I had written according to this theme at:

        At this forum I had given just the trait of ego which may cause serious harm (the craving for recognition), as this was the initializing question of this discussion. I did not argue that the entire ego is bad.

        As Colleen says above:
        "mindful awareness is important to keep things in balance....including the ego. Understanding our "self" and how the ego impacts us as individuals is the important piece."
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      Feb 25 2014: After reading all the above replies I’m thinking it would be best to say the greatest threat is emotions that are out of control, ether extremely too strong or extremely insufficient will do harm.

      *Too much ego will blind you to the harm you do, too little can make you unproductive and vulnerable to abuse.

      *Too much Spirituality will enrage you to the harm others, too little can make you uncaring about the needs of others. (By spirituality I include faith in goodness of mankind, god, angels, science, nature, the 9 noble virtues/Odinic Rite, or if you’re like me a blending of them all.)

      *Even too much happiness can make you reckless, too little and you’re depressed, unproductive and suicidal.
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        Feb 27 2014: Brendan,
        I suggest that boys/men are not becoming disempowered, but rather understanding real power in a different way. When we begin to understand something in a new or different way, it sometimes feels confusing.

        Women throughout history have known their/our power, and have bowed to society, which insisted we were/are the weaker sex:>)

        I wholeheartedly agree on the idea of balance:>)
    • Feb 27 2014: This has turned out to be a great conversation, very thought provoking stuff. I'll add my $0.02 by saying that not all religions have been ego builders. The "primal"religions, at least in my uneducated understanding , focused on the connectiveness of human to the "natural world" or as Huston Smith put it "as for the tribe, it is embedded in nature, and again so solidly that the line between the two is not easy to establish. ... The contrary of embeddedness is is a world of scissions and segregations, so we will approach the embeddedness of primal life by noticing the relative absence of these in its world." I think you are right though that the anthropomorphisized "God" is definitely a creation of vanity. I agree also (if I understand you correctly) that being a slave to our egos and the misidentification of ourselves with these egos is dangerous and very often leads to destructiveness. The "ego" is a powerful tool, but we have not yet learned how to use it wisely. It is a navigation tool that relates past experiences to future possibilities, but we are taught to believe that we are our egos and once we are convinced of this we are no longer in control of ourselves.
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    Feb 20 2014: THE MIGHTY NATURE - it nourishes and destroys, beyond human comprehension.
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    Feb 19 2014: We are our enemies
    We are the threat itself
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    Feb 15 2014: The merger between Comcast and Time Warner.
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    Feb 18 2014: A super caldera eruption rarely gets mentioned but is more likely than most other threats that get more press.
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    Feb 16 2014: The failure to learn from history.

    I find it ironic that the ancient Greeks and others have made observations and documented events that continue to face nations today ... yet even knowing this we continue to follow inadvisable paths. We know that nothing is free yet we seek free stuff ... we know that the bigger the government, the more it costs ... we know that to continue printing money will cause inflation ... we know that unfunded social programs cannot survive ... we understand all of these things and history has shown us the problems each will envoke ... yet we continue.

    Man is by far the greatest danger known ... with all of our knowledge we persist in doing stupid things and fail to learn from history.

    Be well. Bob.
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    Feb 16 2014: Environmental degradation.
    • Timo X

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      Feb 16 2014: Environmental degradation or, as I would put it, destruction is the most important issue facing humans right now. Climate change is just one of the signs and catalysts of environmental destruction, but one thing on the list containing deforestation, desertification, overfishing, poaching, extinction, pollution, et.c

      Sure, these disasters can happen naturally too. Ice ages, solar flares, supervolcanoes, meteorites, etc. have killed thousands of species and made large parts of the world uninhabitable. Environmental degradation is not exclusive to human beings, but does that make it acceptable? Are small differences in financial wealth worth a degradation of our environment? Would we be happier in a world filled with pollution, disaster and death?

      Another thing you hear is that tackling environmental issues gets in the way of economic progress. I'm an economist, and I can tell you that it doesn't: a negative externality is not a free lunch. Simply because we don't pay for environmental resources doesn't mean that nobody does. If we're using a resource, someone, somewhere, at some point in time, will pay for it.

      For example, imagine a company that pollutes a stream by dumping its toxic waste there. That's nice for the company, because it doesn't need to pay for getting rid of the waste in an environmentally friendly manner. It's not so nice for the fish in the stream who die as a consequence, or the fishermen who now lose their livelihoods. It's also not so great for those who, unwittingly, swim in the lake and develop rare cancers 50 years on. But the company saved some money, so at least the economy is better off, right?

      But who will support the fishermen in their unemployment, who will pay for cancer treatments? Effectively, the company sent its cleaning bill to future victims and the taxpayers. The costs are transferred, but no smaller or less real. And who would prefer wealth over disease and unemployment? Who would possibly call thát economic progress?
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    Feb 21 2014: I think it is debt.
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    Feb 20 2014: Hi Nadav:>)
    I think humans are the greatest threat to ourselves. A nuclear war would be created by humans...yes? Global warming is influenced by human practices....yes? If aliens visited us, we do not know their intent, and how we act/react to that situation might make a difference in the outcome.

    Plague.....mmmmm.....I tend to think that we are getting better about response efforts, and our continued efforts toward interconnecting are helpful for that.

    GMOs have been mentioned as a possibility. We humans have choices regarding what we we continue to buy foods that may be detrimental to our health? Or do we buy and grow foods for ourselves that are more healthy?

    As you say..." Human civilization has existed for more then 5000 years in a wide range of fluctuating climatic conditions, and in many ways, we've actually grown more robust to their sudden change, not more vulnerable".

    I certainly will ponder, and at this time, I believe we are our own greatest threat. The choices we make for ourselves as individuals and as a global society greatly impact how we live our lives and our ability to survive.
    • Feb 20 2014: If anything, plague containment efforts have gotten worse, not better. The measures haven't changed, its still the same basic quarantine, but travel has gotten faster and easier nowadays, meaning response must be swifter.
      The problem is, a quarantine is a pretty harsh measure. Doing it properly typically involves military personnel with orders to shoot anyone trying to break it, and there are always people trying to break it. Its not the sort of measure you employ lightheartedly, which means it usually takes time before leaders realize its bad enough to give the order. Problem is, its only effective if you place it early and ruthlessly--which means the plague is probably going to break out beyond anyone's ability to contain while everyone was still debating what to do.

      Worst case scenario on a plague is something like what happened to native groups when Europeans with old world diseases came along, especially smallpox. 90% of the population dead within a matter of months. Its virulent illness that won the new world, not steel or horses or even gunpowder.

      Its also a fair bit more likely then a nuclear war, seeing as not only can on occur naturally, but the list of groups with the capacity to produce bio-weapons is much, much longer then the nuclear club.

      Though to end on a lighter note, GMO's are mostly beneficial, not harmful. Most of the people deriding them simply don't understand how genetics work, and have been fooled into thinking that being natural automatically makes something healthier.
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    Feb 19 2014: Other than Lawren"s answer below the next biggies are the flipping of the poles which is imminent going by the weakening of the Earth's magnetic field and on a much longer scale the next ice age which will kill us all unless we prepare for it. And before anyone jumps in, both these events are scientific certainties. It's just a matter of time.
    • Feb 19 2014: All we'll have to do with the poles is switch a few parts on all our magnetic compasses. I doubt the change will be sudden enough for the magnetic surge to fry any electronics.

      As for oncoming ice ages, seems like something you can prepare for if you see it coming. And as damaging as it is, it doesn't sound at quite deathblow to civilization levels.
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        • Feb 19 2014: I had read many years ago that it is believed magnetic pole reversal occurs every twelve thousand years and this was what occurred to create the evolutionary changes we can't explain. Like where we come from when our best guess is primordial ooze. I had forgotten about this. Thanks for bringing it up.
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        Feb 19 2014: The biggest threat of flipping of the poles is the massive cancer increase due to the weakening and holes in the magnetic shield not blocking solar radiation. In both humans and animal life, I’m not sure if or how plant and sea life will effect but it safe bet they will be affected.
        • Feb 19 2014: Its a problem to be dealt with when it shows up, but it doesn't seem to be on the same caliber as some of those other issues people have raised.

          Seeing as its supposed to happen fairly often (on a geological timescale), we at least know its survivable without too much fuss. As far as I'm aware, pole shifts don't correlate with any mass extinctions or bottlenecks in the gene pool suggesting large die offs.
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        Feb 19 2014: There is a possible complication regarding the poles flipping. If there is a large solar flare or CME during the weeks or possibly months during which there will be no magnetic field, there could be massive disruption of power grids. If the whole of the US mainland had no electricity for a week, how many people would die? Remember the same would be happening in Europe and Asia.
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        Feb 20 2014: Nadav,
        The last Geomagnetic reversal occurred 780,000 years ago, so we simple don’t know for sure how much fuss it will cause.
        Sure it will not be quick and painless, but considering they do last an average of 450,000 years not being quick and painless is not the issue.
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      Feb 20 2014: Geomagnetic reversal is a process that takes millennia, and the risks to the biosphere are inconclusive and somewhat suspect. In any case, it's hard to classify it as a threat to civilization.
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        Feb 20 2014: Yes it takes millennia for a complete reversal, that is the problem. The chaotic period between produces a magnetic field that isn't organised enough to protect us from ionising radiation from the sun
        From your reference.
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          Feb 20 2014: Again, from my reference, there is no conclusive evidence that detrimental effects have occurred in the past or will occur next time. Life on Earth has quite nicely survived several of these events without a major disruption to the biosphere. I can't see how an organized, cooperative technological civilization would be impacted by a phenomenon that we will have several milennia to adjust to.
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        Feb 20 2014: The point is we have no data on how it will effect the electrical systems we now rely on. Previous events are no indication as the technology didn't exist then. A scrambled magnetosphere may allow atmospheric ionisation to levels that make it impossible to operate any electrical device or even at a much lower level shut down power grids. No electricity means no traffic lights, no sewerage, no tap water, no refrigeration, no internet or cell phones and no air traffic control.
  • Feb 17 2014: As far as man made catastrophies go, maybe the biggest threat to the survival of our species is "civilization" itself. Civilization may(or may not, depending on where you are born on this rock) be beneficial to individual humans but as a species we are walking down a dangerous path.
  • Feb 16 2014: I feel the greatest threat to human civilization is overpopulation. The Earth has a maximum capacity, and I think we'll reach that before any other threat can take place. Unless we as a global community innovate ways to create natural resources, we may reach maximum capacity in only a few more generations.
    • Feb 16 2014: The only thing with a real hard cap on it is food production. Everything else can be scaled back at the cost of quality of living--an oil crisis for example will hurt your wallet, but it won't kill you.
      Of course, the civil unrest might, but that just hurts civilizations, it doesn't kill them.
      • Feb 16 2014: I think the natural resources play into safety from the elements. If you're unable to have adequate shelter, a strong enough storm, tornado, hurricane, any natural disaster, could kill you. If theres no more natural gas, a cold enough winter could do you in. But food and healthy drinking water would be the the most threatening factors of overpopulation.
        • Feb 16 2014: You're thinking too small. The question deals with global civilization; localized problems like lack of drinking water, as problematic and even potentially lethal as they are for the locals, don't threaten global civilization as a whole.

          Food shortages do however, because nowadays, the entire world's food supply is heavily interconnected, and as a result large parts of the planet import and consume much larger amounts of food then they can realistically produce.
          It'd still need to be a hell of a food shortage to bring down global civilization, but it is possible with the right (or perhaps wrong) combination of natural disasters and maybe the odd virulent crop disease. And yes, a larger population does make us more vulnerable.
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        • Feb 17 2014: There's a big difference between running around ground zero and being some one hundred kilometers upwind of a nuclear blast.

          If you find yourself in the midst of a nuclear war, you're more or less done for if you're in a major city, but it is survivable in the countryside.
          Chances are you won't exactly be enjoying yourself, seeing as EMP will wipe out most modern electronics, and civilization will be done for in that region for quite a while yet, but it is survivable.

          However, since the end of the cold war, a global nuclear exchange simply doesn't seem very likely geo-politically speaking.
          That may change in coming years, but for now, I'm more afraid of a scenario like the native Americans had when the Europeans came and accidentally gave them small pox and other assorted diseases they had no natural immunity to--a 90% fatality rate and the utter collapse of society. By the time the Europeans got to conquering, all they had to do was kick down the door and the entire structure fell down more or less on its own.

          All it takes to do to our modern society is a single virulent illness that we don't have a natural immunity to, or a working vaccine for. It doesn't exactly help that biological weapons are a poor man's nukes, and that the artificial stuff makes natural diseases look like the common cold.
      • Feb 16 2014: Fresh Drinking water would pose a similar magnitude of threat as food storage, if not greater. We can survive without food longer than we can without water. Come to think of it, during very hot summers, some smaller towns in my area have already been close to running out of water.
        • Feb 17 2014: True, but a lack of water is a local problem--an acute and pressing local problem, but still local none the less.
          Lack of food in today's interconnected market is a global one.
      • Feb 17 2014: If you look at it that way, food also could be taken care of on a local scale. For those who don't live in a metropolis, raising cattle and chickens isn't as hard as it looks, and a garden is even easier to tend to. Creating clean drinking water? Not every average person knows how to do that.
        • Feb 17 2014: And yet hardly anyone raises their own food.
          Its a lot of bother, and economically, it makes no sense. It doesn't even make much sense from an environmental standpoint, as you'll never be as efficient as someone mass producing the food, even taking into account transportation costs (both economical and environmental).

          Disaster preparation just isn't very high on people's priority list. Plus, stocking up on canned goods is is cheaper and easier then starting an urban farm.

          By the way, creating clean drinking water isn't that hard if you happen to live close to the ocean or some similar salt water source like most of the world population. It takes a fair bit of energy to do so, meaning that its not something you'll want to do from a financial or environmental standpoint if you can avoid it, but its a handy backup to have.
  • Feb 28 2014: Me and Myself is the biggest threat to human beings.
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      Feb 27 2014: Brendan,
      You posted the same comment again, so here is my response again....

      Sorry you feel like I was ridiculing your is kind of funny:>)

      I understand that you are explaining how you consciously/deliberately/intentionally switch your perceptions from one hemisphere to the other, as opposed to settling for a mere random occurrence of that phenomenon.

      As I said in a previous post....from the first time I saw that exercise, I naturally observed the animated "dancer" changing directions back and forth, and I am aware of using both hemispheres of the brain most of the is not a random occurrence for me. Understand it now?
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          Feb 27 2014: That is correct Brendan. I do not deliberately have to switch is natural for me to use both hemispheres simultaneously. Since you replied so swiftly, which is YOUR habit Brendan, I suspect you are not paying attention. No Brendan, I do not take your advice.

          The question for this conversation is...
          "What is the greatest threat to human civilization?"

          That being said, I suspect one threat to human communication, which impacts civilization, is some folks not genuinely listening to each other:>)

          Sorry you feel puzzled.
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        Feb 27 2014: I believe that your different experiences in this regard may be gender-connected. I am certain I have read that because of differences in how early the part of the brain develops that connects the two hemispheres, women are more likely by nature to use the hemispheres in an integrated way and males in a switching way.

        I am sorry not to have a reference at hand to link, but it cannot be hard to find. At this point this is easy to test with MRI.
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          Feb 27 2014: I think you are right Fritzie.....women tend to have more neural pathways connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

          The other thing for me, is that because of the brain injury years ago, we (me and my brain) created more neural pathways with the healing process, which seemed to create more connections.

          While I seemed to be more right brain dominant prior to the injury, after the injury, the left hemisphere seemed to be more active. The injury was in the right hemisphere, so perhaps that caused more development and connections in the left hemisphere. I certainly have had more than my share of MRIs and scans!!!

          Anyway, I like to say I had my brain "fixed" so it works better now...LOL:>)
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        Feb 27 2014: I had forgotten about your traumatic brain injury. You may indeed process many things via different pathways than you did or than others typically do.
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          Feb 27 2014: Brendan,
          Yes, I am perceiving life with both hemis at the same time, which is why I often say I "think/feel". It is not so unusual to use both simultaneously Brendon.....lots of people do.

          I'm finished with your preaching...I didn't come to this site for an on-line analysis, and this is way off topic!
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    Feb 27 2014: i probably think someone dropping a nuclear bomb on someone, one country on another country. Might not destroy the whole world, but it's so sad and strange to think of hundreds of thousands of people dying in an instant?
  • Feb 26 2014: Money.

    And here's why.
    It's something we've invented that provides incentive to the individual over all else, including the world we live in. It's something we've created, and we have the technology to make it better, so why don't we change the incentive?
  • Feb 22 2014: Frankly, it is the runaway global warming that signals the end of most life on this planet by the end of this century..unless something totally unexpected happens. Perhaps a killer virus that kills off most of us soon might be the only thing to save us as a species and most life on the planet..if it isn't already too late...I will NOT hold my breath waiting for a technological miracle to save us, because if I want to believe in pipe dreams, I'll smoke a bowl and daydream..the end result will be the same. I think we have already activated too many feedback loops though, and that the end is already pretty much a foregone conclusion:
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    • Feb 22 2014: I don't really see the monotheistic concept any better or worse then the polytheistic one. Seeing how widespread the monotheistic religions are nowadays despite their relative newness, it could be surmised they're more virulent in terms of their spread, but that's about it. As far as I'm aware, they don't inherently preach towards any more or less violence.
      Essentially, its the difference between people killing each other over a myriad smaller local religions, or a smaller number of more widespread religions. The first option generates more conflicts, but the latter generates worse conflicts (mostly because larger factions are involved).

      Its also important to remember that because those polytheistic conflicts were on the one hand smaller and on the other earlier and therefore not as well recorded, they're pretty easy to miss despite their prevalence. The monotheistic inspired conflicts are fewer, but usually grander, and better documented.
      Our historical narrative gets blurrier and blurrier the further we go back. Without proper care to factor in this variable, this may give the wrong impression concerning the past. The general trend in history is actually reduced violence the more modern you get, not the other way around, even if individual wars grow in scope.
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        • Feb 22 2014: If there's anything my time in the military taught me, is that seniority and wisdom have less to do with each other then you'd think. Experience is very helpful when you've encountered a similar situation before, but in a new scenario, it may not be relevant.
          I've never spent any time farming though. Don't know where you got that idea.

          Back to our original conversation though, I think you place too much important on the nature of the gods people worship. Oftentimes, especially in the smaller local religions, the nature of the gods is a reflection of the nature of the worshipers. War gods are the result of bloody thirsty followers, not the other war around.
          Rome's war god, for example, one of the most important in the ancient world, was originally a god of agriculture with some war thrown in on the side. As Rome grew more militant, it gradually came to place more emphasis on the war aspect of the persona, until the agriculture aspect became secondary. Also worth noting, is that according to the Romans themselves, they did not go to war because Mars told them or some such; their reasons were typically unapologetically secular (economics more often then not, conquest used to churn a profit in the ancient world), Mars was just the god of that waring thing they planned to do anyway.

          Either way, it pays to be good at war, whether you like it or not. Even if you don't seek it, it may yet seek you.
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        • Feb 23 2014: That's actually an example of what I was claiming earlier. Small local gods are a reflection of their believers. Reading the bible, it doesn't take long to realize the ancient Israelies were warlike tribals without much to differentiate them from the other warlike tribals except a rather special monotheistic deity as opposed to the more popular polytheistic model. Its no coincidence that deity is a militant one, or at least, that's how the tribals thought about it, even if some modern interpretations vary.

          And its still very much involved in politics, this god of my people. Our mere nationalist nutjobs are a small minority--most of our fanatics are religious-nationalist nut jobs, much worse, with two different fundamental ideologies wrapped in one to make them more zealous.
          Thankfully we also have enough atheists, agnostics, and those that plain don't want to mix politics and religion that we have more moderates then nut jobs. For now, anyway.
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    Feb 20 2014: Although it would not completely end human civilization, the Yellowstone Supervolcano is unquestionably a big threat. Just considering how much of the world’s most productive farmland will be taken out of production, worldwide mass starvation is a real possibility.

    Also the fact we are doing zero to prepare for something we know definitely will happen, does not help.

    FYI: To see the scale of damage image search “yellowstone super volcano ash map” it covers over a dozen states ranging Canada to Taxes and Southern half of California to the Missouri River.

    Now that would be what I would call a really bad day. ;)
    • Feb 20 2014: Actually, its potentially very civilization ending.

      The effects of ash and debry fall might be local (if you can call an area the size of North America local), but the real damage would be done in the form of ash, sulfurous gasses and other materials thrown into the upper atmosphere.
      They have the exact opposite effect of greenhouse gasses, but are much more acute in both time frame and intensity. They gradually fall back down over the course of several years, but during those years, global temperatures plummet dramatically.

      Plain old regular volcano eruptions are well documented to cause global temperature drops, and there's no reason to think a super volcano would be different. A few straight years of crop failure will shut down civilization just fine--they say its three meals away from anarchy, and some say that's an optimistic assessment.

      Worse still, yellow stone is just one of six active super volcanoes, if I remember the number correctly. An eruption of some other one 70,000 years ago is archeologically documented as almost causing humanity to go extinct. And that was when our ancestors were living in Africa, and the eruption took place half a world away in modern day Indonesia.
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      Feb 20 2014: What would you suggest we do to prepare for a super caldera eruption which will occur somewhere in the world in the next 10,000 years or so? What could possibly be done?
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        Feb 20 2014: Imagine countries creating disaster response forces equal to their armies. Than advance them hundreds of years of experience responding to natural and man-made disasters; hurricanes, earth quacks, floods, tsunamis, nuclear plants disasters. Replacing USS hope with high speed rescue air craft carriers with civil eviction aircraft, and then the power and water restoration forces could step in.

        Plus research should be done, look at sea oil spill containment advances done in to past few years. The same could happen to ash cloud containment, mankind is an inventive bunch when motivated.
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          Feb 20 2014: A super caldera eruption would likely result in a global nuclear winter lasting a few years, so it wouldn't be a containment issue like the other disasters you mention.

          One thing that can, and has been done, is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in northern Norway.

      • Feb 20 2014: I've heard people claim that praying helps, but have yet to see evidence to support the idea.

        Not much to be done, really. The way to prepare for it would be emergency food stores, but they'd need to be absolutely massive in scope. Far more then anyone's willing to invest, honestly.

        Maybe the volcanoes themselves could be manipulated into not erupting. Considering their scale, its probably just wishful thinking we could engineer a solution to something that big and unapproachable, but you'd need to ask a geologist to know for sure.
  • Feb 20 2014: It all comes from a core source those are inventions which are done by humans themselves !! and development to the existing ones . Even if you take the Nuclear bomb people have started to try to develop new things in too , from the range of the missile to the effect of the missile . I completely agree with Brendan Maloney saying we are the biggest enemy of ourselves
    • Feb 20 2014: And what would you say if you learn tomorrow that a large asteroid is heading towards earth, and the only way we could realistically stop it in time is using a re-purposed nuclear warhead?

      Every coin has two sides.
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    Feb 20 2014: Nadav,
    Many of your respondents have accused us of being the death of us. Mr. Maloney even quoted one of my favorite philosophers... Pogo.
    I read a article by a PJ Watson who makes a good case that masculinity is being erased from the human physic. He sees humanity evolving into a genderless society. He notes falling birthrates worldwide, lower sperm count, "metrosexuals" . He claims women secretly scorn them. He noted many modern foodstuffs and products effect hormones that generate masculinity. In theory, we can reduce almost half the world population as unnecessary. Since one male can generate enough sperm to deal with thousands of women, only a few would be needed until humans evolve into another species where reproduction is self generated or a farming method.
    Yes, Pogo was right.

    OK, ants do it and bees do it.
    • Feb 20 2014: Its actually not a very good case, for the same reason pacifism doesn't work.

      Say you wipe out all your overly aggressive members of society. Well and good, your quality of living during peacetime is now higher. But what about that other society that didn't? Why, there's nothing stopping them from marching on over, stealing your property, taking your women, and even ending your life at the edge of a sword.
      You'd normally stop them by waging a war, but all your overly aggressive members were done away with, you don't have anyone who's any good at war left.

      There may be a biological case for the removal of the males, but you'll always need an attack dog on a chain held in reserve for other reasons. There's really nothing preventing that hound from being female so long as its gets the job done, but you need one none the less.
      There's also the problem of keeping it properly chained, but that's a different matter altogether.
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        Feb 21 2014: I wasn't just speaking of the USA., men are failing world wide. Women are rejecting motherhood world wide. We really are not keeping up with the birth/death rate according to some researchers.
        The article I read checked out with other sources.
        Worse, I read some biologists say the best societies are bees and ants.
        What can I conclude,,,
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    Feb 20 2014: If any of the apocalyptic religions are correct then one or more gods or goddesses might end human civilisation
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    Feb 20 2014: I guess a meteorite or disease from a natural perspective.

    Could I offer a few technology based suggestions.

    first I expect at some stage humans will make significant changes to our DNA and no longer be homo sapiens. Civilian might continue, but it may not be human s such as us.

    at some stage ai and robotic technology will be able to displace human workers either leading to a utopian society or one where the top 1% own the machines and the others will be destitute and eventually revolt and destroy civilisation.

    Finally eventually ai will take over , and it will be an ai led civilisation not a human one.
  • Feb 19 2014: Human civilization is the greatest threat to human civilization. We're on top of the heap. We're so big in our little corner of the universe, we are our only remaining major threat. Everything else is second place. Hooray, us.
  • Feb 18 2014: We, the human race is our greatest threat. We have massively overpopulated the planet, we continue to pollute it without any thought of the consequences, we abuse the use of antibiotics so that we ourselves encourage a weaker immune system and the evolution of even more dangerous viruses and bacteria. But, more than anything human beings suffer from fear, an ego which simply wants and habits which restrict our creativity and new ways of solving the problems we have created.
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    Feb 18 2014: My first thought is “Sound-bits” or should I say people that make judgments and basing their actions on Sound Bits.

    But really that is a product of public education, so I have to say public education. At least US public education: that teaches what to think and not how to think.
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    Feb 18 2014: It has to be climate change, which, along with the denialism that opposes and perpetuates it, will ensure that it goes past the point of no return (if it hasn't already).
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      Feb 18 2014: Thanks, You just proved my above point about sound bits.
      According to sounds-bits there are only two types of people.
      A. people who believe man-made CO2 is 100% the cause of climate change and
      B. people who are greed and love pollution.
      No room for those believe in natural climate change, or CO2 is only part of the issue, or China is doing more harm than if everyone drive electric cars and use only LED lighting, etc
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    Feb 18 2014: The greatest threat to human civilization...

    All the greatest threats are happening and have been happening.

    The fact that we haven't been able to prevent and absolve the greatest threats is a threat in and of itself.

    We haven't stopped famine or disease and we probably never will at least not in its entirety.

    We haven't stopped warring amongst ourselves and we probably never will.

    We haven't stopped destroying our natural resources that we all rely on for sustaining life on this planet and we probably never will.

    We haven't stopped economic ruin causing a great and vast divide between classes of people and we probably never will.

    We haven't stopped crime in any of its forms, from child abuse and molestation to murder, etc... and based on the current corruption in our systems we probably never will.

    We haven't stopped the declining quality of our educational institutions and we probably never will.

    We haven't been able to prevent any natural disasters, several of which have caused the death of thousands, and we probably never will.

    Human civilization has been and will continue to be threatened by ambivalence of the civilization both doing and experiencing the threats.
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    • Feb 18 2014: I saw Dr. Strangelove, actually. Probably the single most hilarious depressing movie I ever saw.

      You'd be surprised how common such behavior is in the military in general, not just in "career dead ends" like nuke silos. The truth of it is, war is 99% skull numbing boredom and 1% gut wrenching terror, and that ratio only gets more lopsided during peacetime.

      The military also burns logical fallacies for fuel and uses incompetence as lubricant. Ever read catch 22? Its true for any military to some degree--training people to put up with situations where they'll willingly march to a near certain death does all sorts of strange things to the human psyche, and tends to make large organizations operate in highly inefficient manners (largely because no one in their right mind wants to be there).

      Yet the fact of the matter is, no nuclear weapon has been used in warfare since 1945, and the close calls ended around the same time as the cold war.
      Except if you're living in Pakistan or India. Or happen to be on North Korea's target list. Or those North Korean nukes end up in the hands of some nut job once the regime collapses. Or if Iran is left to its own devices...
      Bloody hell but that's a long list. Maybe nuclear war isn't as far fetched as I'd like to believe. Still, at least the superpowers are done facing off. For now. Maybe a fallout shelter isn't such a bad investment after all.

      Still not as bad as plague though. Aside from the very real possibility of natural occurrence, the list of people with the capacity to make biological weapons is much, much longer then the list of nuclear powers.
      It'd also take a bare minimum of several hundred bombs to crash civilization. A single self perpetuating plague will do just fine.
  • Feb 17 2014: We become so mentally ill from years of eating genetically modified food, we develop dementia. At first its the most vulnerable, the children, the sick and elderly. For years we blame pollution or hide the problem. But as years pass public health systems are overwhelmed some governments allow for the genocide of those with advanced stages of the disease to be euthanized. World governments can't find a cure because natural crops are contaminated and none exists. Big Agrabusiness is condemned at the world court and ordered to pay damages that bankrupt it. Famine ensues and we all starve to death.
    • Feb 17 2014: I'll be sure to keep my tin foil hat handy. Or am I getting my conspiracies mixed up again?
      • Feb 17 2014: scary stuff isn't it. GMO's are dangerous. It will be a slow process, probably in the next 150 years. I answered your ??? didn't I.?

        Humanity has already suffered it's greatest human threat in two world wars and the Red communist revolution and we are still here. Most of the crops being planted now use some modified seed. Just a matter of time before it starts breaking down our systems. In lab tests GMO's cause high rates of cancer and mutations.

        Your great grand children might have additional eyes or limbs when they are born and a whole new species of human will need to be added to our genome. :)) Cheers. da dah duuuuh.!
        • Feb 18 2014: So you're not joking then?

          Genetics doesn't work that way. At all. I can eat a carrot without developing a root system, and I can eat a chicken without growing feathers. Eating something has no effect on your DNA, engineered or otherwise.
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      Feb 19 2014: The potential health risk of GMO foods consumed by humans is not such an outrageous claim here. GMO crops engineered to contain within their DNA pesticides that can not subsequently be removed from the crop are consumed by hundreds of millions every day. Since the advent of GMO, there has been considerable increase in autism, cancer, and immune-related illness. I don't think that the GMO foods alter the DNA of the consumer. I do believe that if there is a link between the food and the health concerns, that the problem speaks to a culture and power structure that prefers convenience and low cost to health. We've seen agricultural business wreak havoc on environmental, animal, and human health. Why is it so hard to believe that destroying the food supply could be a significant risk to humanity?
      • Feb 19 2014: The rise in autism is merely a matter of better diagnostic. We've always had that many cases, we're just better at counting them now. The link to GMOs is also circumstantial at best; there's no connection between the two.

        The rise in cancer is simply the result of people living longer. Throughout most of human history, most people died long before they could get cancer. Also like autism, diagnosis is better these days--we're chalking off less deaths to "who knows?"
        I admit my knowledge of autoimmune diseases is limited, but again, I doubt there's a proven connection between the two.

        Why is that that people distrust GMOs so much? All they're really doing is taking some genes from one plant, then putting it in another. If anything, they're tested more thoroughly then normal foods, and may also help us feed the growing world population without converting even more land to farms.
        • Feb 19 2014: Nadav, there wasn't a link to reply to your reply but you have to also take into consideration, how we bring our animals to market. I've been reading red flags on our food supply for years and the trend at first was experimental and llaissez faire. I think the Europeans and Japan have banned our meat exports and some specific grain crops.

          I had also thought the ex mayor of New York crazy for banning large high fructose drinks until I eliminated them from my routine. It is amazing how much I was consuming and then I noticed how much we all consume. I was amazed. I just think we will be the cause of our own demise by tampering with mother natures perfect processes.

          You just never know when that one crop will be harvested that will set off the chain reaction on the latest version of an altered seed gene that millions have ingested and it's too late. First murmurs, then a down play of the seriousness of the breach, then blame on low level staff, then government knew but allowed industry oversight, agency high level staff resignations, congressional hearings. Nothing can help it is said the damage has been done.
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          Feb 20 2014: "Why is that that people distrust GMOs so much?"

          It's a specific example of a much broader phobia, Nadav. Technology, and with it. society, is changing so rapidly that leaves many people without that social, emotional anchor that their ancestors had. The phobia manifests itself as a fear of technology. It's the same fear that causes misguided parents to refuse immunization of their children, and others to refuse medical treatment in lieu of more 'homeopathic and natural' options.
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        Feb 20 2014: "We've seen agricultural business wreak havoc on environmental, animal, and human health."

        Please elaborate with specific examples.

        "Why is it so hard to believe that destroying the food supply could be a significant risk to humanity?"

        It's not, of course. What's hard to believe is that GMOs represent such a threat. Please link to reliable data which supports such a claim.
  • Feb 17 2014: Civilisation Hijacked
    Rescuing Jesus from Christianity and the Human Spirit from Bondage
    by Al Morris

    My book, “Civilisation Hijacked “ illustrates the urgent need for a revolutionary social paradigm shift - a global reformation on humanity’s present theological, political, social and commercial value systems. It shows how the vision or worldview held by the majority of the world’s population has been manufactured to suit the aims and aspirations of a small number of powerful groups. It describes how the world, particularly the so-called civilized Western world, is being manipulated and used by the controlling bodies in the various religious, political and commercial corporate areas - naming and shaming them with details of who, why, when, where and how it originated. How the power of persuasion has diluted, polluted and finally corrupted Western civilization’s now distorted values and worldview. This is glaringly illustrated by the present global political, social, commercial and theological mess that we have inherited at the expense of the billions of victims; the hungry, the homeless, the hopeless and the helpless. To add insult to injury, we are asked by governments and those who are behind the wars and killing machinery, to contribute pennies to various charities to alleviate the human misery they have caused
    Man’s inhumanity to man has become worse than that of animals, (no other living specie treats their own with such callous brutality). Historically becoming worse, as more efficient weapons of torture, death and destruction are developed. This work offers a plausible and pragmatic understanding of the causes for this behavior and a practical solution. Creating a human environment where global conflict is minimized if not totally eliminated. Over time, this would change the very nature of humanity from an instinct driven primitive animal, to thoughtful living Gods

    PH: (612) 9153 6369
  • Feb 16 2014: Apart from all the obvious like Jellystone, solar flares, disease, asteroids,gamma rays(extremely small chance) etc, a casual knowledge of physics and cosmology will tell you that there is any number of ways that civilisation can be wiped out instantly. The ones we might be able to understand are insignificant compared to the ways that everything might end abruptly without our brightest scientists having even the least concept of how it could happen.Stop worrying.It's pretty much out of your hands.
    • Feb 16 2014: That's just the thing, its not entirely out of our hands. If say, a gamma ray burst hits, then yes, we're done for, but an asteroid can be deflected (easiest way being the very nuclear weapons that threaten to destroy civilization), and with (very) rapid response, a plague contained.

      Its pays to be prepared for the likelier preventable options.
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    Feb 16 2014: Here is one not often mentioned.
    Our solar system orbits the galaxy every 200 million years or so. As we rotate, earth is exposed to differing cosmic influences. Asteroids, exposure to nebula, an exploding star... the mind boggles at what could be out there on the other side of the galaxy. Of course, mankind have to survive a hundred million years to find out.
    • Feb 16 2014: The far future is only a threat if your survive the near one.

      If anything, more mundane cosmic threats seem like a greater issue. An asteroid heading towards us seems more likely to do us in then some star system 4 light years away. The only really dangerous thing that a star system could do to us at that distance is a gamma ray burst, but simple probability tells you to watch out for the asteroid instead, or perhaps even better, more common terrestrial threats.
      Besides, not much to be done about a gamma ray burst. By the time you find out about it, you're already dead.
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        Feb 17 2014: I always thought the end of mankind would come at the event of a huge asteroid, or maybe global thermal nuclear war... some virulent virus. I am wrong, we are all doomed to pass on over frustration with new computer technology that is supposed to provide customer service... my car, my doctors, the guy who services the furnace...

        I always thought new technology was a fantastic achievement of modern man. The automatic transmission. You can't appreciate it until you have to drive through big city traffic with a standard transmission.

        But, have you ever heard this? " Our menu has changed, so listen to our options and make your choice" Ten choices later and none really apply, so you press " 0 " for operator... The response is " This is not an option" and you hear the ten options again.

        You Google your service provider and get his website. The website leads you to a dropdown with locations of service centers. You pick the one nearest to you. Why waste gas. Then it shows the date and time window... so you type in a date and time that is good for you. Comes the dreaded red comment... "There are no appointments available at this date and time"...
        So you pick a date six months advance... Right... "We are not making appointments that far ahead"

        Should there be an outcry of public indignation for sloppy technology before we are all gone?
        • Feb 17 2014: As awful as those automated answering machines are, in all honesty, a human on the other side isn't much better. Especially considering how utterly miserable that human is--the only thing worse then calling customer service is answering customer service.

          If anything, its better automated. This way, we only have a manageable robot uprising, rather then a dreaded customer service revolution.
      • Feb 17 2014: Also if any star in the milky way within 20 lightyears went nova apparently all "higher" forms of life on earth would be sterilized, in the least, by the sphere of radiation leaving the star.
      • Feb 17 2014: It sure puts things in perspective. I tell you what though, I can find great comfort in the thought that regardless of what we do as a species, to ourselves or this planet, "life" itself will go on, whether we're here to see it (and discuss it on TEDtalks) or not. Short of the destruction of the planet as a whole or the death of the sun, "life" will survive.
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    Feb 16 2014: Debt
    • Feb 16 2014: I can see that leading to a reemergence of communism, but actually bringing down civilization seems like a stretch.
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        Feb 16 2014: Not really just look at history
        • Feb 16 2014: I can't think of any civilization that fell due to a bad financial system.
          It certainly played a role in weakening some, and may have pushed them over the edge when combined with something like a foreign invasion, but in of itself, bad finance doesn't cause civilization to collapse (unless you consider a regime change a collapse I suppose).

          It can cause a hell of a decline in quality of living, but its rarely fatal by its lonesome.
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        Feb 16 2014: Rome debased their money from 95% silver to .5% silver this is what followed:

        "Prices in this period rose in most parts of the empire by nearly 1,000 percent."

        "There were about 26 legitimate emperors in this century and only one of them died a natural death. The rest either died in battle or were assassinated, which was totally unprecedented in Roman history — with two exceptions: Nero, a suicide, and Caligula, assassinated earlier."


        Keep in mind that inflation is a way to deal with debt

        Preceding the Falkland war Argentina also had 600% inflation

        Inflation in the Weimar Province followed WW1 and preceded WW2

        Zimbabwe's inflation was caused by civil war in their country.

        And I'm sure many other examples

        In the US the Vietnam war caused inflation. The French demanded that the US give them gold for their US dollars under the Bretton Woods agreement. Nixon was forced into leaving the Bretton Woods agreement and the US has had run away debt ever since. This will NO DOUBT end in the demise of the US. The only reason it has not happened yet is because of the US reserve currency status.
        • Feb 17 2014: Rome only fell partially because of inflation. You also had other more significant factors, like plagues, piping made of lead, several civil wars, foreign invasion, and the acceptance of barbarians (in the Roman view, meaning non-Romans/Greeks) into the legions without the usual process of Romanization and dissolution of the native tribal structure.
          There's quite a bit more to it, but the fall of Rome is a long and convulsed subject, and I don't want it to overshadow the rest of the debate. It can be summed up by a lot more then simple inflation however.

          Argentina was already on the way down after the Falklands (military dictatorships that rule through force and fear tend to do that after a significant military defeat which undermines the very foundation of their power).
          Weimar Germany never fell, it just had a regime change which rebuilt the economy very effectively before being brought down by the foreign policy equivalent of acting like a rabid dog.
          Can't say about Zimbabwe though. I don't know the first thing about it.

          Debt can cripple a nation, but it can by itself not bring it down. It also can't bring down global civilization--hurt it, yes, break it, no.
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        Feb 17 2014: "There's quite a bit more to it, but the fall of Rome is a long and convulsed subject, and I don't want it to overshadow the rest of the debate. It can be summed up by a lot more then simple inflation however."

        It is simple. Most of the trouble started in the 3 century. In Romes case war caused the inflation as it was necessary to keep the army. The first casualty was economic freedom of the Roman citizens. So much so that when the invaders came into Rome they were regarded as liberators. It is all explained very nicely in the linked article if you bother to read it.

        Argentina had suffered through decades of their leaders giving away benefits that it could not afford. Peron being the most notable. The ridiculous war was a subterfuge to the financial problems caused by debt.

        Germany did fall as it was not the same country it was before. The same land yes but not the same policies.

        Civil war caused the inflation in Zimbabwe, which was an effort to handle the debt caused by war.

        The primary cause of debt is war. It certainly was with the Vietnam war and the US going off the gold standard. I would also add that it was too many people being given more than the market would have given them through social programs or war or public service.

        Certainly deja vu in the US.

        Nadav where are you from?
        • Feb 17 2014: Israeli, though I lived a few years in the states. No stranger to war, the military, or its exorbitant costs.

          As for the fall of Rome:
          Rome's military expenditure in its height was perfectly justified, financially speaking. A war of conquest back then wasn't the money sink it is today; there was profit to be made, mostly in the form of sacking and enslaving. The real financial difficulties mostly occurred once Rome got too big to effectively manage with ancient travel and communication technology, and ran out of profitable targets to invade (Parthia and Sassanian not withstanding, they could repel an invasion), forcing them to stop conquering, and turning the legions into money sinks.
          Their recruitment model being based largely on gaining citizenship and a plot of conquered land for service in the legion didn't help, nor did peacetime stagnation of the armed forces, leading to the long, slow decline of the Roman legions as an effective fighting force.

          Roman inflation came not from war. Again, an offensive war was profitable. It come from tributes to the military, which had the unfortunate realization that they could get rid of a non-favorable government anytime they wanted (as true of any military now as it was back then--thankfully most of them don't realize it on a organizational level).

          So we end up with legions that are both ineffectual as a fighting force, unable to stop foreign threats, and yet cost a fortune.
          Ultimately, barbarian mercenaries came to be slowly integrated into the legions, not as individuals on their path to Romanization in the 1st century, but as independent tribes only in it for the money. As mercenaries often do, some eventually decided to take advantage of their employer's weakness (foreign invasion and economic trouble), and oust him.

          There's quite a bit more to it then inflation, and I didn't expand on many of the other issues.
        • Feb 17 2014: As for Argentina, its not exactly the fall of a civilization we're talking about. It didn't fragment, and it didn't devolve into squabbling warlords and barbarism; economic trouble in of itself leads to a regime change, not a collapse.

          Same thing in Germany between the world wars. Economic trouble leads to regime change, not a collapse.
          Hitler's rabid dog foreign policy on the other hand, led to a collapse just fine, which shows you that sometimes the cure is worse then the disease. Just because someone has sound economic recovery policy doesn't mean they're a good choice for a leader.
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        Feb 17 2014: "Again, an offensive war was profitable." Same model the USSR used and the same result.
        Inflation is caused by war giving too much away to public servants. In Rome's case the inflation was caused by war.

        "Romanization in the 1st century,"

        The trouble started in the 3rd century.

        "As for Argentina, its not exactly the fall of a civilization we're talking about"

        By definition a civilization benefits the citizen more than it costs or the citizen would leave that civilization.

        "Hitler's rabid dog foreign policy on the other hand, led to a collapse just fine, which shows you that sometimes the cure is worse then the disease."

        Either way the debt crushed the citizens.
        • Feb 17 2014: "The trouble started in the 3rd century."

          That's exactly what I meant about Rome. The model they utilized during the 1st century of conquest and Romanization of conquered people worked. It provided them with strong legions and hefty profits. Once they were forced to stop conquering due to the reasons I mentioned above, the model collapsed.
          An overinflated bureaucracy and a military that had no qualms murdering emperors led to inflation, not fighting wars.
          Regardless, the fall of Rome has much more then inflation to it. Like the inability of the ever more expensive legions to hold off foreign invaders.

          BTW, that model of conquest and assimilation gets less and less profitable the more modern you are due to the rising costs of war, industrialization devaluing slavery, and straight up looting being a lot less profitable then it used to be due to the nature of lootable goods and modern market values.
          The USSR was able to use the system whenever it attacked someone with infrastructure worth stealing, but once it became a leading technological power on its own right, even that soon lost its appeal.

          "By definition a civilization benefits the citizen more than it costs or the citizen would leave that civilization."

          We seem to have different definitions of civilization.
          It doesn't have to be a nice place to live, its more of a system where a food surplus enables people to specialize in things that aren't food production. Leaving doesn't have to be a realistic option--in fact, the more of a hell hole it is, the more people being able to leave damages it, like North Korea.
          Of course a discontent populace makes for an unstable civilization ripe for either a regime change, disintegration into either smaller entities at best or squabbling warlords at worse, or conquest by a foreign power, but civil unrest and civilized life are not mutually exclusive.
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        Feb 18 2014: "Regardless, the fall of Rome has much more then inflation to it. Like the inability of the ever more expensive legions to hold off foreign invaders."

        What do you think caused the inflation? It is not prices going up, it IS an increase in the supply of money. It had to do with debt and war and little else.

        "but civil unrest and civilized life are not mutually exclusive."

        Not for long. Since many of the people in N Korea are literally starving to death, I'm not sure there is "much separation of labor allowing people to do work that is not food related" No Korea is not a civilization by anybody's definition.

        A civilization would be better defined as having a rule of law and free exchange and a consumer driven market and private property and modern medicine.
        • Feb 18 2014: That would be an ideal to strive for, not civilization. You're confusing two different ideas.
          North Korea fits the classical definition of a civilization. Its still a terrible place to live, and it is in a state of decay and may fall apart at any time (largely due to failing on the whole "food surplus" thing), but its not exactly tribal hunter gatherers.

          As for Rome, again, it seems to me that the primary cost increase in the Legion's upkeep wasn't fighting wars, it was simply its willingness to kill off emperors that caused them to increase the soldier's salaries steadily to simply keep alive and in power.
          The vast majority of that money didn't go into fighting, it went into a peacetime military that for the most part, was very effective at extorting emperors, but wasn't very good at its actual job anymore--foreign threats.

          Budgets spiraling out of control isn't always do to war. In fact, wars are usually easier to manage; you stop fighting, you cut spending.
          Peacetime budget creep is a sneakier enemy. Current US military spending, for example, completely blown out of proportion to its actual military needs, is a result of cold war era spending increases that were never properly reigned in.
          Bureaucracies have very much the same problem. They need to be cut down to size every now and again, or they simply grow more expensive with no results to show for it.
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        Feb 18 2014: civilization (n.) Look up civilization at
        1704, "law which makes a criminal process civil," from civilize + -ation. Sense of "civilized condition" first recorded 1772, probably from French civilisation, to be an opposite to barbarity and a distinct word from civility. Sense of a particular human society in a civilized condition, considered as a whole over time, is from 1857. Related: Civilizational.

        I don't consider a dictatorship to be a civilization as it is not civil and it is more often than not barbaric

        "The vast majority of that money didn't go into fighting, it went into a peacetime military that for the most part, was very effective at extorting emperors, but wasn't very good at its actual job anymore--foreign threats."

        Still a debt and still related to war

        "They need to be cut down to size every now and again, or they simply grow more expensive with no results to show for it."

        How is that not a debt?
        • Feb 18 2014: We could argue semantics all day, so lets just leave the definition of civilization at that.

          As for the debt and its causes, it depends on whether you're looking at the stem of the problem, or its root.
          Rome, and many others, was greatly weakened by its debts, but that debt was caused by all those lovely things we already discussed.

          The problem is with maintaining a military is that it can get the idea it can coerce its own government through force. The problem with not maintaining a military, is that without one, some foreign power with a military will coerce you instead.
          War may play a significant role in creating debt and other economic troubles, but its also as much a part of this world as financial systems, and is if anything, older and better entrenched in our nature.
          You don't have to like it, you just have to learn to live with it, like death and taxes.
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        Feb 18 2014: Ok returning to the original point. Debt is the greatest threat to humanity, it both creates and is caused by war.

        The last time I checked there are enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth many times over, many of them vulnerable to people hell bent on destroying everything they can for whatever reason.
        • Feb 18 2014: Nuclear technology all by its lonesome can't actually eradicate the human race, actually. That particular misconception is the result of someone calculating something along the line of 1 Hiroshima sized bomb=250,000 casualties, therefore a thousand bombs each a thousand times more powerful then Hiroshima=destruction of the human race.
          It doesn't take much to see the calculation is fundamentally flawed. Eventually, you run out of population centers to bomb.

          The truth of it is that since a bomb's energy expends itself in three dimensions, but area of destruction is only two dimensional, a bomb that's a 1000 times as powerful only has 10 times the destruction radius.

          Fallout is also surprisingly survivable as long as you're far enough away from a ground detonation (and most detonations would be airborne, to maximize destruction radius). People live in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today, after all, and they don't have much more then a slightly increased chance of dying of leukemia to show for it.

          I could keep throwing around numbers, but the gist of it is that even if the nuclear arsenal at its cold war height, used with the express purpose of destorying humanity (which it wouldn't have been), wouldn't be even close to sufficient.
          You could still wipe out all the major cities several times over, create EMP blasts which'll fry all the electronics, and sent mankind back hundreds of years in terms of both population and technology, but it won't actually be enough to cause humanity to go extinct.

          There's a reason my original criteria included the extinction of humanity not being a requirement.
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        Feb 18 2014: I'm not sure I buy that. But in that case I would say that next to nothing will kill us. Which then gets back to what level of civilization or happiness less debt = more happiness = better levels of survival.
  • Feb 15 2014: Greed.
  • Feb 15 2014: Maybe our tendancy to strictly and sometimes fanatically hold on to a belief, as individuals and societies. It may be an abstract answer, but it seems to me that inflexability of thought or belief, be it religious, philosophical, political, or even scientific, is the source of any conflict that would lead to a "man-made" cause of the end of civilization.