I've been concerned about the future of life on planet Earth since I was in my teens some 25 years ago. Not much has changed since then as we have not made much progress, save the ability to chat inanely to those lucky enough to have access to modern technology. So what did I expect from this book? A lot more than it gave, that's for sure!
As I was reading the child-like introduction by Martin J. Rees, who lashes out at those he sees as a threat in a similar way to a kid in the playground starts name calling when he's not getting his way, I knew it was going to be an uphill struggle. To quote one sentence: "And there are extreme eco-freaks who believe that the world would be better off if it were rid of humans." Convince me that we are beneficial to life on earth with well constructed arguments and I will try to see just how "better off" the world is with us lot subjugating nature to our own selfish ends. But it will take a lot to convince me!
The book doesn't claim to cover every conceivable threat to human existence on the planet, but the threats that are included are not necessarily the most realistic. Whole chapters are devoted to what can only be termed as science-fiction: that we are part of some simulation and the "Director" of said simulation could tire of watching us and switch the simulation off. Huh? Another chapter is devoted to artificial intelligence that will somehow begin a life of it's own. Come on, people, there are more realistic threats that we should be concerned with, such as disease (a mere 17 pages compared to 35 on artificial intelligence), weaponry (only nuclear and biological weapons are covered), natural events that come as a result of over-population (this is the single biggest threat to human life on earth as no-one is addressing the issue and we expect the earth to support an infinite number of humans - truly absurd!).
The chapter on cognitive bias was probably the most interesting chapter for me, which is about how difficult it is to be truly objective in trying to assess risks. This makes sense as it takes selfless introspection to truly transcend the bias of our human nature, i.e.: the instincts that drive us. The assumption that human beings are the most intelligent life-forms ever to inhabit the planet, that the planet would be worse-off if we were not here - these are emotionally-driven statements that come from the deepest instinct of all - that of survival. They are not intellectual arguments and have no place in a scientific body of work.
One thing that does strike me is how little we know of the past. There is a lot of guesswork, a lot of assumptions, a lot of "probables". This is not factual nor is it scientific, so why do so-called scientists put it forward as "fact"?
All-in-all, I was left quite numb after reading this book. Not because of any threats to the existence of "human" life on earth, but the arrogance that shines through from all these "intellectuals". As far as they are concerned, human beings are the only things that matter and everything else on the planet, in the universe, is there for the taking. It is this attitude towards life that will lead to our extinction and for the sake of the rest of life on this wonderful and unique planet, the sooner the better! Even if we became extinct next week, we would leave behind a terrible legacy, one that we should be ashamed of (assuming that any of us have a sense of humility, that is).