The People vs. the Planet: Barry Vann on the Consequences of Climate Change

September 19, 2016

Since the beginning of humankind unpredictable forces of nature have been among our most dangerous threats: volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tornados, hurricanes, and other disasters that trigger our fight-or-flight survival instincts. Pollution invoked climate change is exacerbating natural disasters and spurring unprecedented human migration. So when so many people are clamoring for safety and running for the hills, what does that mean for those who are already atop them?

Author and geographer Barry Vann explains what awaits the future of our planet and its human populations in his new book Forces of Nature: Our Quest to Conquer the Planet. In this fascinating yet sobering conversation with Josh Zepps, Vann elaborates on both the causes of migration as well as the outcomes of the population shifts to come. They discuss both the impact humans have had on our planet, and how our planet affects us in turn. Vann is optimistic that while society is prone to taking the path of least resistance, the conditions brought about by climate change will soon become so unbearable it will force us to make tough decisions that will be crucial for our survival.

This is point of inquiry for September 19, 2016. 

On Josh Zepps. And this is the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. A fantastic organization that you know and love, which is committed to the spread of secularism and reason and science. 

You can find out about all the things that we are doing and you can help us in our cause by going to w w w dot center for inquiry dot net. I don’t know why I just said. W w w you presumably know how the Internet works by now. Today’s conversation is a very interesting one. It’s about really geography, humanity and the interface between the two. It’s a conversation between myself and Barry. Then his new book, The Forces of Nature Our Quest to Conquer the Planet, explores how we impact planet Earth, how planet Earth impacts us, and how that’s likely to change in the future. 

Barry Van, thanks for being on point of inquiry. My pleasure. Looking forward to talking with you. 

So the impact that human beings have on the planet and the impact that the planet has on human civilization, I think has been brought into stark relief in the past few decades as we realize the scope of climate change. The scope of, I suppose, the impact that we’re having on other species in terms of industrialized farming and so on. What was the specific genesis of running this particular book? What are you trying to do? 

Well, I am a geographer, and so I had spent a number of years doing research on a host of geographical topics and themes. And and meanwhile, I was teaching courses in human geography, cultural geography, environmental geography. And it all kind of came to a head when I started observing many of the discussions taking place relative to those issues that you just mentioned, climate change, environmental degradation, sustainability. And I thought, well, you know, geography has a lot to say about that. There are no different paradigms that exist within the discipline that get at the issue of human environmental interactions, not least of which, of course, would be environmental determinism and possible ism. And then, of course, a compromise between those two was which is my favorite area, is human ecology. 

And so, OK, let me pull you up right there, because with we’re starting to talk about it, about terms that not everyone will be familiar with determinism and possible wisdom in the context of humankind and geo and geography. What can you explain those? 

Oh, absolutely. Environmental determinism was a school of thought, a paradigm that came out of the German school of geography, the mid eighteen hundreds. Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Reder, among others, were advocates of that view. And they tried to make geography more of a scientific discipline in which there were laws and theories that explain the human condition relative to the environment. So they they argued that the environment determines everything about us. Our physical appearance or phenotypes, our biological makeup, our culture, our attitudes, even our mental capacity in large measure is shaped by environmental interactions. Unfortunately, that view really fed into Nazi ism to some extent and the racial ideology of the Nazi Germany. 

But concurrent with that, can can you just elaborate on that link? How does one get from from A to B.. 

That’s a good point along the way. 

You had this notion with environmental determinism that concurrent development within the field of sociology called social Darwinism, which was the attempt to try to apply Darwin’s theories of evolution. Selective, well, selective selectivity. The issue of survival of the fittest in terms of social and community organizations, societal organizations, that society evolved from simple to complex forms. And so that concurrent with the idea that the environment determines everything about us, including our civilizations, really fed into the idea that some societies in, let’s say, 1930 were much more advanced than other societies. And people like Hitler, for example, seized upon that as an explanation for why Germanic peoples were the superior race. They had a very advanced economy relative to the rest of the world, and that gave him justification to try to subjugate other peoples. And so it became really a troubling issue because there are other aspects of culture that does that do explain why some are more successful economically than others. And of course, possible ism was the the big change, if you will. There was a threshold at which many geographers said we’re not going to go down that road anymore. We’re going to we’re gonna buy into the idea that that Paul Fidalgo the Bloche, a French geographer came up with that, argued that. We have human capacity, we have technological advances, we we can innovate, and we have since the beginning of time, we’ve been innovative, we’ve been an innovative species, and as a consequence, we can create greater possibilities for ourselves. We don’t have to face such a bleak future. We can engineer problems. We can build levees. We can drain swamps. We can control certain aspects of our environment that no other species can. And so a possible ism became quite a prevalent view, especially in the roaring 20s. You know, the rise of electricity, automobiles, airplanes certainly gave some credence to their argument that human capacity is necessarily limited by our imagination. And so it became quite in vogue. 

Yeah, I mean, one one of the things that I was thinking as I was reading, especially the last, that the latter portions of your book was that, as you can probably tell by my accent, I’m an Australian. And there is a lot of debate in Australia about what to do with all of that land. Australia is the same size as the contiguous United States and has half the population of California. So there is some people would like to take on this kind of possible list mindset of, you know, well, I suppose it is a kind of a 1920s mindset. You know, the Hoover Dam reshaped the entire West and we could do such things in Australia and create habitable areas out of so much of the desert that we’ve got there. But then there is a countervailing view that geography is the way that geography is, and one should try to minimize one’s footprint on it, not try to turn everything into nirvana for human beings. 

How how do you see those two competing visions of humankind’s place on this planet kind of unfold over the past half century? 

Well, you just captured, I think, in essence, the dichotomy between environmental determinism and possible ism. 

The environment sets limits upon us and possible ism is a countervailing view in which we see that human beings direct basti can do amazing things. I have sort of come down in the area of what’s called human ecology. Harlan Barrows was a geographer at the University of Chicago and he and he really talked about how we we humans must adapt. We must find ways to use technology. But there are limitations that we have to deal with. But at the same time, we can overcome some of those limits. And so it’s a compromise, I think, between the two of those. And so the whole issue of sustainability, I think, rises to a new level in thinking about things in terms of human that adaptation and trying to find ways to maximize our longevity on this planet. 

Because if we continue to go the way we’re going with population growth increasing the way it is, the fact that we have free movement of people across boundaries allows some countries to get rid of their surplus populations. 

So they they don’t have to change. They don’t have to develop new technologies or change their family structure of their gender roles and so forth. And so they continue to explode through the receipt of medical technologies and foods supplied by other countries. And so until we rethink the way we allow populations to move across the landscape and across boundaries, and we are going to continue to see a future that’s heavily pressed with overpopulation. 

Would the would the spread of populations not be a and an upside as well as a downside? 

I mean, doesn’t the uncurious that you mentioned the spread of human populations as having a deleterious impact on geography? Because I sort of assume without thinking about it terribly hard, that the ability of populations to move into into areas which are more conducive is actually potentially a way to to ameliorate the the impact that humans have on their environment. 

Well, it’s certainly it certainly does have. I think in the short term, it has the capacity to do that sort of thing. If you take places, for example, like the Middle East, where there there isn’t a tremendous amount of resources available to sustain life as we know it, you do have fossil fuels and things of that nature, but you don’t have a really conducive physical environment to support a whole lot of people. 

It’s dry. It’s a lot like the outback of Australia. It’s in desperate need of water resources and so on. 

That’s all well and good except for a little while, because the people that are staying in those countries don’t have to change their culture. They don’t have to change the way they see women. They don’t have to change gender roles. So they don’t really adapt. And so they could keep getting rid of their surplus populations. And so the fountain of humanity really continues to produce an overabundance of humans and they go into places where they’re really stressing environment. 

You take the Netherlands, for example, London, England has a significant population that’s going to be increasingly hard pressed to find employment. 

So it does place a strain on the economic structure of other countries in which these folks are going and settling. So it is a temporary solution, but it’s not a Long-Term fix for humanity. 

How concerned are you about overpopulation? You mentioned the Netherlands there. And I remember reading a statistic. This is probably ten or fifteen years ago now, so I can’t vouch for its veracity. But I think the underlying point is, is true, which is that the entire population of the earth, if it leave, we lived at the population density of the Netherlands. 

In other words, not horribly crammed together. You know, they’re not living like Manhattan. But, you know, you can drive around and see windmills and farms. If the entire world lived at that population density, then the whole planet would would would be able to fit into one half of the of North America. 

So that’s true. 

Then. Then you then you bump up against questions, of course, about, well, where do you farm and where do you get all of the all of the resources for for such people. And if everyone is living the lifestyle of the Netherlands, what is their carbon footprint and is that sustainable? 

But how do you sort of see the interplay between the sheer number of people versus the environmental impacts that the population has? 

Well, the more and the more industry a society has, the more abuse it’s going to have on the landscape and the more exploitation of resources they’re going to be. So population pressures are really relative. With respect to the type of technology that’s being used to harness a living from the environment. 

Countries like Bangladesh, for example, have over a thousand people per square mile. Compare that to Lexington, Kentucky, that has around nine hundred fifty people per square mile, which is an urban area. 

And so Bangladesh has got a tremendous surplus of population. And it’s also a very, very dangerous place because you have the Bay of Bengal, which is a extremely warm water body that produces a lot of cyclones and deleterious impacts caused by flooding. 

Been over half a million people killed in that country in the last 100 years from flooding events. So there are a lot of population pressures in places around the world. Many people in the West don’t don’t see because they’re not in the media’s limelight. And so we do have population distributions around the world where we have people living in harm’s way. And I think it’s going to only going to increase over time. We do tend to occupy a small portion of the earth, as you said. Seventy five percent. The population is under five percent their surface, but we’re heavily concentrated in certain areas. You mentioned Australia. You know better than most people where the population of Australia tends to be concentrated, it seems to the Australian Alps in the southwestern corner with relatively little bit of population in the outback and some of run on the West Coast. So population tends to be concentrated where life is more suitable. Even despite our technology, we still are heavily dependent upon environmental perception, environmental resources that are available to us. 

I’m glad you mentioned the subcontinent and Bangladesh because I think we’re basically having two conversations when we talk about overpopulation. There’s a global conversation and then there’s a localized conversation. And I think it can be too easy to conflate those two things. One of my great concerns about climate change, for example, is what the hell happens if the subcontinent gets completely screwed up by floods and the monsoons are affected and you have massive crop failures across Bangladesh and India and Pakistan. Now you’ve got Pakistan that has nukes and has rising levels of Islamist populist parties. You know, you can imagine a potential deep destabilization of that region that would make the Syrian refugee flow look like a cakewalk. And I think that let let’s just start with that and then we can get to sort of the global implications of overpopulation. But do you have any particular thoughts about that threat? 

I think you’re spot on. Just to be perfectly honest with you, I think that if you if we were to go back to the thoughts of Thomas Mouthless back in 1798 when he wrote his book, Essay on Principles of Population, we have a serious issue that hasn’t gone away. And we’re not we’re no better at facing it today than we were when Mouthless wrote his work, his words about the consequences of unmitigated population growth, famine, disease and warfare, the consequences he foresaw. The scenario that you just depicted, although hypothetical, could very well happen. And it would certainly be consistent with what Mouthless predicted to be a result of overpopulation and the need for resources and competition for resources and the volatility of certain ideologies could come into play and mix in there. And the widespread proliferation of nuclear arms technology could could make it a very, very bad situation for a lot of people, because 60 of the population lives in Asia, North America, South America, relatively unpopulated, compared the Asian continent. And even there, the population is heavily concentrated in the east, in the south, in the southeastern part of the continent, with the interior of the continent relatively sparsely populated. And for one reason, it’s high elevation is extremely dry. And so a lot of people don’t live there. Difficult to support a large population of people there. So, yeah, we do have some very serious issues that are on the horizon relative to where population is growing, resource availability and the proliferation of destructive technologies. 

What do you say to optimists who say, look, we’re going to be able to figure out our way around this? Wait, wait. We are going to find techno technocratic solutions and technological solutions that will always remain one step ahead. And, you know, you cite Malphas, but Mouthless has been roundly debunked. And, you know, the famous wager between Paul like that was that was lost. We will always stay one step ahead of ourselves and we’ll always retain an ability to feed ourselves. 

Yeah. Paul and Erlick, you know, there, I would say required in the school of thought with. Mouthless in some respects, all the diseases, epidemic, diseases and so forth are all a consequence of overpopulation and environmental stresses and pressures. So, yeah, I don’t know. Clearly, every theory that humans are going to come up with are going to have some people that are going to come in and poke holes in it. But I think that it’s common sense, really. If people are hungry and we don’t have the infrastructure in place to share goods, resources and technologies, then they may well resort to conflict to take care of themselves. That’s been the history of humanity. 

One of the one of the sort of parables that you talk about or examples that you talk about in the book is Lake Erie. Can you can you enlighten us on that? 

Yeah. Lake Erie, in many respects, we we we get the seams to some extent, especially in the United States, because we think that we cleaned up our environment relative to where it had been. 

If we look at photographs and documentaries and movies from the 1960s when industrialization was going full swoop here in the United States, you know, it wasn’t difficult to see that we had tremendous quantities of particulate matter and other gas has been built into the atmosphere that were producing all kinds of environmental problems. We had nitrates and phosphates and the whole host of other nutrients being fed into Lake Erie that would cause eutrophication to occur, which is the aging process of water body. And so a whole host of contaminants were being concentrated at the bottom of the of the lake. And what happened around 1972 was we we passed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and so forth, and EPA was born and we were off who were all optimistic about what we were going to do for ourselves. Meanwhile, the investors who were investing in those factories decided to shut those factors down and slowly move them to other parts of the world. Look at the industrial growth is taking place in eastern Asia, for example. North Korea is not joining in. The South Korea is certainly there and China. So a lot of the cleanup that we think took place because of environmentally safe technology is scrubbers and so forth. Coal fired chimneys and so forth really were not as effective as we think they were because we have a relocation of industrial output to Asia. And so Lake Erie is still, to some extent, I guess, threatened by long term pollutants that have been accumulating at the bottom of the lake. They’re still there. Just that there isn’t a whole lot of input of new effluent coming in from Detroit. 

I mean, I think this is a really interesting lesson about how we think about those two issues that I was mentioning earlier, a localized impact vs. localized impact. And I think this stretches beyond just geography and into economics and politics and and labor and a whole bunch of different issues in that. If you look solely at the domestic economy of any industrialized nation, things have been getting a lot cleaner and a lot richer and a lot better. 

But when you actually look at the world as a whole, and this is not to say that the whole world as a whole hasn’t been getting rich as well, but we’ve been outsourcing a lot of the despoiling of our environments to other other countries. We’ve been outsourcing terrible, low paid, dangerous jobs to labor forces in other countries. And so I wonder whether or not you sort of you as a geography’s are to take that that global view and and try to always incorporate. 

I guess the externality is that we might be we might be falling off onto developing nations as part of our progress. 

Oh, I think you just hit the nail on the head. I think that’s precisely the scenario that’s taking place and has been for the last 30, 40 years. Five of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world are in the air in China. In fact, if you look at satellite imagery over over China, you see a lot of brown clouds. That to me are reminiscent of what happened in Dinaw, Pennsylvania, in nineteen forty eight in October 1948, when 21 people died as a result of air pollution disaster. 

So I think that we have a similar situation going on in places like that and they’re still tooling up. China is still tooling up and South Korea’s tooling up and Vietnam, its tooling up and Cambodia will start moving in that direction. 

So the organization called AZN, which is basically Asian countries that have formed a similar organization to the European Union. They’re not quite there, politically speaking, but they are certainly emerging in terms of economic activity. 

They’re they’re so wealthy now that they can sell to themselves. They don’t have to rely upon Western markets necessarily to to get their their wealth, although they are still selling to the West, but they can sell to each other. So the West’s ability to use economic pressure to cause them to change is not what it would have been 25, 30 years ago, because they do have their own markets outside of the West. So it’s going to take a lot of diplomacy, I think a lot of operating through the United Nations and other international organizations to work with these countries to try to get them to understand the consequences of where we’re going, where we’re going to wind up in in the global sense of environmental degradation, pollution and sustainability. 

When you when you talk about the pollution and the smog and the deaths from air pollution, specifically with regard to China having five of the top 10 dirtiest cities in the world, I was flying into Shanghai last year and through just an impenetrable blanket. Of choking smog. So you could barely even see the wing of the of the airplane and as we came down did just before you could see the ground, there were, as far as the eye could see, a bunch of very boring communist style apartment blocks on top of which were solar panels just just facing into this smog without big thick with no sunlight to be seen. And I was sort of depressed. And I was I was always impressed that they were bothering to try. And terribly depressed about this small gesture in the face of such obvious coal fueled calamity. And I wonder what your sort of prognosis is as to how we’re going to deal with that. With the rise of one point three billion Chinese people presumably trying to attain Western style standards of living on the back of fossil fuels? 

Well, I think the the the issue that I’m very concerned about is that China is well aware of their demographic pressures, their transformation relative to what’s called the demographic transition model. And they are trying to move into what some of us would call stage five. Stage five is where you actually have a negative population growth. Back in the 1960s, when people started talking about sustainability and started talking about demographic transitions and overpopulation. The goal was for countries to achieve what was called stage four, which is where you approach and achieve zero population growth. We have found since then that there are countries that have actually moved beyond stage four. I moved into stage five. That being, for example, Russia, they just had Russia has implemented policies in the past decade that’s encouraged population growth. So just recently, they had their first surplus population positive natural increase. Right. Which has been really unusual for Russia since the collapse of the Soviet empire. And then you have Germany. Germany has got a negative pocket lection growth. Hence, they have a strong dependency on immigrant labor. Some of the Scandinavian countries, also Italy, they’re all experiencing from the indigenous population. And there is such a thing, a negative population growth. So there is a demand for immigrant labor, which is going to continue to take pressure off of overpopulated areas of the world with low income, low wage people. And it’s going to exacerbate the situation because they’re going to keep having lots of babies. 

And so therein lies a big problem. 

If we don’t have international cooperation, if we don’t have some kind of collaboration with the U.N., really be an objective about trying to convince people of the need to do this. I’m afraid countries are going to starts using draconian measures to implement policies that are well, we think of the in China. We think that they don’t value women. Well, it’s not so much they don’t value women as if they just want to encourage females to reach fertility. And that sounds draconian. And it is because it does place a premium on males and a disincentive to have female children. But female children are the ones that are key to becoming producers of offspring. One man can produce a lot of offspring. One woman can. She can produce so many. 

You take a country with 100, a society with 100 people. And ninety nine of them are men. And you have one woman. 

You’re going to have one baby every year, perhaps for a few years. 

If you have ninety nine women and one man, you’re going to have up to ninety nine plus children every year. 

And so in a very happy fellow I’d say yes. 

So, you know, gender roles, demography is very much dependent upon how we see and in value women. And I think unless we change the way societies see that we’re in trouble. And I think actually in countries with fundamentalist religious it, whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, we’ve got to be diligent in trying to be culturally sensitive while at the same time trying to use logic and reason to get people to understand where we’re headed. 

Yeah, I don’t I don’t have a lot of time for for being too culturally sensitive. 

It’s one of mine. One of my downfalls. I’m a big advocate of of educating women and empowering women, if only for the pragmatic reasons that you outline. I mean, the solution to almost any problem, any big global problem you care to to point to. I mean, it would be the problem would be lessened if if women were more educated and were part of the workforce and had control over their own reproductive systems. Almost any problem we choose to name would would be improved. 

You end the book with that chapter about the Americas. In the year 2060. Can you paint the picture? 

Yeah. Americas in the 2060. 

Given the shift in investments and global economics, the United States, Canada, I’m not sure about Canada, but the end of states is probably going to decline. And economic power. We’re going to continue to be a place of destination because of relative sparse land for many people coming from other parts of the world. 

So we’re going to continue to absorb people from Central America and Latin America in general, South America as well, mostly because of their their poverty and their continued disenfranchisement to some extent of women and their inability to reduce population pressures themselves. 

So we’re going to continue to see people moving into the United States and we’re going to see people moving into areas of the country that are dangerous. 

For example, we’re already seeing a concentration of poor people along the Mississippi River in cities like Memphis, Vicksburg, East St. Louis, St. Louis and on up into the Ohio River Valley with Louisville, Kentucky. Those are cities in which we have a lot of poor people living, a lot of subsidized housing projects which are made out of brick and mortar. 

Those are not very stable structures. When we have earthquakes, for example, suppose we were to have a Category five earth, say, a Category five hurricane hit the Gulf of Mexico at high tide. Hurricane Katrina will will be like a small event compared to what that event could be like. And let’s say that we have also an earthquake in the in the category range or the scale of a 1811, 1812 new Maggard earthquake along the Mississippi River. We literally confine ourselves in a situation where we have such a disaster that because of population concentration in those areas, the Gulf Coast along Mississippi River, that we may not ever recover from it. 

It could it could cause economic collapse, and it could certainly cause insurance companies to go under and be so cost prohibitive to consumers to help defray the cost of paying for these insurance policies. As a result of the payouts to homeowners and business owners that that would result from such disasters. 

It could be it could be catastrophic. And not that’s not to mention what could happen in California or in the Midwest, because we do have a thousand tornadoes touched down every year in Kansas and Nebraska. 

The population continues to grow and settle there. We’re gonna eat up farmland, which is not good. We’re going to reduce the volume of water that’s left and Ovalau Aquifer, which is a very vital and key water resource vector for the Midwest and for the Western Plains states. That could be a real issue as well. So you’ve got tornadoes, you’ve got potentiality for deaths resulting from massive tornadoes. You’ve got the declining availability of water resources from the Ovalau Aquifer. It could be bad if population continues to grow and the areas that are environmentally dangerous. 

If if that kind of major catastrophe happens, Barrie, and it is the kind of catastrophe that is likely to be recurring and is predictable, should we bother to rebuild such places? This is something that I sort of go back and forth on because I was in New York for Hurricane Sandy and I heard the mayor come out and the government come out immediately afterwards and say, we are going to rebuild and we will be stronger than ever. And I look at the Rockaways where a lot of the damage was done. And I think we want to see rebuilding there. We know about climate change. We know about rising sea levels. We know about the increasing frequency and intensity of large storms. Why are we rebuilding in places that it doesn’t make sense for people to live? That may sound callous, but should we be? 

No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think that let’s say that let’s remove the whole scenario of increasing frequency of these things and even remove the idea of global warming. It doesn’t matter. We’re still going to have these events. They’re still going to take place even if we maintain a status quo. They’re still going to be hurricanes, in fact, between nineteen hundred and two thousand. There were ninety five states struck by massive hurricanes and sixty four. Sixty five distinct hurricane event hurricane events. But ninety five states were affected and the vast majority of those, statistically speaking, were in the Gulf States. So if you’re a Gulf state resident and if you’re in New York, New Orleans, you’re going to get hit again. It’s just a matter of time. If you live in a floodplain of a river, it’s going to flood some time there. 500 year floods there, 100 year floods. It’s going to happen. So what we have to do is we have to do what the government has done, the federal government has done in prohibiting people from building in flood zones. Fifty years ago, they would let you live, build a house in the flood zone. But because insurance companies, the way I mean, we’re we’re having to pay for this too many times. Stop doing that. So they went and said, no, we can’t do this anymore. So it is politically feasible, impossible for us to say, look, this is a hurricane zone and you’re going to have storm surge. A storm surge may not have been really bad last couple of hundred years, but it’s going to happen at some point. 

There is going to be a storm sufficient enough to cause massive death and massive property destruction no matter what. We think it’s going to happen again. New Orleans is playing with fire. New Orleans is playing Russian roulette because it’s going to happen again and see, the thing is, the most people to realize about Hurricane Katrina is that they think that while the levees and the levees, that they did a great job, they held the water back. 

The you know, the water flow down the Mississippi River. Yeah. They they forget that they were twelve inches of rain that fell to and it wasn’t just the storm surge that the levees were able to protect the city from because it’s in a bowl shaped depressions actually below sea level in a central part of New Orleans. But what happened was 12 inches of rain fell north of New Orleans and caused the water table to rise. 

And so you have water rising up underneath the levees, behind the levees, in front of the levees. And so they didn’t anticipate that. And so what happened was, as you had the disillusionment of these different levees and so because you have water coming up underneath it. That’s why they bury people above ground in New Orleans. And so it’s it’s you’re absolutely spot on when you say that is probably going to be not a good idea to rebuild it because you’re not going to have the technology to stop that groundwater from rising and destroying New Orleans. You’re not going to have that same problem solved in New York City, Manhattan, Long Island. Those are places that are in harm’s way. It’s amazing and it hasn’t happened yet. A massive destructive storm coming in there and really hitting them. If patterns are consistent, it’s going to happen probably in the next 50 years for sure. 

We started this conversation talking about determinism versus pop possible ism, and you knew a sensible middle ground between those two extremes. 

Put on your prognosticators, Hattan sort of think. I mean, are you broadly an optimist or a pessimist? Let’s frame it that way. 

Instead of a determinists or a possible list about humankind’s future on the planet. If that’s not a huge question. 

No, I think it’s a great question. And I think that if you look at there’s a chapter in the book called The Edge of the Edge of the World. And I think that in many respects, a society can be placed at the edge of the world. On edge of the world is where we don’t have any other choices but to change. 

And as long as a society has the opportunity to stay the way it is, it’s going to take the course of least resistance, just like water flowing back to the ocean. That’s going to find the course of least resistance. And so a society that is in that situation will not change. 

It will not adapt. And so we have to really, I guess, to some extent, not be so free and easy with benevolence. And we need to work with people and say, look, we’re not going to give you fish to eat. We’re going to teach you how to fish. And so it’s like the old Chinese proverb, you know, give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. But if you teach amount of fish, you can eat for forever, for a lifetime. And that’s the approach that we have to have, is we have to have an educated approach, a use of technology approach. We have to communicate. 

We have to share information with people in harm’s way, potentially in harm’s way about this is where we are. This is where we’re headed. And this is how we can circumvent that. We have to put you figuratively at the edge of the world where you see no other option but to change, but to adapt, to innovate. The mother of this of innovation is necessity. We have to do as people figuratively in them mental framework. There is a crisis looming and we have to be. And we have to be sensitive to that. 

The book is The Forces of Nature Our Quest to Conquer the Planet. Barry Van, thanks so much for being on point of inquiry. Great to talk to you. 

My pleasure. Thank you. Josh. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.