In the my blog post, I established reasons for why human survival might be important for all life on Earth and not just humanity. Now, I will talk about what it will require to ensure that our civilization does last indefinitely. What will it take?
There have essentially been three types of human societies over the past 300,000 years: hunter-gatherer societies, agrarian societies, and agro-industrial societies. Hunter-gatherers rely on foraging wild plants and hunting wild animals for nutrition. For 99% of human history, all human societies were hunter-gatherer societies.
Agrarian societies first began to emerge around 12,000 years ago with the rise of the first farming communities in the Levant. Agriculture greatly increases the amount of food that can be produced by an individual family and allows for the possibility of a food surplus so that not everyone needs to gather food. This allows for full-time specialists engaged in science, art, and engineering that make the fruits of civilization possible. On the other hand, agrarian societies are more prone to collapse than hunter-gatherer societies. Also, farmers tend to be less healthy because of a less diverse diet and crowded, unsanitary conditions. Agrarian societies have lifespans of a couple thousand years, with most lasting about 1000 years if you look at the lifespans of major ancient civilizations.
The earliest agro-industrial societies date to the Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 18th century. Agro-industrial societies produce most of their food using mechanized processes. They also require enormous amounts of energy, mainly from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and wood. It should be noted that industrial societies are also making use of nuclear power and renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. No agro-industrial societies have gone extinct, though that is likely just because not enough time has passed. The agro-industrial way of life could be considered the least sustainable way of living that humans have invented. It is because of the rapid growth enabled by the Industrial Revolution that human civilization and Earth’s biosphere are facing dangerous levels of climate change and an ongoing mass extinction. Agro-industrial societies are not only very disruptive to natural ecosystems. They threaten their own survival.
You might argue that it would be best then to forfeit an industrial way of life and go back to agrarianism or a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The problem is that neither of these other lifestyles can sustain a population of almost 8 billion people. Furthermore, an industrial lifestyle has allowed for a tremendous increase in physical well-being from medical and agricultural advances that have reduced suffering and inefficiencies that were inherent in earlier agrarian civilizations and hunter-gatherer societies. Most importantly though, in terms of long-term survival, agro-industrial societies are the only currently existing societies that are technologically advanced enough to prevent an asteroid impact or similar catastrophe that would wipe humanity or even life on Earth.
As a result, if we want a civilization that will last indefinitely, going back to agrarianism or a hunter-gather lifestyle cannot be the answer either since those societies are unlikely to be as technologically advanced and will be limited in their ability to prevent extinction-causing catastrophes. Agrarian and hunter-gatherer societies are unlikely to be able to prevent extinction in the long-term and agro-industrial societies are more likely to cause their own extinction in the short-term.
This calls for a type of civilization that is both technologically advanced enough to stop extinction-inducing catastrophes, such as asteroid impacts, but also able to exist without radically disrupting the natural surface environment of their planet. This will be a civilization that has moved beyond fossil fuels and learned how to adapt to living on the surface of planet in a way that does not cause the planet to change in a way that endangers that civilization’s existence. A civilization is needed that can control planetary processes and prevent external threats to the planet. Creating such a civilization will involve many factors, factors that are technological, economic, political, sociological, and ideological. What such a civilization might look like and each of the factors that would play into it need to be considered.