Humanity is at risk from a series of dangers of our own making, according to Prof Stephen Hawking. Nuclear war, global warming and genetically-engineered viruses are among the scenarios he singles out. And he says that further progress in science and technology will create “new ways things can go wrong”. Prof Hawking is giving this year’s BBC Reith Lectures, which explore research into black holes, and his warning came in answer to audience questions. He says that assuming humanity eventually establishes colonies on other worlds, it will be able to survive. “Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years. “By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race. “However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period.”
Stellar astronomer and TED Senior Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz works on NASA’s Kepler mission, searching for places in the universe that could support life. So it’s worth a listen when she asks us to think carefully about Mars. In this short talk, she suggests that we stop dreaming of Mars as a place that we’ll eventually move to when we’ve messed up Earth, and to start thinking of planetary exploration and preservation of the Earth as two sides of the same goal. As she says, “The more you look for planets like Earth, the more you appreciate our own planet.
Musician and naturalist Bernie Krause has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species in many of the world’s pristine habitats. Photograph: Courtesy of Hachette Book Group John Vidal, environment editor Monday 3 September 2012 08.00 BST Last modified on Wednesday 21 May 2014 08.11 BST Share on Pinterest Share on LinkedIn Share on Google+ Shares 28k Comments 86 Save for later “The birds are silent in the woods. Just wait: Soon enough You will be quiet too” – Robert Hass When musician and naturalist Bernie Krause drops his microphones into the pristine coral reef waters of Fiji, he picks up a raucous mix of sighs, beats, glissandos, cries, groans, tones, grunts, beats and clicks. The water pulsates with the sound of creatures vying for acoustic bandwidth. He hears crustaceans, parrot fish, anemones, wrasses, sharks, shrimps, puffers and surgeonfish. Some gnash their teeth, others use their bladders or tails to make sound. Sea anemones grunt and belch. Every creature on the reef makes its own sound. But half a mile away, where the same reef is badly damaged, he can only pick up the sound of waves and a few snapping shrimp. It is, he says, the desolate sound of extinction. Krause, whose electronic music with Paul Beaver was used on classic films like Rosemary’s Baby and Apocalypse Now, and who worked regularly with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and The Byrds, has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species, collecting 4,500 hours of sound from many of the world’s pristine habitats. But such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that he estimates half these recordings are now archives, impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been so compromised by human noise. His tapes are possibly the only record of the original diversity of life in these places. Advertisement “A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening,” he writes in a new book, The Great Animal Orchestra. “Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence. “If you listen to a damaged soundscape … the community [of life] has been altered, and organisms have been destroyed, lost their habitat or been left to re-establish their places in the spectrum. As a result, some voices are gone entirely, while others aggressively compete to establish a new place in the increasingly disjointed chorus.” Hawaii, he says, is the extinction capital of the world. “In a couple of centuries since the islands were populated by Europeans, half the 140 bird species have disappeared. In Madagascar, 15 species of lemur, an elephant bird, a pygmy hippo and an estimated half of all the animals have gone extinct.” Even partially dis