The next 100,000 years

In my other blog I try to address the life and times of the last 6,000 generations but trying to look forward to the next 6,000 is a fascinating thought experiment.

I was looking at the history of glacials and interglacials and just thinking that it was was terribly “unfair” that while I could imagine the future to my mind’s content, I could never know it. At least for even the distant past, we can look at surviving clues and by the logic that the past must have led to the present we can fill in the gaps and imagine what must have happened. The present constrains the past and helps to keep the imagination within narrow bounds. But for the future, the present  provides a starting point  and natural laws must also constrain any development of an unfolding future. But there are more natural laws we don’t know about than we do. And we haven’t a clue about all that we don’t know that we don’t know.

But I am still free to imagine what the next 100,000 years may bring.

As best we can judge, interglacials (defined as being when temperatures are higher than or equal to those at present)  have lasted upto 28,000 years and some seem to have been as short as 4,000 years. However most seem to last around 13,000 years. This interglacial period will surely end – whether within a 1000 years or in 10,000 – and a new glacial period will ensue.


But the next glacial will be different for humans and primarily because we have access to “abundant energy” (mainly based on fossil fuels and nuclear energy).

For the last 1 million years, interglacials have constituted only some 15% of the time while glacial conditions have existed for over 80% of this time. The history of humanity does not begin with the start of the current interglacial.  Neither does a glacial period curb human ingenuity and development. Anatomically modern humans (AMH) have been around for at least 250,000 years. As AMH we have experienced an interglacial about 230 KYA (thousand years ago), then a glacial period till about 130 KYA, the Eemian interglacial till about 110 KYA, then a glacial period till the start of the Holocene interglacial about 11,500 years ago. We are still in this interglacial and this should end within the next 1,000 – 5,000 years. AMH have therefore lived through and continued to evolve and develop through global temperatures ranging from about 6°C lower and about 4°C higher than exists today. Sea levels have been almost 150 m lower than we have today and upto about 50 m higher than current levels For example during the Eemian interglacial about 125,000 years ago temperatures were some 2°C higher and sea levels about 10m higher than at present while during the Eocene (40 million years ago) temperatures were about 4°C higher than today with sea levles about 50 m higher.

Glacial periods have been far from being “dead” periods with humans huddling miserably in their caves. None of the conditions of temperature (+4°C to -6°C) and sea level (+50 m to – 150 m) experienced in the past are beyond the capabilities of humans to withstand.  In fact the 100,000 years or so of the last glacial represents a period of  a wide-ranging expansion of a confident species on the move. It was a period for the development of complex social structures and ground-breaking technologies. The roots of the arts and sciences as we know them today lie embedded here. The achievements over the 100,000 years prior to the current interglacial are quite remarkable. It was during these 6,000 or so generations that all the visible differences between different groups of humanity have evolved. The Neanderthals and Denisovans were encountered in Europe and in Asia, and they were out-competed or eradicated or assimilated. Nearly all the superficial differences of appearance present today were well established among humans before the start of this interglacial. Though fire was discovered long before AMH appeared on the scene, it was through this period that man learned first to control and then later to harness fire. He developed tools of wood and stone. He distinguished between different kinds of wood and stone. He learned to use fire to alter the properties of his materials. He needed to cooperate with his fellows and so he developed speech and language and symbolism and cave painting and writing. Man the builder starts here. He built shelters for himself and protected his person and his family and his goods and his territories. He invented clothing and footwear and needles and sowing. From tools he developed weapons. He hunted some prey and developed herding techniques for others. He began the domestication of some animals. He learnt about the plants and trees around him and how he could use them. He came upon the concept of healing and even of medicinal plants. He learned to count and developed numbers and observed the relationships of shapes and numbers in a sort of proto-mathematics. He observed the sun and the moon and the stars and developed his concepts of time and time duration and calendars. He knew the seasons and he invented religions. He migrated – intentionally over vast distances and populated the entire world – largely on foot and perhaps also by water. The origins of the harnessing of water power lie in this age. Certainly travel by rafts and boats had developed long before the start of this interglacial. He developed trade not only by barter but even for tokens of value. Though the rapid spread of settled agriculture happened only in the “temperate” and benign conditions of the current interglacial, the origins of agricultural methods and techniques actually goes back a long way into the last glacial. The invention of ceramic pots and use of cooking utensils pre-date the current interglacial. Much of our social constructs originate from the glacial age. Social duties to others and privileges in the context of family, tribe and “nation” start from here.

The wheel came only during this interglacial. But all of these earlier developments were almost “from scratch” and the level of ingenuity and creativity needed to bring them about should not be underestimated. The “geniuses” of that time – on whose unknown, giant shoulders we now ride – are now lost in the fog of antiquity. With only a verbal tradition to rely on, they themselves had fewer giants from their past on whose shoulders they could climb. But without them it would not have been possible for the da Vinci’s and Newtons and Einsteins to have appeared. I would even suggest that some of those developments were more profound in their invention and far-reaching in their impact than those of the modern age. They started us down the path of development and they both triggered and enabled the chain reactions which have led to all the subsequent “modern” developments. Be it brain surgery or aircraft or the internet or space travel, the ground was prepared during the last glacial by our unknown forefathers. It could be that it is the particular challenges of a glacial period which are in themselves the stimuli needed for human ingenuity to flower.

Time line of prehistoric inventions (pdf)

Whenever the current interglacial ends – and it will surely end – it will take about 2,000 – 4,000 years for substantial glacial conditions to be established. Temperatures will drop by 5 – 6 °C and sea levels will drop around 100 m. Parts of the Northern Hemisphere will become very expensive to live in (not impossible) and certainly population there will decrease. There will be large tracts of land that will be exposed and will become available mainly in the tropics and in SE Asia. There will be movement of populations but these will occur in response to the slowly growing ice-sheets. It will largely be from North to the South and mainly in the Northern Hemisphere. But this will be over some 2,000 years and is not likely to be beyond human capabilities – especially with the energy and the modes of transport that will be available.

How humans will develop over the next 100,000 years is just speculation and a thought experiment, but the critical difference from the last glacial period will – I think – be that man will effectively have as much energy as he needs or wants.

2004 – Smil – World History and Energy

From an individual just commanding about 80 W of sustainable effort through sheer muscle power, man has now the wherewithal to control prime movers with single units producing more than a trillion (109)W.

prime movers in prehistory - smil

Prime movers – smil

From walking at around 3km/h man now regularly travels by air at 1,000 km/h.

transportation -smil

This availability of “abundant energy” will lead to another – maybe many – waves of innovation and creativity in response to the changing and challenging conditions of a new glacial period. Paradigm shifts will occur across all areas;  in social structures, in social engineering, in the arts, in technologies, in energy sources, in modes of transport and in space travel. Where the last glacial saw the colonisation of the earth by humans, the next glacial will see the expansion into space. Being paradigm shifts they are in the realm of “what we don’t know that we don’t know” but they are not beyond the reach of speculation:

  • 100 years from now:
    • Population stabilised at about 10 billion,
    • energy availability at an annual 10,000kWh per capita (mainly fossil and nuclear fission),
    • national boundaries fading,
    • individual rights balanced by duties,
    • virtually free movement of labour across country boundaries,
    • “Internet English” the required lingua universalis,
    • national governments concerned more with administration,
    • conservation of species changes to “assisted evolution” of threatened species,
    • longevity at 150 years with retirement at 90,
    • development of “smart” roads, rail, air corridors and sea-lanes
    • driver-less cars and trains and boats and planes mandatory for conventional travel,
    • manual driving only permitted for “Off-road” and leisure activities,
    • universal schooling to age 21 followed by universal vocational or higher education for 6 years,
    • Age of maturity increased to 25
    • a new Renaissance of art forms and literature,
    • individuals choose when to die,
    • catastrophe scenarios based on meteor impact.
  • 1000 years from now:
    • Interglacial ended, glaciers expanding,
    • Population stable at 9 billion,
    • longevity in excess of 200 years with working age till 120 years,
    • human colonies established on near planets,
    • exploration teams to all parts of the solar system,
    • energy availability at annual 18,000kWh per capita,
    • nations being dissolved,
    • economic activity dominated by corporations and Free Associations of Individuals (FAI’s),
    • Religions die out and replaced by Charter of Human Rights and Duties
    • internal combustion engines being phased out, electrically powered vehicles which can travel by land, sea, under-sea or air, roads and railways becoming obsolete as transport needs are met by “matter shifting”
    • experimental spacecraft based on gravitational energy,
    • Nations obsolete and replaced by Geographical Administration Units,
    • parental responsibility and accountability for genetic make-up of their children and for education until age of maturity (30 years),
    • catastrophe scenarios based on Snowball Earth.
  • 10,000 years from now:
    • Full glacial conditions on earth,
    • Earth population stable at 9 billion,
    • Space colony population approaching 5 billion,
    • longevity in excess of 300 years
    • individuals active productive lifespan of over 250 years
    • energy production decentralised completely (fusion),
    • energy availability at an annual 30,000 kWh per capita,
    • powered spacecraft being phased out and  travel  by “matter shifting” on earth and by “folding” through space,
    • corporations and FAI’s in loose Administration of Humanity,
    • resurgence of core families as basis for colonisation,
    • taxation obsolete,
    • all services from Administrations by purchase,
    • catastrophe scenarios based on planetary collisions.
  • 100,000 years from now
    • Earth as a protected Home Planet with a steady 9 billion inhabitants
    • Human diaspora of 50 billion,
    • human colonies outside the solar system
    • Longevity around 400 years with age of maturity set at 50 years
    • evolutionary differences showing up between separated and isolated human populations,
    • some populations evolve mind-to-mind communication without speech,
    • energy needs personal and individualised with each individual having 50,000 kWh per annum available (via Individual Fusion Energy Generators – IFEGs),
    • planetary transport by “shifting” and off-planet by “folding”,
    • resurgence of ancient earth religions on isolated planets,
    • Planetary Governments consider forming a United Planets Organisation (UPO) for dispute resolution,
    • catastrophe scenarios now based on solar instability.

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One Response to “The next 100,000 years”

  1. When this interglacial ends …. | The k2p blog Says:

    […] from utilising the resources under some of the ice sheets. As during the last glacial period, human innovation and engineering will flourish and reach new heights as the challenges are met. New science and new technologies will appear. Art […]

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