The Conversation website also runs a regular podcast, and this week I interviewed with them on the subject of Rebooting.
For the sake of a thought experiment, what could you do if the world as we know it came to an end? It could be a nuclear apocalypse, a superbug that wipes out most of humanity, or even a catastrophic asteroid. What sort of guide book would you need to survive these doomsday scenarios? Listen to find out how long you can last off the food that will be left lying around and the crucial knowledge you need to rebuild civilisation.
And looking to an even more extreme scenario, what would happen to the Earth if humanity itself was driven to extinction. Matthew Wills, an expert in evolutionary processes, discusses what sort of life might develop in our place. The clues, it turns out, are in the last big wipeout – the asteroid that did for the dinosaurs.
Listen to The Conversation podcast on Rebooting here
Una pandemia incontrolable, el impacto de un meteorito, o quizá una guerra nuclear; por el motivo que sea, el mundo que conocemos ha desaparecido y los escasos supervivientes deben comenzar de cero. ¿Cuáles son los conocimientos fundamentales necesarios para reconstruir nuestra civilización? Tras recoger lo poco lo poco que queda, ¿cómo se puede empezar a producir lo esencial? ¿Cómo cultivar alimentos, generar electricidad, preparar medicinas o extraer metal de las rocas? ¿Se puede evitar una nueva edad oscura y aprovechar los atajos para conseguir de nuevo el desarrollo? La vida en las sociedades contemporáneas nos han desconectado de los procesos básicos que nos sostienen, así como de las elegantes premisas científicas que permiten aprender las cosas por uno mismo. “Abrir en caso de apocalipsis” es un viaje de exploración, un libro que explica todo lo que hay que saber acerca de todo lo que nos rodea. Una guía rápida para reiniciar la civilización que transformará nuestra comprensión del mundo, y nos ayudará cuando este ya no exista.
“Un maravilloso compendio de los conocimientos que hemos olvidado. El libro más inspirador que he leído en mucho tiempo”. (Peter Forbes, Independent)
“Un libro extraordinario, una lectura estupenda incluso si la civilización no desaparece. Si lo hace, será la biblia del nuevo mundo, y Dartnell su profeta”. (The Times)
“Una mirada fascinante a los principios básicos de las principales tecnologías que sostienen la sociedad contemporánea” Wall Street Journal
“Una fascinante historia de la ciencia y la tecnología” (Steven Poole, The Guardian)
The Knowledge is now out in UK paperback! I’m currently away on book tour around Canada and the US, but very excited to see it out. Vintage have gone with a very similar cover design to the original hardback (and also watch the making of the smashed emergency box as an animated gif) and I love the bold colours and the elegance of graphical concept.
Lighter and more portable than the hardback, the paperback edition is perfect for all your civilisation-rebooting needs. But probably best you buy two copies, just in case…
The Global Challenges Foundation has released its new report about global hazards that for all practical purposes can be considered to represent an infinite impact – the global collapse of civilisation, if not even driving humanity to extinction. ’12 Risks That Threaten Human Civilisation’ offers a review of the key possible events, and ties to roughly quantify the probabilities of each.
The 12 global risks threatening human civilisation that the report discussed are:
1. Extreme Climate Change
2. Nuclear War
3. Ecological Catastrophe
4. Global Pandemic
5. Global System Collapse
6. Major Asteroid Impact
Microbe Talk, the podcast from the Society for General Microbiology, has a fascinating discussion this month. Phrased as a wide-open thought experiment akin to The Knowledge, the host Ben Thompson talks to Dr Jack Gilbert and Dr Josh Neufeld about whether we would survive in a world without microbes.
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning to find out that every bacterium and every archeon on the planet had suddenly vanished. What would happen? Could humanity survive?
Jack and Josh have recently published an academic research paper in PLOS Biology on exactly this topic, Life in a World without Microbes. They explore all the ways that microbes are used by humanity, ranging from producing yoghurt and beer, to their involvement in key agricultural and industrial processes, but also how vital microbes are to the ecosystems of planet Earth as a whole.
As is clear through-out The Knowledge, one of the fundamental drivers for a vibrant civilisation is its finesse in harnessing thermal energy. Fire is used for everything from cooking food to unlock nutrients and kill pathogens, to roasting lime for mortar and rebuilding, smelting metals and forging iron tools, and creating many of the fundamental substances that society replies upon. Whilst the book isn’t a survival manual with wilderness skills, starting a fire is an interesting problem and charcloth makes the ideal tinder. Charcloth is made by carbonising cloth using the heat of a fire; it’s analogous to charcoal produced from carbonised wood. And the beauty of this, from the point of view of pulling yourself by your own bootstraps, is that once you’ve started one fire you can create charcloth and use that to greatly simplify starting all other fires from then on.
Charcloth is perfect for not just catching sparks from flint and steel, but its blackened surface is also ideally-suited for absorbing heat and igniting from sunlight focussed with a pair of glasses or other lens (or even a coke can or bottle of water as explained in my How-To video here).
One of the topics I discuss in the opening chapters of The Knowledge is how quickly our asphalt roads would deteriorate after a collapse of civilisation, and so why it might be much easier for long-distance travel and trade in a post-apocalyptic world to use the abandoned railway tracks. Two artists have completed a fascinating exploration project along these lines.
Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene describe themselves as Los Ferronautas (from ferrocarriles, ‘railway’ in Spanish) and spent 2010 and 2011 travelling along the rusting railways of rural Mexico, and the modern ruins scattered around them. In the second half of the 19th century, the Mexican government partnered with British companies to build a railway line to connect Mexico City with the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the world. But now this historic railway infrastructure lies in ruins, much of it abandoned due to the privatisation of the railway system in 1995. It was deemed simply unprofitable to continue running the passenger services, and lines became cut off and whole communities isolated.
You’ve probably watched a lot of competence porn and enjoyed it, without even realising. Competence porn is the name that’s been coined for entertainment – novels, films or TV shows – where enjoyment is garnered from witnessing impressive feats of human capability. We’re talking about men and women who succeed against expectations, either by their own wits and expertise or with the equipment and technology they wield. They inspire jaw-dropping awe by being far more proficient and accomplished than you at certain tasks. But – and this is important – competence porn doesn’t make you feel inadequate or incompetent. It makes you feel empowered. We’ve become addicted to the kick we get out of watching people who are just damned good at what they do.