'We're going to be okay': Humans not destined for extinction, says former NASA chair

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Between melting ice caps, water scarcity. and a warming climate, the future of humanity can sometimes look grim.

Scientists have long warned of a mass human extinction event and many believe that things have taken a turn for the worst. The iconic doomsday clock currently sits at  2½ minutes to midnight (the closest its been since the beginning of the Cold War). 

Meanwhile, a recent study from the University of Barcelona asserted there was a 13 per cent chance that humans don't make it out of the 21st century alive.

But despite all the doom and gloom, scientist and former NASA astrobiology chair David Grinspoon says there might not be so much to fear.

"The human race is not credibly threatened with extinction," he told host Robyn Burns on CBC's All Points West ahead of his guest lecture at the University of Victoria.

"We're going to be okay — but we're going through a very difficult transition."

Overpopulation

Grinspoon recently penned Earth in Human Hands — an in depth look at how humans have shaped the Earth over millions of years.

He says that through his decades of research, some trends stand out that should actually be causes for optimism.

The Earth's stabilizing populations are one of those causes.

"All of the best projections show population peaking and then leveling off later this century, and fertility is declining for the right reasons," he said.

While billions of humans live in poverty, Grinspoon says increased economic development and rising standards of living would slow population growth. He expects the world's population to peak at about 10 to 11 billion before the end of the 21st century

He admits the prospect of feeding that many people is daunting, but trends suggest the number would soon start to decline.

Climate change

If the population does eventually decline, so too will the effects that humans have on the planet, meaning humans could inhabit the Earth for longer, says Grinspoon. However, he says the true challenge lies in minimizing the damage that's already being done.

"The overall biggest issue we face is the threat of climate change and our need to transition our global energy systems into ones that do not wreck the natural systems that we depend upon," he said.

But Grinspoon is also optimistic on this front. He says current investments in wind and solar are just the starting point of an energy revolution.

"There's no way 100 years from now we'll be dependent on fossil fuels."

Grinspoon points to economic incentives that favour renewable resources. He cites China's 'green revolution' as an example of why it's in the best interest of countries to reduce their carbon foot print.

"[China is not switching to renewable energy] because they suddenly became global altruists — it's because you can no longer breath in Beijing, so they're shutting down coal plants and investing in solar and wind."

He admits that humanity needs to pick up the pace in order to stave off further effects of climate change, but firmly believes humans are in a state of transition.

"The 21st century is going to be rough and tragic in some ways, but its also true there's going to be a 22nd, and a 23rd century."

With files from CBC's All Points West

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: 'We're going to be okay': Humans not destined for extinction, says former NASA chair