Surviving the 21st Century, A MAHB Dialogue with Science Journalist and Author Julian Cribb

Geoffrey Holland | May 21, 2019 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

A bee and beetle both eating from a flower

“Put simply, women don’t start wars. They don’t pillage the biosphere without regard to the future. They don’t release nearly so much carbon as men”

Geoffrey Holland: Your book, Surviving the 21st Century, AKA SC21, identifies ten global scale threats that could destroy life on Earth as we know it before the end of this century. Could you summarize these threats?

Julian Cribb: The ten intersecting risks are: ecological collapse, resource depletion, weapons of mass destruction, climate change, global poisoning, food insecurity, population and urban expansion, pandemic disease, and uncontrollable new technologies. They are assisted by a prodigious capacity for human self-delusion. More here.

GH: Why is human population growth a key driver of these burgeoning existential threats?

JC: The human population has tripled in my lifetime, from a level that was sustainable in the  mid-C20th, to one that clearly isn’t, especially at our present levels of material consumption. We now consume, use and waste 40 times more ‘stuff’ than our grandparents.

The worst offenders are rich societies whose per capita consumption is 10x or more that of poorer places. While we need to bring the human populations back to a sustainable level, it is even more urgent that we reduce our consumption to levels within the ability of the Earth to sustain.

GH: Climate change caused by humans is heating the atmosphere, melting the icecaps, and causing dangerous weather extremes. Perhaps the most frightening possibility is a runaway greenhouse warming caused by the unleashing of methane hydrates frozen in land permafrosts and in sediments at the bottom of our oceans. Can you talk about this phenomenon called a ‘Clathrate Gun’ and how it could make our Earth uninhabitable?

JC: Though the science is not yet in, there appear to be 3-5 trillion tonnes of methane locked in tundra, tropical swamps and ocean hydrates. Methane is 28x more potent as a climate driver than CO2. Once these carbon sources vent – and there are signs they already starting – it is impossible for humanity to stop them. We will be on a one-way street to a ‘hothouse Earth’, uninhabitable by humans or larger animals. This underlines the urgency of ending all anthropogenic carbon emissions before 2030, if we are to have a chance of stabilizing the climate below the methane threshold. Read more on my blog.

GH: When you talk about food insecurity, what are the factors that are driving it, and what are the solutions?

JC: Food insecurity is caused by the destruction, pollution and wastage of soils, water, nutrients, biota and the agricultural ecosystem. Every meal you eat now devours 10 kilos of topsoil, 800 litres of water, 1.3 litres of oil, uses 0.3g of pesticide and releases 3.5 litres of CO2.  An unsustainable global agribusiness system, motivated by profit not food or nutrition, has turned farming into mining over vast tracts of the Earth. It is the primary cause of the 6th Extinction. We need to totally reinvent the global food system, basing it on three main elements: regenerative agriculture, urban food production using recycled nutrients and water, and ocean aquaculture of both plants and fish. My forthcoming book, Food or War, describes this system and how to fund it.

GH: What should people know about the increasing threat caused by our unbridled pursuit of ever more advanced, potentially lethal technologies?

JC: Most powerful technologies are in very few hands, with little or no public scrutiny, either in democracies or autocracies. Key threats include killer robots (especially those armed with WMD), global mass surveillance and control of individuals, uncontrolled use of AI, potent new biotechnologies (including experiments on the human genome) and global mass chemical pollution which is four or five times larger than our climate emissions. These can only be checked by the people demanding oversight.

Examples: and

GH: Your book identifies four primary human belief systems – money, politics, religion, and the human narrative. Do our beliefs need to change to give us the best chance of building a future that is both life-affirming and sustainable? If so, how?

JC: There is no scientific evidence to support any of these belief systems, yet a majority of humans subscribe to one or more of them. When we prize unevidenced belief over the real world, we are liable to create a disaster – for example, in using an infinite supply of imaginary ‘money’ to destroy a real but finite planet. Pope Francis illustrates the answer in Laudato Si: we need to redirect religion, politics and money to human survival and caring for our planet. One example is  here.

GH: Why are women so essential to the task of shaping a future that is worthy of the human species?

JC: Put simply, women don’t start wars. They don’t pillage the biosphere without regard to the future. They don’t release nearly so much carbon as men. They tend to consider the future, their children and grandchildren. Men like simple solutions using technology, chemistry or weaponry – and to hell with the consequences. So, women should be in charge of everything. This has nothing to do with feminism or equal opportunity. It is now a foundational rule for human survival on a hot, overcrowded, resource-depleted planet.

For more:

GH: How important is it for women and men of all races, creeds, and nationalities to embrace our common planetary citizenship to address the looming global scale issues that threaten our survival? What’s the first step in doing this?

JC: The first step towards human survival is for us to learn to ‘think as a species’, instead of a squabbling bunch of greedy, selfish, competing individuals. For the first time in human history, the internet and social media enables us to exchange information, ideas, solutions, views and values around an entire Planet, at lightspeed. It is the first, tentative, step in our learning to think together and to solve our problems at supra-human level, by consensus instead of argument or war. The renewable energy revolution is an example of this global thought process in action – but we need similar endeavors in all ten of the existential threats, to change human behaviour from destructive to regenerative.

More at:

GH: If we humans truly have come to a civilization scale crossroads, can we afford to take our time in reinventing our approach to life?

JC: As the Doomsday Clock advises us, we are two minutes to midnight. There is little or no time left. The real question is how many people do we lose once the cycle of catastrophe begins? Half the population? 90%? All of it? This is presently unknowable, as we cannot predict global human behaviour – but a key factor is the number of nuclear wars that result from the climate famines, water crises, mass refugee movements (in the 100s of millions to billions) economic crises, conflicts and pandemics that result. More here. 

GH: What advice would you give to people who want to be part of the solution to the existential crisis before us?

JC: All ten of the existential threats are capable of being eased or solved by concerted human action and worldwide behavioural change by individuals. But they must be solved together, simultaneously – partial ‘solutions’ only make other threats worse. The sooner we start to solve the combined existential emergency, the fewer lives it will cost and the sooner we can return the Earth to a balanced, sustainable condition.

In ‘Surviving the 21st Century’ I not only outlined the global solutions to these ten mega threats, but also what individuals can do in their own lives to secure a viable future for themselves, their Planet and their grandchildren. We cannot afford to wait for governments – who are mostly the puppets of the corporate sector – to wake up. We must all act now. More:



Julian Cribb FRSA FTSE is an Australian author and science communicator. A former newspaper editor, his published work includes over 9000 articles, 3000 science media releases and eleven books, the latest four on the existential emergency facing humanity and potential solutions to it. He has received over 30 awards for journalism. Julian Cribb’s latest book, Food or War,  ties the existential threats faced by humanity to the food choices each of us makes every day. It will be released this summer by Cambridge University Press. 


The MAHB Dialogues are a monthly Q&A blog series focused on the need to embrace our common planetary citizenship. Each of these Q&As will feature a distinguished author, scientist, or leader offering perspective on how to take care of the only planetary home we have.

 Geoffrey Holland is a Portland, Oregon based writer/producer, and principal author of The Hydrogen Age, Gibbs-Smith Publishing, 2007

 The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to 

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Julian Cribb

    Unfortunately complex problems cannot be overcome by solving a single issue. While I agree overpopulation is urgent, it will take a century or more to solve, as it is now partly driven by people living longer lives, not just by birth rates. No one has offered a viable solution to increasing life expectancy, although the US appears to be in the process of reducing it. Women have demonstrated they can cut birth rates if supported by education and family planning – but these do not reduce nuclear weapons, global poisoning, extinction or other existential threats. All threats must be addressed simultaneously, and by solutions which make no e of them worse. These are described in my book.

    • Mike Hanauer

      While our overpop will not reduced quickly, we can stop the pop growth relatively quickly. That is most significant. And, looking too at the longer term must be included. If we had done that 40 years ago, we would not be in this mess.

      • Julian Cribb

        What methods do you propose to stop population growth?

        • Mike Hanauer

          There are many ways to slow, stop and reverse overpopulation — and most are benign and inexpensive compared to treating all the symptoms. BUT, the first step in solving any problem is to acknowledge the problem and have discussions about it. Not to be silent.

          If people saw that there are people driving all them cars, eating all that fish, releasing all that carbon and producing all that trash, it would in itself produce great benefits.

  • Lorna Salzman

    Overpopulation is a much more urgent issue than overconsumption, though both are being challenged or denied. Protecting and expanding food supplies will not outrun the continuing
    overpopulation in Africa and the middle east. It is not cruel to question just why countries whose couples deliberately chose to have six to ten children, for patriarchal, religious or scientific reasons, should expect to be supported by humanitarian groups. At a certain point it will be IMPOSSIBLE to prevent the famines,droughts, floods and fires, not to mention soil depletion and loss of pollinators. Then there will be triage as well as withdrawal of aid from wealthier countries. I dont know why we support and reward countries that do not provide birth control and abortion, and which deprive women of political and economic power. What is the justification for continuing such aid when these countries and parents refuse to curb the size of their famlies?
    Why should they not be required to be socially responsible? Is this a one way street, with only the wealthy developed nations having to step up and save them? Dont they owe reciprocation in the form of social responsibility for their own overbreeding and its results?

    • jason brent

      Humanity does NOT need family planning. Humanity must have birth control. They are two different things. Someone comes to you and states he is very wealthy and can afford 10 children and asks you to help him plan for them. My response would be to tell him he and his wife are mass murders for having that number of children. What would be your response? Since the human population must be reduced to save humanity from hear term destruction, anyone producing more than one child must be considered a mass murder. It is that simple. Please go to my web site ––and read my essays for proof of my statement. Jason G Brent

      • Julian Cribb

        Birth control will not in the short run prevent nuclear war, climate change, global poisoning, food insecurity, pandemic disease, resource depletion etc etc. It is one of a number of measures that need to be taken. It cannot be enforced globally, as no single government has global control. It must therefore be by consensus. The quickest way to achieve this is to put women in charge of world affairs, and let them decide, as they already are doing, to reduce human fertility.

    • Steven Earl Salmony

      Please consider that the human overpopulation of the planet is the root cause of the global ecological threats to life as we know it and to the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. If so, then one question has to be asked. Why are absolute global human population numbers continuing to explode, despite declining total fertility rates virtually everywhere on the surface of our planetary home? If the answer to this absolutely vital query is extant in the best available ecological science on human population dynamics, but not widely shared and consensually validated by population experts, what is the point of other sensible efforts to address the symptomatic, global ecological challenges posed to future human well being and environmental health by the colossal current scale and continuing growth of the human population of Earth?