Global catastrophic risks


Ecophagy [ih-koh-fuh-jee] is a term coined by molecular engineering scientist Robert Freitas that means the literal consumption of an ecosystem. He wrote: ‘Perhaps the earliest-recognized and best-known danger of molecular nanotechnology is the risk that self-replicating nanorobots capable of functioning autonomously in the natural environment could quickly convert that natural environment (e.g., ‘biomass’) into replicas of themselves (e.g., ‘nanomass’) on a global basis, a scenario usually referred to as the ‘grey goo problem’ but perhaps more properly termed ‘global ecophagy.”

The term has since been used to describe several other world destroying events including nuclear war, catastrophic monoculture (lack of biodiversity in farming), and mass extinction due to climate change. Scholars suggest that these events might result in ecocide in that they would undermine the capacity of the Earth’s biological population to repair itself. Others suggest that more mundane and less spectacular events—the unrelenting growth of the human population, the steady transformation of the natural world by human beings—will eventually result in a planet that is considerably less vibrant, and one that is, apart from humans, essentially lifeless.


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