What a piece of work is man


I’m sixty-four years old. When I was born in 1951, the world population was less than two billion. Today about 7.3 billion people are swarming like locusts over the globe. At the current rate of population growth, by the time I die, there may be ten billion people struggling to exist on a devastated planet, deforested, choking in atmospheric pollution, the oceans too warm and too acid for marine life to survive. At that point, mankind will manifestly be doomed.

In fact, a tipping point may have been passed, whereby humanity is already beyond salvation, along with most other animal species, because we are consuming the world’s resources at a rate far in excess of its capacity to renew them. 

The earth will continue to exist, of course, spinning silently forever through space, reduced to desert and toxic fumes, an eternal monument to the stupidity and rapaciousness of homo sapiens.

That’s one scenario. Equally likely, or perhaps more so, is the possibilty that there will be a calamitous, irreversible decline in human population. Soon. Within my lifetime.

A short list of contributing factors would include climate change and all that ensues from that, such as population displacement by rising ocean levels, agricultural failure due to degradation and destruction of farmland by mining and industry, water pollution and water scarcity, famine, epidemic disease, global conflict, economic collapse, civil disorder, terrorism, nuclear catastrophe and (a little contentiously perhaps) the demise of the internet.

All but the last factor are surely self explanatory and reasonably foreseeable. It seems quite feasible to me, also, that that the internet may cease to function, perhaps due to sabotage by goverments at war or by terrorists or because of the inability of energy grids to continue to supply the vast amounts of electricity required to maintain the web.

Sure, we could get by without porn, cute pictures of kittens and Facebook, but governments, public utilities, the military and even agriculture rely upon the internet. Farm machinery in Australia is controlled,via the internet, by computers in the USA. Businesses and individuals communicate primarily by email. (Twitter would be no loss.)

In this second scenario, mankind might survive, in vastly reduced numbers, continuing some form of more primitive, tribal, subsistence existence. It would not flourish. Humans would never again dominate and exploit the earth as they have done. Conflict over scarce resources, suicide, murder, disease, starvation and a planet hostile to human existence, however, might yet ensure our extinction.

Third scenario: By some miracle, world govenments reach consensus on climate change and agree to act urgently to address it. Scientific research revolutionises food production. Deforestation ceases. Over-fishing is brought under control. Unsustainable consumption is curbed.

There must be no more coal mining, no fracking, no oil wells in the arctic. Electric or hydrogen powered vehicles must replace internal combustion engines. Non-polluting renewable energy from sun and wind must replace burning of fossil fuels. There is no place for nuclear energy in our future. Nuclear waste is forever. Disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukoshima are inevitable.

If all of these things were to come to pass, life might continue not too uncomfortably, though not as we know it. We would have bought some breathing space, forestalled the inevitable.

Such an extraordinary effort of cooperation and goodwill by heads of state and global conglomerates, however, seems virtually inconceivable.

Much as I’m appalled when I consider the future, I live in hope. What else can one do when the alternative is despair? I try to live sustainably, I vote for the Greens.

I do not trust in God. Belief in God is the refuge of the intellectually destitute. I marvel at the credulity of those millions of people who profess a primitive, unthinking, unavailing belief in some supernatural being of their own making. Much evil is done in the name of one man’s God or another, but very little good and very little that’s useful.

I cling to what’s good in my fellow human beings, to the beauty both of art and of nature and to truth. I respect life for life’s sake. I place my trust in science rather than myths, conjecture and downright lies.

We are compelled to act, as act we must, to survive, in a political context. We need to bring conscience and rational thought to bear, engaging in the political process to bring about change. We must abandon greed, self-interest and self-righteousness in favour of compassion for our fellow man and the exigency of the moment.


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