Friday, December 02, 2005

 

The Human race: Does it have a Future?

This post is a first stab at an impossibly big question: do we, the human race- have a future? Not possible to predict but we can line up some reasons to be cheerful and others to be depressed. So lets start with the bad news:

1. Climate change and the derogation of the environment threaten to 'cook' the planet within a few hundred years at most. Sea levels are rising, deserts in Africa are expanding, species are being wiped out, rainforests are disappearing. We are destroying the beautiful earth we inherited and seem hell bent on finishing the job with George Bush determined to live in oil industry induced denial.
2. The dangers of avian flu reminds us that the mutation of viruses and microbes is a constant threat to our survival. Plagues have ravaged the world in times past- the Black Death halved the population of medieval Britain- and AIDS came from nowhere to threaten something similar. Who knows if something similar awaits us?
3. As the polaristion between rich nations and poor continue one fears that eventually the poor will rise up and seek to even things out. The rise of Islam is to a degree connected with this and it could be argued that a Samual P Huntingdon's 'Clash of Civilisations' between the west and Islam is already in progress.
4. Genetic engineering- both of plants and humans may produce horriffic outcomes some time in the future. And the danger of biological warfare continues to exist.
5 Terrorism has always been with us as has been the advance of science. When it is possible for a terrorist to make a nuclear weapon in his garden shed, then we might have to number our remaining days as a species.
6. Competitive international conflict for diminishing resources: Maybe Iraq oil is the first symptom of this new characteristic of this tendency: western interests, of course, invaded the site of the world's third largest oil reserves, but water reserves seem likely to become another diminishing resource around which conflict may well centre.

David Mitchell's tour de force of a novel, Cloud Atlas, takes us to some doom laden future scenarios, especially the one where communities have regressed to iron age times with small pockets of advanced technology surviving but in terminal decline. Read it and be intrigued but also be afraid for our future.

On the other hand we can say, just about:

1. Maybe we'll leave it very late but once the calamity is really upon us we might do something drastically remedial about climate change and the exhaustion of the world's finite resources. No guarantee but we did manage to pull back from using nuclear weapons in the sixties and since.
2. Leading on from that last point, we have learned to live with nuclear weapons and maybe we'll do the same with other dangers like terrorism and religious conflict. Such passages of history have occurred by in the past- religious wars in the middle ages, anarchism at the turn of the 20th century and terrorism attending the births of numerous new states. But the steam has eventually expired and a more peaceful aftermath replaced such intensity.
3. Technology is still advancing exponentially and maybe remedies to a whole range of problems will be forthcoming. Disease might well prove to be a bane thus conquered.
4. Health levels and longevity have improved immensely during the last century and might well spread to developing countries.
5. Biological warfare has not proved a viable form as the side using it has to date been as vulnerable to it as the enemy.
6. Finally, selfishnes does seem to reign but it is just about possible to discern the slow march of concern for the less well off and of conscience. Maybe people will slowly become aware of the suffering of others and act accordingly in an altruistic fashion.

Re-reading the above, (maybe it's my cynicism from studying politics) it seems the pessimistic out points the optimistic by some degree. Selfishness, shortsightedness and the acceptance of ruthless political methodologies seem to be immovably written in the DNA of the world's way of doing things. I'm aware, very aware, as I approach my sixtieth birthday next year, that my own life is finite indeed and that I'm likely to miss the nightmare scenarios that potentially loom. But I would hate to think of my lovely grandchildren or their children inheriting a clapped out, smoking, exhausted planet followed by the slow fizzling out of all art, culture, enjoyment and the creativity that makes life such an entrancing privilege. In the end one has to opt for optimism as the alternative is too depressing to contemplate.

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