Think of a deadly virus that has to harm its host to reproduce. It consumes it. It cannot live with it but only by exploiting it. The virus is mankind. The host is our planet. We consider ourselves to be mammals, not a virus, although in many ways we are unlike mammals. Mammals, as Agent Smith said in The Matrix 1999, develop a natural harmony with their environment. Humans do not. They multiply until all resources are exhausted. The only other organism that does this is a virus. We destroy our host. We seem to reproduce ourselves with a helpless and uncontrollable desperation. The planet will eventually respond exactly like the human immune system and rid itself of us.
In the destruction of our host it seems that renewable energy projects are no more than posturing (James Lovelock 'The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning' 2009) and I'm certainly no fan of Green politics, any more than I admire the spectacle of King Canute on his throne beside the breaking waves. In both cases the end is postponed but it is nonetheless inevitable - Canute gets his feet wet, we lay waste our planet.
This is by no means a new idea and the response one is tempted to offer is 'so what?' Well, if nothing else, it could prompt us to take a more laterally thinking view of our wobbly future. The Apocalypse brings warfare, famine and plague. It's revelatory to consider that the Islamic State is roughly in the area of Armageddon, wheat and water are in ever shorter supply and ever more vicious viruses exist, one in fact called the Armageddon Virus. It reminds me of the words of Nietzsche that the only way to destroy an enemy is to face it with another enemy. Again, you can appease or negotiate but the destruction of one of the two is inevitable, be it the virus or the host.
To assume that mankind has an infinite future is vanity. We perhaps overestimate the status and value of our consciousness, assuming that it confers greater kudos upon us than, say, would be conferred upon a stick of celery. We may later colonise other planets until we ultimately have to abandon them too. We may have done it already. We may be serial destroyers. Our self-awareness makes us unusual certainly but not indispensable. Stephen Hawking gives us just one thousand years before we will be obliged to decamp from earth and blast off into space to start wrecking another planet.
So, is all blackness and despair? Not at all! One of the products of self-awareness is religious faith with its unquenchable optimism. Another is ethical hedonism and the pursuit of pleasure, and humanism with its critical thinking and rationalism. We are special but not that special. So, do we just fiddle while Rome burns? No. It is said that preparedness is the ultimate act of optimism.
Go back to the author's page