Humanity’s End?

David K. Smith, 14 November 2017

It was a startling, unnerving coincidence: I'd just begun writing this piece, which I'd temporarily titled "The Decline and Fall of Humanity" when, later the same day, a new article appeared on a science news aggregator I frequent: 15,000 Scientists Sign a Warning to Humanity. Regrettably, I rather doubt the warning will have any measurable effect. You see, I'm a student of human behavior, and as such I've become convinced we've already doomed ourselves to a miserable, unavoidable end, possibly much sooner than anyone might believe.

Scientists (or even us lay people) have no hope of ever reaching the morons who deny climate change. The proof is all around them, yet they turn a blind eye to reality with frightening ease and regularity. But the situation is far more dire: climate change is but one of many catastrophic issues we face—too many to enumerate in one short essay.

One core problem is that people are quick to dismiss such warnings because changes such as global warming take place over the course of generations, and humans are notoriously narrow-minded and impatient: if they can't perceive a change in their lifetime, then it's not real. While this is understandable, it's wholly inexcusable for anyone who considers themselves "intelligent."

Yet, alarmingly, we're entering a phase in our self-destruction where some changes not only take place in less than one lifetime, but in the span of just a few years. Example: Back in 2013, I bought seven acres of rugged woodland on which I'm building a home. Since that time, I thought it was odd that each year it seemed as though I saw noticeably fewer insects. I thought perhaps it was my imagination. Then I came across a scientific report that insects worldwide are facing a potentially catastrophic population decline. So, turns out I wasn't imagining things. And that scared me.

But then I made the mistake of reading some of the comments after the article: they offered virtual proof we're facing our inevitable doom, because the comments were so utterly, appallingly ignorant. "So what, they're just annoying bugs. Should be happy this is happening." The remarks echoed those that too often follow reports on global warming. "Hey, warmer winters, what's the problem? I can throw out my snow shovel!" The saddest part is, these people aren't being funny. They're being serious. It's downright chilling.

Getting back to insects, I'm probably wasting my breath explaining that they're a critically essential component of the food chain. Countless other species, including birds, fish, amphibians and more, depend on insects to survive. And losing any species will have a direct impact on our own survival. This is why it's called a "food chain": break it, and we eventually starve. Simple as that.

I recall that, as a child, I'd see flocks of migrating birds so large they appeared as enormous dark clouds drifting across the horizon; some seemed to go on forever. It's been decades since I've seen flocks like that. Turns out we're facing an imminent mass extinction event: all remaining non-human populations are now in decline. In their blind arrogance, false sense of entitlement, sadistic pleasure, ignorance, faith or whatever, humans are seizing control of—and eventually poisoning—every square foot of land. And now, most of the ocean as well. It's sickening.

How can we hope to save humanity from itself when a depressing majority of people are woefully ignorant, while the bulk of the remainder are infuriatingly indifferent about, or even contemptuous of, our only habitat? What can we do about those who stubbornly cling to insane notions that all of our problems are actually government conspiracies—garbage spread by social media (something that could rightfully be considered social cancer)? Or those who use religious texts, pseudo-science nonsense, or their own proudly-proclaimed ignorance to deny responsibility and refuse to act?

The thing is, everyone—every human on this planet—has the power and responsibility to effect positive change (we've already shrunk the hole in the ozone layer). Unfortunately, no one will. The sort of change required is too painful or disruptive; no one is willing or prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to save humanity. And by "no one" I refer to the overwhelming majority. Some may act, true, but woefully too few. We must reach critical mass before any action is effective, and I've become too cynical to believe we'll ever reach critical mass.

Then there are those who advocate moving to Mars. Oh, please. This is so problematic and wrong-headed as to be laughable. Assuming we'd ever be able to adapt to such a hostile environment—which is highly doubtful—does anyone actually believe we won't do exactly the same thing there as we've done here? And what does it say about humanity that we destroy our homeworld, then simply abandon it, like discarded trash? It makes me embarrassed to be a human when this is how supposedly "enlightened" creatures behave.

Thus, I've resigned myself to the fact that humanity is doomed. Oh, there may be some action taken eventually, when some massive life-threatening crisis emerges, but it will be far too little, and far too late. What people don't realize is the damage is already done. The actions we need to take now are remedial, not preventative, and even with a genuine, focused effort, it will take many generations to reverse the course of our decline.

I can't help laughing at Stephen Hawking for being paranoid about killer robots and artificial intelligence, when he should instead be terrified of us humans. Honestly, I can't see us progressing to the point of deadly AI before we're overtaken by any number of other problems, such as environment, resources, war, disease, etcetera. However, Hawking has also suggested that we have perhaps 600 years or so left before we extinguish ourselves, and that I can believe. If his more optimistic colleague Carl Sagan was still alive, surely Sagan would weep at what we've done to the Earth.

The only solace I take is that, at my advanced age, I'll be gone long before the shit really starts hitting the fan. Carry on, folks. Carry on your inexorable march to self-destruction. While you may be getting precisely what you deserve, it's excruciatingly sad you're taking the Earth with you.