I am wondering if you optimistic or pessimistic about the long-term survival and well-being of the human species?
I try to be optimistic, but sometimes it is hard. When I see some of the foolishness that can become widely accepted, I fear that the human species has the capacity to walk straight off of an evolutionary cliff into extinction and either denies that the cliff is there, or admit that there is a cliff but that humans are immune to the effects of gravity.
These thoughts are inspired, in part, by a recent Supreme Court decision that the Environmental Protection Agency needs to do more to justify the claim that excess carbon dioxide is not harmful to human health, before it can justify its claim that the Clean Air Act does not require its regulation.
Of course, for the purposes of this blog, I am not here to report what the Clean Air Act does or does not require of the EPA. My interest is in the widespread popularity that carbon dioxide cannot be considered bad for us because, at historic concentrations, it produces beneficial effects.
Let’s see . . . how many substances are good for us when we are exposed to them within certain confined ranges, but will kill us when its concentration goes outside of those limits?
Like . . . radiation. We would be unable to survive in a universe without radiation. Heat is infrared radiation. Without a source of heat, we would all be dead by now. In fact, the human body produces radiation in the form of infrared energy. Visible light is another band of radiation. The radio waves that we use to communicate provide another example of useful radiation.
Now, imagine somebody trying to argue that because all of these forms of radiation are useful or even necessary for life, that an atomic bomb could not possibly have any ill effects. “Radiation is our friend. Radiation is a source of life. All of those people who are claiming that an atomic bomb can kill people and destroy cities are simply using scare tactics to push a political agenda.”
Pharmaceuticals provide another example of chemicals that can be useful within certain prescribed limits (and I use the term ‘prescribed’ intentionally). Certain pain relievers are quite effective when taken in small quantities. Take too many of them all at once, and you will die. Anti-depressants are another group in this category. Toothpaste is great for helping to build strong teeth; yet swallowing enough toothpaste is fatal.
Even water is poisonous in large enough quantities. Not long ago, a radio station in
This idea that too much of a good thing is not necessarily good is widely known. We draw on these principles every day. Yet, some people argue that because carbon dioxide is not harmful in normal concentrations, that it cannot produce ill effects at higher concentrations. People say this, and other people allow themselves to be convinced by it. In fact, enough people allow themselves to think this way that they can affect national policy.
It’s stuff like this that makes it clear that enough people can lead the human race right off of an evolutionary cliff, and either deny the existence or deny the importance of that cliff.
I’m not saying that global warming itself threatens the well-being of the human species. I am saying that if something like global warming were to threaten the well-being of the human species, that too many humans will blind themselves to the threat until it is too late.
When we combine this uncanny ability on the part of most humans to ignore reality with another human trait, the threat becomes all the more serious. This is the fact that a great many wealthy and powerful people, concerned only about their immediate short-term well being, if given a choice between a few hundred million dollars today or the long-term well-being of the human race, will choose the former, and will face no moral censure because of it.
The problem here is not the fact that some wealthy and powerful people are evil. Among a sufficiently large population, that is to be expected. The problem is not that wealthy and powerful people can commit great evil and get away with it. Sometimes, they are simply too powerful for good people to resist.
But where to wealthy and powerful people get their power?
Hitler would have been nothing but an impoverished criminal without an army of regular people willing to serve him. The same is true of Lenin. This makes me wonder whether the founding of this country was the result of people actually, intelligently binding themselves to an enlightenment morality, or whether we got lucky and, just this once, people blindly flocked to an idea that, quite by chance and not at all by skill, actually had some merit.
The executives at Exxon-Mobile would be greeters at Wal-Mart if not for the fact that there is an army of regular people contributing to their practice of destroying trillions of dollars of future well-being (mostly paid for by the poor people of the world) for the sake of adding millions to their own bank accounts.
Tobacco companies would be impoverished, if not for an army of regular people helping to get one generation after another addicted to their products.
The Bush Administration would not be able to engage in all of the moral crimes that it has committed without a sufficiently large number of regular people willing to support his actions and even to execute them.
Without the willing cooperation of regular people in large numbers to contribute to these movements – ignoring every-day facts such as, “In some cases, too much of a good thing can kill you,” when they are told to do so.
When a sufficiently large percentage of the population is willing to blind themselves so thoroughly, it is not at all unreasonable to worry if that majority could ignore an obvious cliff, that somebody who cared more about current wealth and power than the future well-being of humanity, told them to ignore.
It is a cause for concern. We could sit back and confidently assert that nothing bad could possibly happen - that everything will work out in the end. However, this is not entirely true. In the history of the universe, it is not unreasonable to expect that more than one society will reach our level of technological and social development, and wipe itself out. The question of whether humans will be in that list has not been answered.