Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Homo Sapiens - A Flawed Species

The human world is immersed in a crisis that is none like any humanity has faced since Homo sapiens had its beginning in Africa when the species diverged from its common ancestor with the chimpanzee some six million years ago. Although human civilizations have experienced dramatic ascents and precipitous and catastrophic collapses over the thousands of years of ancient and modern history, those calamities were felt locally. For example, the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and the fall of the Soviet Empire in the twentieth century had wide-ranging impacts contained within their immediate environments. Currently, however, the species faces dire prospects for the future on a global scale to the extent that the viability of the species may be at stake.

Since the end of the last ice age (approximately 11700 years ago), human societies and cultures have enjoyed a relatively stable planetary environment – the global climate has been moderate enough to allow for substantial and steady progress in advances of civilization especially in the areas of science and technology. This has allowed humans to grow in numbers to the current population estimated to be 7.7 billion individuals. It has been the general assumption, until relatively recently, that this moderate global environment would persist indefinitely into the future.

This assumption, however, is in serious question with the onset of climate change unfolding as a direct result of the kinds of human activities that, ironically, have made the life we have come to know possible. The dawn of the machine age – around the early 18th century with the invention of the steam engine – effectively supplanted human labor and allowed for the accelerated growth and expansion of human civilizations. The study of the past has shown that the planet has endured at least five catastrophic epochs that produced massive extinctions of species around the world - the latest occurring some 60 million years resulting in the eradication of the dinosaurs. Each of these protracted periods of time were accompanied by a dramatic change in climatic conditions that proved fatal for vast multitudes of species. The recovery from these events took many thousands of years.

In the twenty-first century humanity faces the prospect of yet another calamitous global epoch. This time, however, climate change is occurring due to the ever-increasing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as a direct result of human activity. Already the collective impact of climate change is being felt worldwide.

Even with this knowledge in-hand, humanity has failed to respond to the degree that would have any meaningful impact upon an ominous unfolding of events. Any real corrective change in human behavior obviously requires a global commitment. In a sense, the progression of historic events will be a testimonial to the level of fitness of the species required to endure, overcome and forestall this pending crisis. To date the species is flunking this test.

One just needs to examine the evidence across the planet to see the grim picture that awaits us all. In the United States we have a cacophony of discordant voices that are chaotic, unfocused and banal in relation to the magnitude of the problem that confronts us. As a matter of fact, those in power are pursuing policy changes that would effectively increase the production of greenhouse gases. In Brazil, we have those in power who are determined to denude vast stretches of the Amazon forests – a vital global carbon sink – for the purpose of economic gain at the expense of the viability of future human generations. In the Middle East – an area of the globe in which human beings may be unable to live due to the projected increase in ambient temperature – needless violence and reckless aggression is continuing over relatively minor differences in religious beliefs and customs. Russia – a vast territory - continues to depend upon the export of fossil fuels for its economic well-being. Many countries in Africa are beset by a level of societal chaos – often inflamed by religious differences – that makes any focused attention to the problem of climate change nearly impossible. India and Pakistan remain embroiled in endless confrontation fueled once again over religious differences this time between Hindu and Muslim. Together these two countries account for over 1.3 billion individuals.

In effect, the human species seems unable to break free from behaviors that have their origin in the realm of unchecked emotions and essentially tribal affiliations. As a result, a considerable portion of the economic resources throughout the world are devoted to developing technologies for military purposes. The net impact of these actions is to dissuade the level of commitment and global cooperation absolutely required to effectively halt or mitigate the apparent inevitability of dramatic changes in earth’s climate.

Taking all of these factors in consideration, it is difficult not to conclude that Homo sapiens is a flawed species and may not be able to forestall the seemingly inevitable and dramatic decline of its numbers and preeminence on planet earth.

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