Are humans like the aliens in ‘Independence Day’? Or are we breeding ourselves into extinction? Or both?
**THIS BLOG CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM OF THE DAN BROWN BOOK ‘INFERNO’. IF YOU PLAN TO SEE IT, BUT HAVEN’T YET, STOP READING.**
Last night my partner and I watched ‘Inferno’. It came as no surprise to me to discover that a film based on a book by Dan Brown wasn’t going to be all that exciting. But the most audacious aspect for a mainstream Hollywood film was it’s central thesis. At the start we see the villain giving an internet talk spelling out the problem of global over-population. He addresses the consequences for the planet of this if it remains unchecked. But having seen seen the problem and being a billionaire, is in a position to do something about it.
We find out that he’s created a virus that will wipe out half of the worlds population. The film features on the race to find the bomb that contains the virus before it explodes and releases the virus. Two things leapt to mind, firstly, if you had conceived and thought things through with such impeccable logic wouldn’t you just release the virus? And secondly – and most importantly – was villains plan so villainous? If half the world’s population were wiped out, would that be such a bad thing?
Why is it that human life needs to be sustained? Do all preventable deaths need to be prevented? Rather than smoke less, drink less and exercise more, we should be doing the very opposite. Our life expectancy – in certain parts of the world anyway – has increased well beyond our planets ability to sustain the amount of us. Every second there are four births to every two deaths. It took until 1804for the global population to reach 1 billion. And 2 billion by 1927. By 1974 it was 4 billion and by 2024 it is predicted to reach 8 billion. And it’s only going to increase.
Are we just the very worst kind of hypocrites, advocating, then justifying and then implementing culls – population control by killing – of other species? Sometimes it is claimed that such drastic action is warranted on the grounds that the current levels of other species population growth would, if left unchecked, present a very real threat to the survival of that species. Yet it seems to me an incontrovertible fact that the species in need of culling, certainly from the planets and our continued existence is Homo sapiens. And that’s assuming that breeding ourselves into extinction is a bad thing. As this five-minute video makes clear, the planet would do just fine without us.
And when one considers ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ – the point at which humanity goes into ecological debt – and how early it is getting every year, the only rational conclusion is that more humans are only going to exacerbate this problem, because the primary goal of capitalism is to sell us things, this treadmill of consumerism will never stop. Until we exhaust the planets resources that is. We are like the aliens in “Independence Day’ who use up all the natural resources of a planet, strip it bare and move on. But unlike the aliens, we can’t go anywhere else.
In all but one important respect humanity is like an elderly person who is doubly incontinent and wearing an adult nappy, we made the mess and will have to stay in it. Only no-one’s going to clean up this mess for us, We have to. But don’t show any signs of doing so. And it’s not as if we were unaware that we were causing the problem. We knew. We knew what needed to be done but didn’t do it when less controversial measures were needed, so only drastic solutions remain. The situation reminds me of the Japanese resuming hunting whales for ‘scientific reasons’. In what possible universe is that a good idea?
So it was with an air of resigned frustration that I greeted that news that President Trump in one of his first executive orders was to withhold any U.S. government funding from any U.S. overseas agency that either gave birth control advice or provided abortions. One might be forgiven for thinking that he might have had more urgent matters to attend to. Possibly? Or was he taking his cue from the Chinese, who’ve announced an end to their ‘one child only’ rule. Or from the Catholic Church which opposes birth control?
Yes, things are bad.
So here’s a solution. But first of all, we need to establish some givens in order to accept the hypotheses that there is a problem before we can think about a possible solution. First of all, are there too many humans currently alive for this planet to sustain? And can governments support this? The United Nations isn’t sure,
Whether the growing numbers of older persons are living their later years in good health is a crucial consideration for policy development. If the added years of life expectancy are spent with disability, then demographic trends could portend substantially increased demand for health care. If the onset or severity of ill health is instead postponed as life expectancy increases, then the pressures exerted on the health system by a growing population of older persons may be attenuated. So far, evidence of trends in the health status of older persons is mostly limited to high-income countries and points to different conclusions depending on the study or context, making it difficult to draw clear conclusions about the fundamental questions.
And the more people there are, the greater the amount of food needed to feed them. As Thomas Malthus in his ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ of 1798 observed that “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. (1,2,4,8,16, etc). Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. (1,2,3,4, etc) A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew (sic) the immensity of the first power in comparison to the second.’
Therefore, if we take the films ‘Logan’s Run’ and the much under-rated ‘Soylent Green’ as our inspirations, both of which offer a rather unedifying view of a distant and not so distant future. In ‘Logan’s Run’ no one lives past 30. In ‘Soylent Green’ which is set in a not too distant future, because the present and future are black and white and only the past is in colour there are corporate run euthanasia centres where people go to, well, what else could you do at an euthanasia centre? They then turn the dead into a meat substitute, what else. So to my way of thinking anyone over 75 has a civic duty, nay, a social responsibility and for the survival of our species not to go on living.
This isn’t as heartless as you might first imagine. What would they be missing out on? Age related diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Or a stroke? Gradual infirmity? The list goes on, but the point is, who on earth would want to miss out on all that?. Additionally, if one knew one wasn’t going to see 76, might not that focus the mind and prevent one from the tyranny of tormented regrets about wasted years?
And at the other end of life too many babies are equally a detriment to the survival of the species. Actually, no they’re not. They’re worse. An older person would have consumed less of the planets resources because – in the West at least – there was less in their lifetime for them to consume. But now there are more people, and even if they each consume less per person, because there are more of them, consumption will necessarily increase. And they’ll have children. And the wheel keeps turning. Until it falls off. Some have argued that having children is the single most catastrophic act for the survival of our species a human can do. These views might seem extreme now, but remember how most of the environmental issues that have engendered behavoiur modification sounded forty years ago?
The facts don’t lie. Neither do they allow room for sentiment. If we believe that culling is both necessary and desirable for the survival of other species, we must first look at our own.