Round about the time of the Winter Solstice, when the old year's calendar is about to outlive its usefulness, it is natural for some of us to re-enact the rôle of Janus and "take stock". We review our current relationship with our world, reflect upon how our own past actions have brought us to where we are now, and consider how we should endeavour to act in the future in order not only to prevent deterioration but also to improve ourselves and our environment insofar as we are consciously aware of what improvements may be needed.
As we grow older, it is natural for us to acknowledge that our influence on our immediate environment must diminish with our failing physical powers. We must relinquish control over worldly matters as graciously as possible and let younger generations work out their own and their children's salvation as best they may. What we oldies can do is employ what leisure hours may remain to us in reflecting upon the wider world of which we, our families, communities, neighbourhoods, nations, and cultures form integral and interactive parts. We may then discern and describe trends and make projections which, even without resorting to prophecy, will help succeeding generations to act wisely in creating conditions in which their own children may flourish.
In my Introduction to Tertium Organum, I refer to The View from the Centre of the Universe by Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams. On page 254 of that book, there is a graph showing the variation in the estimated human population of planet Earth over the first two millennia of the current era. During the first 500 years, the graph was virtually steady at about 250 million. By 1000 CE, it had risen to maybe 300 million. By 1500, the figure had reached about 600 million. It added a further 200 million in the next 300 years. In the century from 1800 to 1900, world population more than doubled from about 800 million to about 1700 million. After 1900, it took off almost vertically to reach 6,500 million by 2000, and it is still rising.
What happened during the third quarter of the second millennium that led to the population explosion?
The short answer is: scientific "enlightenment" and industrialisation, leading to distortion of the natural economy of human life.
Before 1800, nearly all construction, engineering, agriculture, and transportation was powered by human and animal muscle. Human effort was thus constrained to be consonant with perpetual stewardship of Earth's resources for the benefit of future generations. Then came steam and internal combustion engines, closely followed by previously unimaginable applications of newly discovered electricity. In 200 years, human and animal muscle became virtually redundant but nobody minded because humans prefer a life of bodily ease and carefree consumption to back-breaking toil and fear of starvation.
Minds released from physical labour were directed to the development of ever more sophisticated products and processes conducive to the hedonistic enjoyment and artificial prolongation of individual human life. In "advanced" countries today, the "working" lifespan is curtailed at one end by overlong compulsory schooling and at the other by an indefinitely prolonged period of pensioned "retirement" before the products of the pharmaceutical and the procedures of the surgical industries are finally forced to give up the battle to preserve the individual's "democratic" vote.
This gives rise to social unrest as the continuously shrinking "economically active" proportion of the population in those countries is subjected to ever more rapacious taxation to fatten the vanity of politicians who keep legislating against Natural Law wasting resources on "humanitarian intervention" abroad and, at home, on "social security" for the unproductive, schooling for the unappreciative, and "health care" for people who are past any hope of remaining healthy so long as they remain attached to their current bodies.
We who have been the primary beneficiaries of industrialisation and "economic growth" are gradually becoming uncomfortably aware that our addiction to ease, pleasure, and longevity has seriously upset the economic balance of Nature. The Earth's store of life-sustaining resources is rapidly dwindling as the "fossil fuels" in which millions of years' worth of solar radiation were stored are being consumed at a rate which will probably exhaust them before the end of this century. Global water distribution is distorted by the competing demands of agriculture and urban population concentrations. Many non-human species on land and in the oceans are being hunted. poisoned, or starved to extinction.
Meantime, globalisation stimulates large-scale migration of people from "poor" countries to "rich" ones, unaware that in the long term they might be better off if they stayed in the lands of their birth. Long-established "civilised" customs and cultures are being tested to destruction by invading hordes of migrants eager to get in on consumerism before it is too late. But it may already be too late.
I hope in a future essay to comment on the phenomenon of "global warming", which politicians currently use as a lever to frighten us into paying ever higher taxes. Global warming is, at worst, only a symptom of global over-population. Additional taxation to discourage people from flying to holiday destinations ignores the real problem. The stark facts are that too many human children are being born and too many of us are living too long. In such circumstances, politicians are powerless to avert catastrophe because not many among their supporters or electorates will vote for an early death.
We know, deep down, that Nature tends to lose patience when anything "goes too far". Nature's corrections are often far from gentle, and exponential population growth in any species is almost always terminated by a precipitous drop to a level far below that which might formerly have been economically sustainable. We should therefore expect a sudden 99% reduction of the global human population to, perhaps, 100 million. I have no clear idea of the mechanisms by which this might be brought about: but the current proliferation of nuclear weapons must be among the candidates. Novel animal and vegetable diseases may also play a part and accomplish by famine what AIDS and its allies have so far failed to do directly. The reader is free to sketch other possible scenarios.
I cannot confidently predict when impending disaster will have become obvious to everybody. It may be that today's infants will live to a "ripe old age": but I see little prospect of averting a catastrophic collapse in the human population of Earth before the end of the century and it could begin at any time. It therefore behoves those of us who feel a sense of personal responsibility for preserving the continuity of human life on Earth to prepare urgently for a recurrence of Stone Age conditions. Our principal tasks will be to try to ensure survival of the human species in our own immediate localities and take whatever steps we think appropriate to preserve as much as possible of the highest spiritual and intellectual knowledge available to us.
The most pressing task which now confronts us is to envisage how we might accomplish this when we have been deprived of all "modern conveniences". Too many of us have already lost the practical knowledge, skills, and arts by which our Stone Age ancestors contrived not only to survive but also to erect disaster-resistant monuments as clues to their thinking.
The story of Noah and his ark is told in the Talmud and the Koran as well as in the Christian Bible. What the Earth needs now is a large number of latter-day Noahs scattered around the globe to prepare as best they can to survive disaster in whatever forms it may manifest in their vicinity. When it happens, there will at least for a time be no politicians or governmental bureaucrats to interfere with them.
Readers who are perturbed by the apocalyptic tone of this essay are respectfully reminded that we must all leave our bodies sooner or later. We should also keep in mind the possibility that we may at some point in what seems to us to be the future find ourselves back on Planet Earth in new bodies and new circumstances facing new challenges.
I strongly recommend you read Life After Death by Deepak Chopra as an antidote to depression and as a source of hope, courage, and steadfastness in standing up to whatever may happen during your present life on Earth.