Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Human Hubris

In the new documentary film on climate change "Living in the Future's Past", the actor Jeff Bridges narrates, "Although we are part of the web of life, because we see it, we think we stand above it". This singular distinguishing factor defines our species, and has made us all powerful and dominating. And as we begin to realize, it may also become the reason for our demise. 
But on the other hand, it may also save us.
When Homo sapiens began their evolutionary journey on this planet as foragers, they were very much a part of the web of life. As they grew in numbers and transitioned to hunter-gatherers and  discovered the art of agriculture they began to separate from that web. 
Agriculture started the process of domestication and civilization as we know it began in earnest. Then came ideas of god and religion placing humans at the apex of the living order. 
Tribalism began to take root, leading to conflict and war. Land became the most valuable of all currency and so began the formation of tribal enclaves, which  lead to the creation of borders and the nation state.
Domestication brought about the enslavement of animals on a mammoth scale. Chickens, pigs, goats and cows became the beasts of burden and their abuse became emblematic of the human race.
As the human population grew, so started the rapid decline of biodiversity on the planet. Forests began to shrink as the need for arable land grew. As soon as the balance of nature began to shift, probably the first measurable impact of human existence on the planet began to be felt. 

Industrialization which was fueled by the discovery and use of oil, made the ramifications of the human race on the environment even more pronounced.
Today, 90% of all large animals (weighing more than a few pounds) on the planet are either human or domesticated. Since the appearance of life on the planet, some 4 billion years ago, never has a single species changed the ecology of the planet all by itself in such an indelible way. The complete and utter domination of the human species is so absolute, to say that we are not having an impact on the planet and its climate, is akin to believing the earth is flat. Which to my surprise many do, as they fear what faces humanity.
One thing is certain, with the world living in relative peace, devoid of any major war and famine, and with medicine halting almost all premature death, the human population is only guaranteed to spread and grow even more. Today it stands at about 7 billion. By 2050 it is predicted to reach 9 billion. Humans with ingenuity can figure out ways to feed themselves. With innovative methods of farming enough food can be generated with less arable land. But the enslavement and slaughter of livestock will have to increase as human addiction to meat and dairy will not stem easily. And therefore the chances of preventing greenhouse gasses from reaching the atmosphere seems less tenable.
Early this month, I visited Paris to screen my film Salam at the Pariscience Film Festival. Many films shown at this festival dealt with the subject of climate change and global warming. One particular film, Bill Nye: Science Guy, focused on the anti-science atmosphere that has gripped America, causing people to denounce evolution and adopt creationism with fervor. In America today, we have a president and an administration that openly believes climate change is a hoax. We have a TV channel dedicated and determined to discredit any scientific data, that proves humans are altering the climate. Their listeners and believers are large in number and are determined to take America on a regressive path. America does not stand alone in this matter. Many nations around the world are doing little to rise to the challenge. China and India, the world's two most populous nations continue to choke breathing poisonous air unable, incapable and refusing to take drastic measures. All not willing to hurt the bottom line of their industrial class, to whom growth and accumulation of wealth trumps survival.
A recent report from the IPCC  has revealed that the world's oceans have absorbed more heat than previously thought. This means the oceans are warming more rapidly than predicted. Warmer oceans translate to more severe weather patterns. Warmer air leads to rapid glacial ice melt leading to sea level rise.
At present the alarms being raised are dire. We are heading towards a catastrophe and there is no unified attempt to confront the approaching storm in any meaningful and urgent way. Humans from their limited earthbound view, still believe there are real borders on the ground. Even though images of the blue marble from space show there are none.
We who stand apart and above the web of nature are in a unique position to save ourselves or watch our growth bring it all to an end. As the saying goes, everything that has a beginning must also have an end.
Two things that separates humans from the other species that inhabit the earth are Hubris and Greed. Two characteristics that lead us down the path of self destruction. But on the other hand hubris has also helped humanity achieve the impossible. So maybe we will dig our self out of this hole we are so rapidly digging. 

In the words of the comedic genius philosopher George Carlin "The planet is fine. The people are fucked. Its been here four and half billion years. The planet isn't going anywhere. We are. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas."

It is what it is.