The time of reckoning has come, as humanity continues to over-use Planet Earth. Can we afford, any longer, to suppose that there is a cavalry that could and will come over the hill, and save our collective asses from the unfortunate consequences of our mismanagement of this, our only home? Can we hope that people will stop reproducing and consuming at current rates, while at the same time re-tooling our fossil-fuel based technology to green fuels, in time to prevent disastrous ruin to Earth’s atmosphere and oceans? We cannot so hope, especially as the world falls more completely under the domination of the very rich and greedy.
So … assuming that it is all going to go up in smoke, it is, perhaps, time to deliver a verdict. Civilization … What Is it Good For?
I consider myself to be very fortunate to have lived during an age of incredible scientific discovery. What are these discoveries? I will begin the list with our unfolding understanding of the nature of the universe. Pre-civilized people could only wonder, when they looked into the starry night. They might say that the Gods threw a buffalo robe over the sky, to produce night, and the stars were holes in the robe that let light through. Now we know what stars are, along with black holes and the expanding universe. At the other end of such understandings, we now know about atoms, sub-atomic particles and the mysterious world of quantum mechanics. So, we can now look both outward and inward as we come to more fully understand the universe that we occupy, and it bends our minds in amazement and awe.
Then there is the Earth that we live on. We now know the age of the Earth, and the changes to the Earth that have occurred over time. We know that the seasons are produced by the tilt of the Earth in its orbit around the sun, first being more heated in one hemisphere, and then the other. Now we know that the earth’s surface consists of rigid plates that move about, and that their movements cause volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. We also know that some volcanoes are created by hot spots, where molten rock more readily arrives at the surface. Now we understand weather.
Then there is the life that has flourished on Earth. We now understand the workings of evolution, and the history of life on Earth. We know of huge extinctions and their probable causes. We know of our own evolution, of our antecedents and the lives that they lived. We know our place in Nature. And we know how living things live. We know about the internal biological workings of most of the organisms on Earth, and we also now understand the workings of inheritance – the explosion of the science of genetics in the last few decades. We know how animals behave, which has shed light on our own behavior.
All these discoveries (and so many more) have come about in recent times – many in my own lifetime – and I find such knowledge to be thrilling beyond words. Such knowledge has been made available because of civilization, which provided the opportunity for specialists to engage in scientific research and discovery. Century after century, this knowledge accumulated and was built upon, providing better and better explanations for every and all phenomena. And then it exploded in our day, with so many scientists at work, pooling their knowledge. We have been able to take temporary leave of Earth, and look back at the planet that is our home. We have been able to manipulate the genes of living beings, to produce changed beings. It seems that the sky is the limit.
Unless the sky falls down upon us. This is the situation that we now find ourselves in. We have achieved incredible scientific prowess – and at the same time, this prowess has unleashed a technology that now ravages our planet. If civilization is doomed, as I above predict, then one can, at least, say that we had a pretty good run.