But not all warnings are right; how do we know if we need to react?
HIV, SARS, Ebola. These all emerged after some commentators thought that we had conquered infectious disease through hygiene, sanitation and immunisation. Humans face an ever increasing risk of new pathogen because our collective biomass is increasing. This is not hard to understand if you think of all mammals as potential sources of life for micro-organisms. I presume you have heard of the micro biome; the startling fact that you and I have at least 10 times more non-human cells than human cells that make up our body. And that many of these bugs are essential to our health; and may in fact be driving much of our behaviour from the products of their metabolism. It seems that even obesity may be, at least in part, caused by the bugs in our guts. And that much as the negative impact of junk food may be through the changes in the microbiome that it causes. Bugs love sugar!
For me, SARS was the alarm bell, the missed opportunity around needing to have better information systems so that we can deal with the next new bug. Which could be as fatal as Ebola, but with the infectiousness of influenza. Its emergence, just a matter of genetic roulette. Once a bug that emerges that can feast on humanity, it will spread – see HIV/AIDS.
Ebola has rung a new alarm bell on the costs of failing to look after all our family – that we all face the risks caused by the weakest link in health. But, I was prompted to write this not by this threat, but another one for which there is a much stronger case for a scientific warning. That we must act upon, and yet much of the world, including many powerful people who really should know better, continues to deny. Denial may the healthiest psychological strategy when there is nothing that we can do to reduce our risk.
And then there is the small matter of vested interest that makes us blind. The vested interest in the comfort of today, for we know that is at risk. And even if others are not so comfortable, that is really not our business, is it?
Well, that depends of your view of humanity and yourself. Whether you accept the science that says we are all from a common ancestor, perhaps as recently as 50,000 years ago – maybe 200,000 years – the supposed time that modern humans emerged. I have already made an implicit case for why we need to care about the other members of our family to protect us agains new bugs. But what if we could have a Jesus or Buddha view of humanity, that saw our transcendent unity, and not just with the human family, but all of life, the whole universe itself.
The threat is the melting of the polar ice-caps, which is melting at an increasing rate. A particular concern because 97% of the excess energy that humanity is putting in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans, especially the southern oceans around antarctica. Once that is gone, and with it much of the absorptive capacity of the oceans – what happens?
Time will tell. We are acting, but not nearly fast enough. There is a prime villain here, and what will it take to act? Especially if that action to decarbonise the economy is part of a radical transformation of production that is geared to people’s needs rather then profit. With robotic production already here, this seems more possible than when human labour was essential to production.
And what will be human role in the new economy? Why, to look after each other, as teachers, healers, entertainers. Another Utopian dream? Perhaps. But, if our human family made a consensus decision to establish this new world, could we not just decide to do so from today?
To take back Abe Lincoln’s idea of democracy being the government by, for, and with the people. Not the corporate interests that are paramount with the claim that this is essential for jobs. Not true. The economy is not about money, it is about people and how they allocate the products of society. Just because we inherited the capitalist model, does not mean that it continues forever – any more than feudalism; thought the legacy of that remain…
Technology offers new models of organisation. Our planet demands it, as capitalism will destroy it – if it continues on the current path. You have been warned. Your call.