We all know -- well, those of us who accept evolution know -- that species typically become extinct as a result of failure to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Homo sapiens may be the first species not only to have caused its own destruction but to have had the power to see it coming -- and failed to heed the warning signs.
Of course, climate change is the most dramatic evidence of this trend. And while we will probably adapt to increments of ten, perhaps twenty degrees around the world, despite the enormous disruption to the food supply and the global economic and political systems, will the species survive changes of fifty or one hundred degrees? Who is to say this catastrophic scenario will not occur, as we continue to burn coal and oil to maintain the status quo, knowing all the while that doing so will eventually destroy the status quo?
Human beings like to think of themselves as members of the smartest species that ever roamed the earth. If this is true, it doesn't speak well of the other species. At least in the United States, we are currently witnessing a full-scale attack on logical debate, critical thinking, acceptance of facts as the raw material from which decisions should be made, and the values set forth in the Constitution but constantly ignored by the very people who claim to cherish that document. Hypocrisy runs rampant and apparently undiagnosed among those whose left brains do not communicate with their right brains; how else to explain the simultaneous drumbeat for tax cuts for the rich AND deficit reduction? "General welfare" is derided as "big government" by those who fail to see the relationship between greed on the part of those who already have enough and poverty on the part of those who have never had enough.
No, if intelligence is a virtue and a prerequisite for survival of the species over the next thousand years or so, I'm not very optimistic.
Nobody reading these words will be alive to see the demise of the human race. The process is far too gradual. But we are heading down the path toward our eventual destruction unless the wise somehow wrest power from the wealthy. I fear, however, that the tipping point has already been passed. Our institutions themselves, for the most part, exist to protect the status quo (or worse). When, in history, did the ruling class voluntarily give up power and accede to the notion that common people also deserve a break? When, except for a few years in the late 1700s, did Americans ever think the future was just as important as the present?
Contrarians could legitimately argue that the United States is an anomaly, that in fact most developed countries (Denmark, England, Canada, Sweden -- you know the list) are much further along the path to permanent civilization. While this is true (take the general availability of health care as just one of many possible examples), the United States, mostly by virtue of its geographic size, its population, and its natural resources, unfortunately has a disproportionate influence on the rest of the world. If you want proof, stay tuned to see whether "the greatest deliberative body in the world," aka the United States Senate, approves a treaty that will reduce the global nuclear arsenal and make the world a safer place -- or whether it will be held hostage to the politics of destruction made possible by the 40-vote filibuster and a few opinionated reactionaries.
I just hope that homo sapiens II, which will invariably come along in another couple of million years, will be more successful than homo sapiens I.