“I don’t promise that when a kid lives it will cause a GNP increase. I think life has value.” Bill Gates. World Economic Forum 2007
The Earth is a beautiful planet. It is a life-giving planet that has sustained and still sustains so many species. It is a majestic planet of mystery and magnificence. It is a globe of vast seascapes, gentle savannahs, dark, dense forests, mountain vistas, fertile hidden valleys, dry and undulating desert and luxurious tropical rain forests.
It is difficult to establish just how many species the Earth has supported. There have been several major disruptions that have caused extinction of most, if not all, species that had evolved up to the time of the calamity so the total number of species would be the sum of these various periods of relatively uninterrupted evolution. Even the “experts” differ greatly in their opinions about what that number might be.
It is estimated around 1.7 million species have been discovered and described by scientists. There also seem to be a broad agreement that this number represents 1% or less of the species that have existed over time. Beyond that, a figure becomes quite difficult to establish with estimates varying from as few as 17 million to as many as 50 billion – quite a range! Most commonly the figure suggested is in a range of between 5 and 50 million species. Whatever, the true number, one can rest assured that it is extremely large.
Modern Humans represent just one of those species and our evolution appears to have begun around 7 million years ago in Africa. By about 4 million years ago our ancestors had achieved upright posture and around 2.5 million years ago began to increase in body & brain size. Homo erectus of around 1.7 million years ago had close to the same body size as modern man but with a brain of only half the size.
It wasn’t until somewhere between 1 million and 1.8 million years ago that humans spread beyond Africa and the earliest evidence of humans in Europe stems from around 500,000 years ago. By this time, our ancestors had developed skeletons & skulls sufficiently close to ours that they are classified in our species: Home sapiens. The fossils of Europe and Asia of around 130,000 to 40,000 years ago are known as Neanderthals. These humans had brains slightly larger than ours and there is evidence of them burying their dead and caring for their sick
Humans, similar to our-selves, are a relatively recent evolution dating from about 50,000 years ago. The evidential signs of this lie in the more refined & standardised stone tools made and appearance of jewellery such as shell beads. Given that not a lot changed for nearly 7 billion years, there seems to have been a major change at that time and humanity has evolved relatively quickly since. Archaeology from the Cro-Magnon period, 40,000 years ago onwards shows an increasingly diverse range of tools, weapons, sewn clothes and even art works, which indicate behaviours very close to our own.
Modern human history dates from about 11,000 BCE and so represents a relatively short period in contrast to the length of our time on the planet. In that time we have made formidable advances in knowledge, science, technology and our understanding of our world, its place in the cosmos and its ecosystems and inter-relationships.
Sadly, advances in mutual understanding and acceptance between human groups seem not to have proceeded apace.
We have a world crippled by injustice, inequity, and inequality. Despite the richness and diversity of our resources and increasing excellence of our technology, millions of people die every year of preventable causes.
Most of the deaths occur in the majority world – that of the poorest countries and often those that are least developed and of little strategic interest to the major nations of the developed world. Mostly, the deaths could be readily avoided. The causes are relatively uncomplicated ones, such as lack of clean water supply, nutritional food or hygiene facilities. We have the technology, the resources, the expertise and the funds to fix these problems.
In addition to those problems and, perhaps, to a large degree because of them, violence, conflict, war, dispossession & brutal dictatorial or military governments persecute and steal from their own peoples. Outmoded cultural & largely patriarchal laws, religious convictions, ethnic hatreds & suspicion, and a breakdown of cultural order often become the mask that justifies the very actions, taken by those in control, which create that breakdown and cause the suffering.
Developed nations are not exempt.
In Australia, one of the richest nations, around 5500 people die each year in road fatalities and a similar number die as a result of medical mistakes in hospital. Most, if not all of these deaths are as preventable as those in the majority world.
So many seem to have little, if any, recognition that we are only visitors on this planet, don’t and can’t own it, and are simply privileged to have use of it while we are here. Recognition and agreement that we have an obligation to leave the planet in at least as good a state as when we arrived here, also seems not to register with many people. I am constantly amazed at the views and actions of people who have their own children and often grandchildren, and yet who seem inured to the consequences that their actions will have for those future generations.
If such people are so careless of the damage that their myopic activities may have for their own descendants, it is probably little surprise that they show as little or even less concern for those of difference – e.g. those of other social, ethnic, racial, religious or national groups.
Displaced persons are turned away incarcerated indefinitely in facilities surrounded by barbed wire where they have neither work nor purpose. Many suffer physical abuse, sexual abuse, and mental disorders. Inevitably, some take their own lives.
The First Australians, from whom the land was taken and who have never conceded occupancy of it nor their “sovereignty” over it, have substantially lower life expectancy, poor living conditions and often sub-standard or limited access to services and facilities than most white Australians.
The poor; the mentally ill; the intellectually impaired and the disabled also suffer exclusion and neglect through misconception, prejudice, irrational fear, lack of appropriate access, stigma, or simply because they are forgotten.
The United States, Britain and European nations have many similar problems. There are increasing numbers of homeless, an immigration crisis, increasing drug abuse, and domestic violence to name just some. Jails are over-crowded just about everywhere in the developed world, not least in the US where occupancy rates are some of the highest in the World. That is somewhat ironic for a country commonly known as the leader of the “Free World”.
Lack of money and resources and an increasing world population are often cited as the problem.
Population expansion is certainly a problematic issue but it is simply an exacerbating factor, not a cause. Indeed, the rate of population growth has been steadily declining since the 1950’s, though the overall population has increased the fertility rate dropped from 4.7 to 2.5 children per woman between 1970 and 2010. The highest fertility rates correlate with the poorest and least educated nations, and reduce where girls have access to education and women’s rights are improved. So this issue is well within our reach to mitigate – without drastic or harsh measures.
Lack of money and resources is not the problem, either. Peter Singer, in his book, The Life You Can Save. (2010), estimated that If each of the top 10% of US earners donated a relatively small percentage of their income, on a scale that would mean no change to their life-style, it would raise $471 billion – well over twice the #189 million p.a. estimated to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) If such giving were extended across all countries of the World, it would provide more than $1.5 trillion annually or eight times what the UN task force estimated would be needed to meet the MDG.
While substantial progress was achieved towards meeting the MDG’s, they were not met in many areas. Additionally, during the 15 years of their implementation we have seen many new crises. The fact is that we are not fulfilling our obligations to this planet, nor the promise that exists within humanity. Instead we are faced with posturing, self-interest, short-term gain, a disregard for our planet and an absence of compassion for others. No one will convince me that such is how things ought to be. No one will convince me that even one person in this world need be living in conditions of degradation and poverty. No one will convince me that our world needs more and higher multi-story office buildings, multi-lane highways, cruise liners and trillion dollar expenditure on weapons of war & destruction.
"Come ye masters of war, You that build all the guns, You that build death planes You that build the big bombs … You than never done nothin’ But build to destroy You play with my world, Like it’s your little toy…”
From Masters of war – Bob Dylan
THIS NEEDS TO STOP – NOW