There is no doubt that it is a troublesome time in history.
Close to 8 billion people are feeling it. There is the everyday chase to stay ahead, troubling politics, and a pandemic that requires some draconian measures just to keep it in check. Most of what we thought we knew about the word has changed.
This level of disruption to so many people all at once is not that common in history. Some have called it a ‘hingey’ moment, even that we may be living through the most influential period of time ever.
It is an easy argument that we live in an especially perilous time for ourselves and what we are doing to the planet.
“Our Earth has existed for 45 million centuries, but this century is special: it’s the first when one species – ours – has the planet’s future in its hands.”Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal
There are plenty of ways we could do this from pollution to nuclear armageddon and we are already well on the way with our conversion of the landscape for agriculture and emissions to the atmosphere. Then we might engineer killer pathogens or malevolent AI.
But it is fine, the UN Biological Weapons Convention, which is a global ban on developing bio-weapons like a super-coronavirus, has a smaller budget than an average McDonald’s restaurant. And collectively the world spends more on ice cream than we do on preventing technologies that could end everything about our way of life.
Pretty hingey if you ask me.
But none of these is the reason for the pivot point.
That’s much more about population. Only this graphic suggests otherwise with the brave prediction that are trillions of humans yet to come.
Unfortunately, this infographic is horribly wrong.
It is true that should humanity get through the next century there is a chance that we will persist to the average lifespan of a mammalian species or at least make it for another 50,000 years. So the timeframe is fine.
What is incorrect is the assumption that we would get there under our current population growth rate. That is not what will happen.
Populations eventually collapse when they overexploit their resource base. The immediate projection is that the 7.7 billion growing to perhaps 11 billion over the next 30 years will need food. The UN expects that current agricultural production will need to increase by 2% per annum for those 30 years. This is equivalent to a second agricultural revolution; no small ask.
If we meet this demand, and it will get very ugly if we don’t, then all the nutrients in that food must either be perfectly recycled or mined from the asteroid belt because otherwise there is simply not enough plant-available nutrients on the planet to support all those people as they trickle through.
There may be compelling arguments for thinking we live in an unusually hingey moment compared with other periods. But those thinking of the unborn generations would argue that if there are trillions yet to come, the potentially long, long future of civilisation that could lie ahead, the actual hinge of history is most likely yet to come.
The hinge is now because we have to get through the demographic transition or more strictly we have to generate one. If the species is to survive then we have to eat for the remaining 700,000 years of expected mammal species existence.
We will do very well to make it from here.
Feel free to share with your friends, neighbours, and your grandma who no doubt would have something to say on the matter of our future…