In the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ is there a good case to be made for nuclear war? There are far too many of us on the planet to allow its survival, and if you think of us as microbes, the world is in need of an antibiotic. It is not a problem of global warming, but the physical destruction of our species habitat. Since 1970 we have wiped out 67% of the vertebrate population of the earth and 81% of all life in the sea. There have been mass extinctions before, but never at such a speed. It took thousands of years for the dinosaurs to vanish after the great meteorite, we are half way there in fifty.
If we go on as we are then the survival of human beings, and the earth, will not be, as Wellington said of Waterloo, ‘a damn close run thing’ but a certainty, and as the Bible says, ‘that right soon’. This is especially ironic as the recent discovery by NASA that conditions are right for life on one of Saturn’s moons suggests life may be everywhere in the stars, even in our solar system, but we may never see it.
It was once thought that dropping the odd nuke would result in perpetual Geiger counter crackling deserts, but Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl have shown such fears to be unfounded. It is well-attested in the scientific literature that there was no statistically significant excess of birth defects following the American attacks on the two Japanese cities in 1945. Thirty years on, Chernobyl, to everybody’s surprise, is a flourishing wild life sanctuary, the absence of humans allowing many species threatened with extinction to re-emerge.
Although nuclear weapons kill in spectacular numbers, it is a terrible death and we are only talking the odd hundred thousand dead per kiloton, more bang than body count. For a serious cull there is nothing to beat a good old fashioned infectious disease.
Unfortunately we have the latter under control but have done nothing about its consequence, a catastrophic rise in population. Our problems began with the 18th century physician Edward Jenner’s invention of the small pox vaccine. There followed vaccines for all the major childhood diseases, eventually leading to the development of a vaccine industry that can respond within a few weeks to an outbreak of a novel disease such as Ebola. Ebola (and similar diseases) could be thought of as the last ditch chemotherapy the Earth puts up to the mortal threat we now pose to its survival. Highly contagious, so much so it kills the doctors and nurses attending it, if left unchecked Ebola would have created large human-free areas. You are shocked? Then why are we quite happy to spay cats, shoot dogs, gas badgers, castrate farm animals, fell trees, fell continental sized forests and wipe out useful microbes with antibiotics and antiseptics yet are not prepared to put a stop to our growth or let nature do it for us? Instead we face the danger of terrorists, themselves a product of species overcrowding (forget about Islam, a mere side effect) buying kitchen gene editors online for £100 that, as Bill Gates has warned, can produce engineered airborne diseases that can kill 30 million in a year.
Excuses for failing to cut the birth rate are not slow in coming. Right wingers attending the Church of Saints Hayek and Myrdal are told by their preachers that as the world’s wealth increases, so the birth rate will fall, water supplies will improve and there is enough uncultivated land to feed twice as many people than are on the earth today. I too would like to believe in the tooth fairy, but then I am grown up, and have witnessed close up both famine and the human folly that attends it.
Cross over the road to the competing church of Saints Marx and Lenin, and you will discover the same blind ignorance. Among the left the focus is skewed to feminism, the rights of black people to have an ‘authentic’ number of children, and the need to control capitalism. ‘Yes dear.’
Both preach the same orthodoxy, that given the success of either competing belief, let wealth have free reign or control its growth, the human population will rise and as conditions improve, numbers will begin to decline. The alternative is to impose a Maoist one child per family rule on the whole world.
Neither is practical or happening. Although the birth rate has halved since the sixties world population is still rising and will go on rising. It was supposed to stabilise at 7 billion but is now heading for 11 billion then onwards and upwards, the results of which we can see as Africa, the Middle East and Asia head for our streets. Simultaneously a geriatric explosion is occurring that will deliver over 100 million Chinese over 80 by mid century. ‘People may grow old before they grow rich’. Where there is war and poverty there are children, where there is wealth and stability a plague of the old.
What is being done? Nothing. Elderly lives are prolonged to the point of torture while enquiries among competing aid agencies reveals a near total indifference to birth control. Ethiopia’s population in the 1984 famine was 40 million, it is now 100 million and by 2040 will be 200 million. The only solution, soon within the grasp of science, is to abolish death, just as we can now abolish birth. Ageing we now know is an evolutionary backwater. Most scientists are confident that both ageing and death can and will be prevented, the Greenland shark lives for 500 years, no reason why we cannot adapt our own DNA to imitate it. But we don’t have enough time. We will have to wait until our own self created, near total extinction for the survivors, if any, to put it into effect.
Meanwhile as wealth increases so does industrial output, with its attendant miseries of mass consumerism, social breakdown, tourism, cars, aircraft, noise, roads, television, the mobile phone and Everests of rubbish. What will the world look like when one in every four people of the seven billion now alive owns a car and has a bit of road to drive it on?
We could make a start by preventing the world’s rain forests, its lungs, from being destroyed by sowing them with land mines to keep out farmers, loggers, town dwellers, cars, and ecologists. We would initially lose a small number of large mammals but with their sense of smell they would adapt, and freed of human predators would soon gain in numbers. One may regard such a scenario as a desperate hope in a desperate situation. But if we think of the earth as a living organism, which it is, then we are at the ecological equivalent of applying the defibrillator.
Finally, even only as a token, rich countries should offer a discarded mobile phone to every African, Asian and South American woman who accepts long-term contraception, either an injectable or a coil. Such a scheme would be open to fraud – all aid is – but is far less dishonest than practices which seem intent on increasing birth rates to gain more customers. Aid agencies who do not make birth control a priority should have their government funding withdrawn.
Otherwise one is inclined to see President Kim Jong-Un with his threats of nuclear war in a more positive light, even as mankind’s benefactor.
Anybody for Enola Gay?