How Worried Should We Be?

I confess to being an old codger and chances are that at least some of you reading this are too.  Hey, don’t apologize. Those of us who have passed 80 or are close to passing that milestone are survivors. At 82 I have outlived by six years my life expectancy of 76 when I was born in 1942. I know that life spans are also affected by gender, lifestyle, stress, genes, parenting, health, social class, race, where you were born, and plain luck. And I know that bad things happen to good people. More than half the people born in 1942 in the United States have already died. I know that I am among the lucky ones.

And just think about over the past 82 years the strides we have made and the changes for the better that have happened. We in the U.S. got rid of Jim Crow laws in the South where I grew up and have made strides in racial and gender equality and acceptance of  sexuality diversity. We have had an African American President, and women now head up major companies, as do people of color.  We have made progress by providing stronger social safety nets. In 1942 Medicare and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act did not exist, nor did food stamps (now SNAP) or Housing Choice Vouchers or the earned income tax credit. The Allies defeated Hitler and the Axis powers in World War II and Soviet Union fell as did Maoist Communist China. For a while democracy was on the rise around the world.

And look at what we humans have invented. When I was born there were no widescreen, high definition television sets. In fact, there were no television sets. There were no jet airplanes, no cellphones, no internet, no space stations, no giant telescopes, no satellites, no EVs, and not that many cures for infectious or life threatening diseases.

Of course, the years during my lifetime have hardly been perfect. In the U.S. we made huge mistakes by getting involved in the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. Afghanistan turned out to be a disaster. Inequality and racism have persisted. The divide between the superrich and everyone else has widened. The gap between developed nations and nations with emerging economies is still large. In the U.S. life has not gotten a whole lot easier for a lot of people especially those who live from paycheck to paycheck. Gun violence and mass shootings continue. Deaths from drug overdoses are rising. Mental illness persists. Homelessness is on the rise.  We suffered through the Covid pandemic with many thousands losing loved ones. Our country has never been more divided since the Civil War. Throughout the world there is so much suffering and hateful atrocities. Think about what is happening today in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, and, of course, Gaza.

Also, when I was born there were no nuclear weapons, no drones, no artificial intelligence, and no threats about global warming due to man-made greenhouse gases. And the population of the world in 1942 was only a tad above two billion. Today it has passed eight billion.

Given how much our country and our world have changed over the last 82 years, is there anyone reading this blog who believes that we Homo sapiens on the Planet Earth will merrily go along indefinitely without a change of course?

The course we are on is unsustainable.

Some may argue that we codgers need not worry since we won’t be around to see how this movie ends. I looked up the life expectancy of someone my age—just over seven years. You could argue that we codgers have gotten off easy.  But what about our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, and great great…. At what point does the reckoning happen?

In my recent studies of the cosmos (for a presentation that I did at our neighborhood church), I learned that over the course of the four billion years our solar system has been around, the lonely planet Earth has experienced five mass extinctions of almost all animal and plant life. These have happened about every 130-150 million years. The last mass extinction on our planet happened about 130 million years ago. According to scientists who keep track of these things we are now officially in the early stages of the Sixth Great Mass Extinction—so far mainly wildlife due to us humans destroying animal habitats. The existential question is this: Will we humans survive the Sixth Great Mass Extinction on the Planet Earth.



4 thoughts on “How Worried Should We Be?

  1. Great question, and not an easy one to think about… I’d say that on the basis of the evidence you cite, Homo Sapiens does not appear to be on track to get its act together in time to avoid a calamitous outcome. Our way of living gives rise to so many destructive impacts, and there is an innate tribalism and distrust of authority that makes it hard to coordinate our actions in a way that manages these impacts. (Just look at US politics.) We are great at inventing new technologies (and are building AIs that will soon invent for us) and at creating profitable businesses — but not at coordinating the effects of these inventions and businesses across the full breadth of community and natural world impacts. Something needs to change. But I have to hand it to you Dad, you picked a great time to be born and your generation has had a great run — you are possibly getting out on top!

  2. Good question, Joe. As theologian and citizen of America and planet earth, I am chastened by the death dealing power of human greed for more and more and more…. until finally…. I would like to think we human codgers and our progeny could get our better selves together collectively and change the trajectory. Meeting you again, and Embry, gives me hope.

  3. Great to reconnect, Carter! Your latest book, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Christian Nationalism “ really nails it and should be on the reading list of everyone reading this blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.