Editorial Autumn 2014

mylesharrisalterthumbThe earth is no more than a huge piece of cooling rock. Clinging to its surface like gossamer is the biosphere, a living breathing membrane in which billions of creatures, including ourselves, live. Compared with the size of the earth, it is no thicker than a coat of varnish on a door, but infinitely more fragile. Earth’s greatest enemy is a relative newcomer, us, and it is only by the most unfortunate chain of events (from the earth’s point of view) we are here at all. Like the Ebola virus, for millions of years we were confined in tiny vulnerable groups to primeval forests, but then our opposable thumbs, stereoscopic vision and massive forebrains allowed us to break out onto the earth’s fertile plains. We have never looked back. From 300 million humans at the time of Christ, we are now six billion, by 2050 we will be 10 billion. Only insects and bacteria enjoy a greater species success. Our problem is that we are very large: an ant may breakfast on a single grain of wheat, a human being needs a quarter of a pound. Ebola, a product of the destruction of the rain forests to make way for more humans, will be contained. We are far more dangerous than Ebola. Ebola cannot read and write, it does not anticipate dangers which it can then avoid, above all it has no tools. There are no Ebola doctors, farmers, car manufacturers, miners, vaccinators, sailors… all manner of trades that keep us humans alive and multiplying, spreading and destroying. Ebola kills by producing a single chemical that interferes with blood clotting. Humans, on the other hand, have an infinite variety of means of preying on their fellow organisms, and no shortage of prophets, seers and priests to justify it. We have been egged on in this folly by both the left and right. The left, addicted to Rousseau’s myth of the noble savage, has peddled the idea that given sufficient aid and development, human numbers in the Third World will peak and then fall, so that we can have the best of both worlds, tribal authenticity and air conditioning, rain dancing and brain surgery, feng shui and geophysics. The right, addicted to the myth of endless economic growth – impossible in a closed bio system like the earth – has been happy to allow the left to pursue these dangerous dreams. There are one and a half billion potential car drivers in China, a further one and a quarter billion in India; think of the petrol they will buy. Enter ISIS, Ebola, and the burning crescent of nations around the east and southern Mediterranean. Unchecked population growth, habitat destruction, failing water supplies, deforestation, AIDS HIV, selective abortion and infanticide, mass unemployment, a widening gap between rich and poor, no public health services, are breeding grounds for the politics of hopelessness of which ISIS is a symptom and Ebola a sign. It is no coincidence that the refugees clinging to the sides of a bare mountain in Iraq are dying of thirst, or that America is engaged with the jihadists in a war over the giant Mosul Dam. We are watching the early shots in an ecowar. Many more such wars will follow. They are the price for treating the earth as a huge farm given up to the monoculture of human beings. When it became clear by mid 20th century that this would destroy the earth people shrugged it off as mere panic mongering. Given a few decades the size of the crop would decrease of its own volition and the garden would revert to roughly the balance that existed before. Clever economic models have been devised to bolster this idea, but they are the products of self-deception, fear, ignorance, greed, special pleading and outright lies. The alternative, investing in world-wide economic contraction coupled with population control, will be to say the least, difficult, but as increasing numbers of jihadists come ashore hidden among huge tides of refugees arriving in Europe, and with Ebola already landing in jumbo jets in America, we now have a clear picture of what will happen if we continue as we are

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