Reading your column is a treat for me, and many others I’m sure, each Wednesday as the Journal arrives. I do quite a bit of reading and some writing, so I have cultivated an appreciation for good writing, and I find that yours is reliably good, backed by research and lots of literary references that give it an extra spark.
Evolution, biology, and human behavior are main subjects of interest for me. So when you began your recent column making the point about the pace of evolution accelerating, you had my attention [The gender revolution, Ken Trainor, Viewpoints, Oct. 2]. You are right that the Industrial Revolution, following the discovery of coal and fossil fuels over two centuries ago, was a powerful impetus for economic and population growth. But my studies point much further back, ten or more thousands of years ago, to the Agrarian Revolution when humans acquired the ability to produce their own food through domestication of plants and animals.
This really was the beginning of what Edward O. Wilson calls: The Social Conquest of Earth. In his book of that title he writes: “Humanity failed to seize the great opportunity given it at the dawn of the Neolithic era. It might have then halted population growth below the constraining minimum limit. As a species, we did the opposite. There was no way for us to foresee the consequences of our initial success. We simply took what was given to us and continued to multiply and consume in blind obedience to instincts inherited from our humbler, more brutally constrained Paleolithic ancestors.”
Having had the ability over millennia to cultivate and appropriate the earth’s resources to meet our needs, we humans have arrived at our present position in relation to the planet, which you accurately describe as “an acceleration of human endangerment.” Will we be able to invent our way out of it by finding new sources of energy to replace fossil fuels? Without having to change our high-consumption way of life? I seriously doubt it.
I think it will take a deeper level of self-examination, leading to a much greater sense of responsibility by individuals, families, communities and societies. The multiple crises arising from overtaxing and exploiting the earth’s resources call for a level of change, or in Ken’s words, “an evolutionary leap” that we do not yet envision.
The young people around the world (and here in Oak Park at the Climate Strike) who are rising up to confront the older generation, including world leaders, may turn out to be the force that brings us to take the leap.