Depending on one’s quotient of Puritanical self-abnegation, the follies of other less disciplined souls often inspire the pensive equivalent of a scoff. Of the fatty we think, “Surely he knows that a diet of doughnuts and fries will only make him more obese.” Of the smoker we think, “Surely she knows that smoking causes an encyclopedic litany of health problems.” Of the degenerate gambler, or heroin addict, or alcoholic, we think, “Poor thing, his compulsions are stronger than his will.” We see others destroying themselves, and we pity them.
Then how ought we view ourselves as a species? Only the most unreasonable among us at this late date can keep a straight face when denying the phenomenon of global warming. We know we’re killing our planet (and ourselves); we know the polar ice caps are melting; we know a cycle of droughts and hurricanes are imminent; we know each year ‘s weather will become worse; we know we cannot go on as we have. Yet we do.
Our country, populated by the freest media, the best scientists, the richest resources, does nothing substantive to reverse the inexorable decline into atmospheric apocalypse. Indeed, we abet the problem both institutionally and individually, pumping the air full of CO2 from our trucks and denuding the landscape with our rapacious appetite for nonrenewable resources. So where’s the scoff?
Just because thousands of years of wars inspired by religion and nationalism haven’t yet managed to extinguish the human race doesn’t mean that we won’t turn the trick soon, especially since for the first time in recorded history we possess the means to exterminate every living thing multiple times. Only one crazy Jew or Muslim or Christian or Hindu needs to let his enmity (for those that don’t share his beliefs) go unchecked, and there we have the end of our grand experiment.
Dinosaurs and dodo birds have come and gone. So will Homo sapiens. The only question that remains is will our termination come at the hands of forces beyond our control or because of impulses we choose not to control.