Does it really matter? And if it matters, does it matter that it matters?

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I am obsessed with recycling. There, I’ve said it. Cardboard is my favourite, followed closely by plastic, glass and so on. You may well be the same. Like me, you might choose cars for their fuel economy, delight in energy-saving lightbulbs, and enjoy trying  to fix things instead of buying new ones. We’re one of the good guys, right? We’d never buy a Range Rover, and we anxiously fret about the world’s energy problems and the greenhouse effect.

  • Well I’m here to tell you to (mostly) stop worrying, and just enjoy life.

When I was at school, we had a brilliant Geography teacher. We adults all know how fabulous some of our teachers were, and how they truly change the world (at least the world of their lucky pupils). Among the things that I leant from mine was the fact that our energy supplies were running out. Go back 20 years, and I think that the figures were (approximately) oil was going to run out in 70 years (plus whatever new reserves we found) and coal had about 200 years left. Things will no doubt have changed since then, but the general principle remains – at the rate we’re going, in only a handful of centuries we’ll have used up all our fossil fuels.

Even worse (what with all the madmen in the world) before we get that far we’ll no doubt have caused human Armageddon by either nuclear or biological warfare, or perhaps (intentionally or unintentionally) someone will release a man-made virus/toxin/genetic-mutation which will kill off most/all of human life.

  • So (one way or another) human life as we know it will be over in less time than the lifetime of the Roman Empire (i.e. sometime in the next 500 years or so).

Terrible eh? Well not entirely. You know what will happen to animals if we release a deadly human toxin/virus? Not a lot. They just lose their top predator. Know what happens to all the cockroaches when nuclear war wipes out all humanity? Nothing – they can take huge doses of radiation and just shrug it off. Know what’ll happen to sea creatures when CO2 levels rise so much that the ice caps melt and all our land sinks into the sea? They get a nice new place to live.

Overall, life won’t be better or worse after humans destroy themselves – it’ll just be different. Better for cockroaches and worse for Starbucks. We seem to obsess about ‘protecting nature’. Well it seems to me that nature will be quite capable of taking care of herself over the next 600 million years (which is all it has left before the Sun starts causing plant life to naturally die off, according to Wikipedia). It seems that modern humans have been around for the past 200,000 years. Long time eh? Well let’s remember that ‘civilization’ is a relatively recent thing. Let’s define civilization starting when the first writing (as opposed to just pictures) started – this was less than 10,000 years ago. Classical civilisations started with the Greeks around 2500 years ago, and we humans have possessed the ability to annihilate ourselves since atomic weapons were invented in 1945. Let’s imagine a calendar year where modern humans (200,000 years ago) started at 00:00am on January 1st, and (by my reckoning) we’ll have worked out a way to destroy our modern way of life by the year 2500 AD, which I shall call midnight on December 31st. Well, by my (very rough) calculations:

  • Ancient Greek civilization starts around midday on Christmas Day (25th Dec)
  • Industrial revolution starts around late evening 30th December
  • Internet becomes commonplace in large proportion of world population’s lives around the early hours of New Year’s Eve (31st)
  • We are now living around 30 seconds after the Internet was invented
  • Humans will destroy their civilization at some point today. We have only a few more hours to live, so let us live it well.

Does it matter? And if it matters, does it matter that it matters?” So said Marvin, the paranoid android. It’s a quote that has gone around in my head many many times over the past 25+ years since I first read it.

  • Does it matter? Yes, please keep recycling and helping the environment, so that your children still have access to the resources that you have.
  • Does it matter that it matters? Well, no actually. One way or another we humans are not going to be around in just a few hundred years (certainly not in a form anything like we are today), so in just a few generations it will all be over anyway. Don’t worry unduly about recycling and the environment, fairly soon (one way or another) it’ll be ruined (for humans) anyway. Don’t get too angry about other people’s behaviour (they won’t change, and you’ll just get upset). Instead, just do the best that you personally can and encourage your children to do the same. Don’t lose sleepless nights over whether or not you should take your family on a nice holiday by air to a far off land – book those tickets now because the world will still be there when you get back. In fact, have a nice cold beer whilst you are out there, and (if you have time) kindly raise your glass in my direction and I’ll be saying “cheers” back to you.

Don’t agonize about the future of mankind – it hasn’t got one. However, the Earth has a long and bright future (many hundreds of millions of years). Nature has an even longer future. It’s just that all of mankind’s ‘achievements’ (Starbucks et al.) have not.

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