As a species we are very, very good at solving problems as they arise on a day to day basis, but wretched at preventing the long-term consequences of our routine actions. Since no one thing is ruining our planet—a brew of many ill-considered behaviors is to blame—we largely ignore the very foreseeable horrors that will destroy our grandchildren.
What is going on is a major international effort by scientists and businesses to extend the human lifespan dramatically. Yikes! If this succeeds—as it very well might—then in addition to a population explosion we can’t handle, the too many people already here will live longer, continuing to consume resources and take up needed space.
We think of growth as a good thing. When we had room to grow and resources to support growth that was true. But today the carbon footprint of someone in Bangladesh is 1 compared to 147 for a person in the United States. If all people on the planet lived like those in the United States we’d need a planet twelve times the size of this one to support them. We are running out of fuel for this engine, and there’s no gas station large enough to sell us more. So, to hell with worrying about silly things like zombies: human beings are a plague infesting their own planet. Any more growth is at the expense of what remains of earth’s resources, creating more pollution in the sky and the oceans, destroying other species, spoiling everything. But—damn it—there’s no way to stop growing even if we had the will to do so. We will just keep doing it until the collapse of civilization pulls the plug.
Could it really all just go away? In his book “Sapiens” mentioned above Yuval Noah Harari draws a distinction between “facts” and “myths.” A tree is a fact, but when I say I live in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States of America, that is, in his words, a myth. Columbus is just a story the people who live around here tell ourselves and which we believe, but if we quit believing in the City of Columbus, it would disappear. This is equally true of the State of Ohio and the country called the United States of America. I think Harari’s choice of “myth” is unfortunate because the word has the connotation of “false.” The United States certainly does exist as long as we all believe it, but the myth of Santa Claus is not in the same category. However his concept is correct, so let’s rephrase it.