You will know that the history of our home planet is divided into “eras”, such as the Precambrian and the Palaeozoic. They are very long – millions of years. As it happens, the mainstream media (e.g. the Guardian two days ago) has just woken up to the fact that some people have been talking about the most recent era for many years. It is called the Anthropocene Era, reflecting the fact that the human species now seems to be dominant on this planet. Although there is no general agreement about its commencement – some date it from the beginning of agriculture 15,000 years ago, while others like to believe it started with the first test of an atomic bomb in 1945 – one thing does seem clear, this era is unlikely to last long. I say this simply because we do not deserve to dominate. Our domination will soon be revealed for what it is – false, and therefore transitory.
Having laid my cards on the table, one could easily imagine a species that did deserve to be dominant. Above all, that species would be intelligent, in the sense that it would behave wisely and well. For instance, it would not overpopulate. It would not degrade the natural environment (all this planet’s life-support systems are in serious decline). It would not preside over an unprecedented extinction of species. It would not destroy its own members on an industrial scale (just think 20th Century!). And it would ensure that none of its members had too little because a few had far too much. I hardly need add that none of the above can be said about our own human species.
Of course, it need not be this way. As a species, we clearly have the potential to behave wisely and well. The very obvious problem is that there is an immense gap between our potential and our actual behaviour, and this gap is not closing quickly enough (if it is closing at all) to avert dangerous climate change, serious damage to our life-support systems, nor the terminal social breakdown that will inevitably follow huge inequalities.
Until quite recently I believed that we would become a truly intelligent species, and avert catastrophe. I now believe that any change for the better will be too little and too late. End of Anthropocene!