Some people say we live in the Anthropocene Era. They say this because mankind dominates as never before. We dominate in the sense that our presence is the cause of major global changes, most of them bad. The litany is all too familiar – global warming, loss of rainforest and other live-giving habitats, species extinction on a scale never seen before, as well as serious pollution of land, air and water. It is not a happy picture, not least because our responses are unsatisfactory, to say the least.
It is difficult to predict what will happen. Will we continue as we are, consuming far too much of the planet’s finite resources, and leaving a dangerous carbon footprint wherever we tread? Or will we finally wake up and radically change our lifestyles and the way we organise human society? It is impossible to know. Although it may be true that we live in the Anthropocene Era, it is time we made this something to be proud of, and not ashamed of.
The term is unlikely to catch on, but I like to think that we live in the Exponene Era. Perhaps you can guess what this means. We leave in an era of exponential change. If you type in those two words on Google, most of the responses will be about technology, particular kinds of technology – smartphones, AI and computers. I have other changes in mind, changes that are least as important as the technological changes most people seem to be focused on. First and foremost, the human population.
Look at any population graph for the last 200 years, and you will see the same thing. Human population was stable for a very long time, and then, in the middle of the 20th Century, it suddenly took off. The alarming thing is that it is still taking off. The human population is way out of control. There are far too many of us. Even if we all lived ecologically, taking from the planet only what we really need, and ensuring that we replace what we take, it would not be so much of a problem. But we don’t live like that. So it is a problem. We overconsume and we overproduce, and we do not replace what we take. It is not as if the overconsumption is doing us any good. Obesity is now epidemic, as more and more of us eat far too much, and eat badly. About 40% of adults in the USA are clinically obese, and the epidemic has spread to other countries, including China, where fat children are to be seen everywhere.
It’s not just the human population that is out of control. Many activities that used to be a pleasure have become unpleasant. These include travelling by air and driving in cities. The common factor is that things are growing exponentially.
When we combine the Exponene with the Anthropocene, we get what could be described as the “out of control era”. Seen from my own perspective, it certainly feels that way. I have never felt so impotent. It was not always this way. There was a time, 30 or 40 years ago, when I was full of hope and felt that I had much to contribute. In the 70s I was active in the politics of Scotland, in an attempt to bring independence to that small country. At least that is moving in the right direction. In the 80s I was very involved in many things beginning with the word “new” – the new economics, the new science, the new healthcare, and new politics. Looking back, these were good days, full of the promise that things would really change for the better.
How different things feel today! Although all these “new” movements are still alive, they remain on the fringes of society, while materialism reigns supreme. You know me well enough to know that I believe that only a deep shift in our core beliefs (our worldview) will produce the radical changes we need to make in our behaviour. Will this happen? Possibly, but only if we survive long enough. And that looks doubtful.