December 17, 2010

I guess we're lemmings

We look at the well-worn image of lemmings running off a cliff and say, "How could they do such a thing?!" Yet we don't notice that our species is rushing toward the cliff right now.

Although I understand that mammals (like us) aren't good at determining future risk and taking steps in the present to avoid it, I still find it shocking. The science is there and the scientists are screaming at us to pay attention. We cannot ignore climate change -- yet that is exactly what we're doing. We may as well start wearing shrouds.

Do you realize there will be worldwide water wars within 30 years? It's that close for so many people. Particularly in areas where the population depends on snow-melt for their water supply, warming will mean a loss of snow and consequent loss of the rivers on which people rely for water. But even if doom was 100 years in the future rather than 30, would that mean we should ignore it because we'll die before that time? What about the human race?

We never think about the future of the human race anymore. In fact, we're not even aware that there is such a thing as the human race because we're so busy separating ourselves into warring clans. We think the only thing that matters is our clan. This myth is at the heart of our inaction. In other words, we're both stupid and cruel: stupid to think it won't happen to our clan, and cruel because we don't care if it happens to others as long as "we" are safe.

Look at the climate agreement that just came into being as a result of a recent world meeting on the topic. It falls far short of what is needed. Apparently there is no hope of an intervention. In fact, it's already too late unless everyone on Earth were to literally stop using oil today -- and even then, we'd face problems.

But we just go on with our lives, shopping and eating and filling our burrows with big-screen TVs. Nothing matters except food and the accumulation of goods. This is what passes for culture in our country today: eating and shopping. That is who we are.

And we just don't care that we're going to make our species extinct. That is of no concern. What a world.

PS: Wikipedia says lemmings jumping off a cliff is a myth. I'm sorry to say that people doing so is the only accurate representation of this previously mythical phenomenon.

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