By Dwight Gilbert Jones
There are an estimated 8.7 million different species sharing the third planet from the Sun, each of them an independent quest for adaptation and survival, all of them woven into an interdependent fabric, celebrating Life. However, one species has proven to be a deadly cancer, a pervasive infection that is on course to destroy the planet within the very next instant of geologic time.
Planet Earth, like its sister planet Venus, is destined to become a smoldering cinder, with the loss of all species, absent the atmosphere shielding all of them from barren outer space.
The infecting cancer is the species homo sapiens – a more suitable name might be homo avarus – the greedy ‘naked ape’ described by Desmond Morris or as recent research shows – the ‘killer ape’ of Raymond Dart and Robert Ardrey.
Its genus Homo is a lonely outcast among such biological families, an orphan that with some likelihood has murdered the remainder of its own sister species during the recent past, including the Neanderthals, the Denisovans and Flores Man . It has notoriously enslaved its own kind based on little more than the respective shades of their skin.
An Accelerating Malignancy
As with most cancers, the infection can progress rapidly, and Homo’s numbers have grown by 30% in just two decades, now an order of difference higher than their recent historical levels. These rapid expansions within species are often characterized as plagues, and these typically resolve themselves abruptly, when the resources needed to sustain them are exhausted. Familiar examples are locusts devouring all vegetation before them, but so too are viruses destroying their own hosts. The latter is Mother Gaia’s situation with these apes.
The quickening destruction of the planet by Homo is this classical biological process – not metaphorical in the least – on as mindless a mission as that of any pandemic – the species exploiting a short term resource abundance to increase exponentially, and damn the consequences.
Homo believes that its superior brain power has legitimately positioned it to have dominion over all other living entities, but this is wishful thinking. In truth, if the goal was to survive the next one million years – a modest goal for any species – then a dog’s nose would probably be far more strategic and useful to apes for long term survival than is a big brain steered by male hormones.
This hominid brain, enlarging as it did inside the skull of its simian ancestors, has granted Homo the ability to first control, and then manipulate its environment toward its own whims and desires. Sadly, the gift of this faculty to an ape is akin to allowing five year olds to carry a handgun for their own amusement. It is this immaturity, of a very young species, that cannot be overcome in the few years left for the planet’s atmosphere. This simian is not an animal known for its good character and temperament.
Homo does enjoy an extended youth – what biologists term neoteny – wherein the offspring slowly grow to adult size over two decades. Older Homo groups organize these newly formed adults into aggressive troops for their own hostile purposes, related to continuous territorial and resource power struggles. They repeatedly send their own offspring to their deaths, in conflicts with their last possible foe – themselves.
The ruthless dynamics exhibited by Homo societies are not by themselves unique, as most life forms look for opportunities to expand their numbers and range, by any means available. For most, if internecine strife takes too large a role, the species drifts toward contraction or extinction – each must find some balance in its activities to remain competitive.
Once made up of a smattering of tribes across pristine wilderness, as Homo’s numbers grew they took advantage of their uncontested hegemony over all others to pre-empt the rich river deltas as their own. Giant concrete hives eventually arose in these once verdant paradises, now swarming with scurrying apes, their personal and industrial wastes exuding poisons into the surrounding waters and skies. Today the planet is dominated by these hard lesions in its most sensitive areas.
Once an Eagle, now an Ant
Here is the eagle learning to live like the ant, and liking it. Homo began to discard spatial freedom in exchange for the comforts of housing, rich diets and drug regimens that amplified their appetites and short satisfactions. In geologic terms their physical evolution had frozen, but a great feast of indulgence had begun at the expense of all other living things.
This arrival of ape dominance might be likened to children with guns, but more destructive indeed are children with matches. For hundreds of millions of years, the planet had stored the Sun’s energy in vegetation, and left concentrated pools of energy as oil and tar. The tall trees across those eons of time bequeathed their energy trove too, as coal. The apes recently discovered these ancient reservoirs of solar energy, and lo! by setting it all afire, they could have energy in abundance. They abused this treasure to blast away the night, the cold, the hard work and each other, and soon the entire planet was ablaze and trailing smoke.
The most salient fact of the planet’s recent history then, is that the apes have set the Earth on fire. Glorying in fossil energy’s benefits, they assigned machines and free energy to their labors, their food production and transport, to the assembly of their nests and to a unique concept among animals: manufactured “possessions”.
Homo avarus emerged as a hominid with a short lifespan, long on greed, and it raced through aggressive strategies to outcompete other apes for this bonanza, launching escalating wars – ignorant of their sameness to them.
Each time they asserted that these conflicts must end, but their scale continued to grow.
Eventually their new nuclear weapons became so powerful that they could condemn the planet to burning out from a war lasting a single day. Homo had reached its tipping point – by any measure.
Like a bacillus, these apes somehow had to realize that killing the host might not be the best strategy, especially since there were no other hosts like planet Earth to spread to.
Dysfunctional and facing a Singularity
There are two reasons why the situation was irretrievable for homo avarus, and for every species unlucky enough to be their contemporaries.
1) Any species has to maintain some internal governance over itself, if only to forbid dispersing its resources, fouling its own nest or devouring its young through violence.
These killer apes have not been able to centralize their own security among themselves, and so are incapable of acting together to face a common threat such as an overheating planet.
Legacy militarism is used by a small group of them to retain wealth and privilege for themselves, while a larger number descend inevitably into poverty and disease. Attempts by the species to organize itself through global governance have been completely thwarted by the interests of this warrior caste.
Consequently Homo is artificially divided into “nations” that are compelled to expend critical resources on weaponry, purchased from the warrior caste, and this balkanization destroyed unanimity, enabled corruption and denied most Homo individuals the benefits of its vaunted brainpower.
2) The apes did not understand the significance of environmental global heating “amplifiers” in time.
To be fair, the Homo species had been successful by most measures, right up until the final two centuries of their existence – when the carbon bonfire was ignited in the atmosphere. But once the population of this large hominid, which requires considerable resources to maintain, had grown to exceed seven billion individuals – no solution that retained that population figure remained possible.
Their planet is already in the grip of a runaway greenhouse effect, exactly like the one that consumed Venus. As temperatures rise, the reflecting ice caps fade, and methane once trapped in the Arctic tundra is released. Methane is 20+ times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, and once the melt starts – it accelerates.
The Apes Lose Control
The apes have been lucky to date, enduring or dodging ice ages, and here they had an apparent stability period before them (the Holocene) estimated at 50,000 years if the existing “tuned” atmosphere continued undisturbed. However, once out of tune, the methane emissions feed themselves, and most life suffocates in the non-circulating, acidifying oceans – leading to putrefaction and hydrogen sulfide gas emissions that poison all terrestrial beings that breathe.
Unstoppable almost from the beginning, temperatures skyrocket, and the planet’s usable atmosphere is snuffed and eventually evaporates into space. The Earth indeed joins Venus as a cadaver planet – a tombstone for a species that, for the glorious planet Gaia and itself, turned out to be a dysfunctional cancer.
The Tragedy of Homo Avarus
As one more species doomed by environmental change, homo avarus lost an opportunity to transcend its crude destiny – by ignoring its greatest achievements and assets; its civilizing institutions. As its brain advantage took serious hold perhaps 1000 years ago – allowing it to prosper beyond all precedence – it did indeed assemble a monumental civilization within a few centuries. But as for Americans with a free continent – it was illusory wealth.
The apes’ biology did not alter apace, and its hereditary hormonal systems – evolved for a physical past – persisted and the apes turned their new tool-making culture onto each other, resulting in a legacy of intraspecies conflict that disabled their governance, and any ability to work together as one dedicated entity.
Although they had invented the Rule of Law, Confucianism, Humanism, Democracy and had exhibited cooperation, morality, love and compassion – these were displaced by greed and its handmaiden – corruption. Militarists hijacked Homo’s most noble creations – the United Nations and the Internet – to serve private privilege and power.
The end result was a progressively well-meaning species without the discipline or time frame required to change course so suddenly. In geologic time, a century is less than a second and that was all that remained. They had not been ambushed by a lack of intelligence, but by their own character failure – for too long they had failed to mobilize when faced with extinction – a failure of their philosophers. And their euphoric energy use, so inextricable from their cold, dead hands – did the deed itself.
Global heating had turned out not to be a continuing trend, but instead an abrupt inflection point – a steep singularity – and the atmosphere’s tuning became discordant.
Enter the Pandemic – Ebola first, please
Like a 17th century bone surgeon, Ebola rescued the planet with radical surgery, at least for a time.
At first the apes treated its arrival like any other plague threat – they made small efforts to localize and quarantine it, but it was untreatable and killed the majority of those who became infected within days.
The Homo scientists had hoped that Ebola was not transmitted easily, and proclaimed as much, but they were wrong, especially about its extended incubation period and the role of human feces, which proved to be its main vector. This became horribly evident at first in Africa, then India, Indonesia, rural China and in all megacities with poor sanitation. Billions died.
Finally it ran through the northern hemisphere when winter came, proving to be unavoidable when carried by individuals living and working alongside each other indoors. Meat and livestock everywhere became contaminated.
Today the cities built by Homo are largely empty, overwhelmed by rat swarms, with Homo avarus again living as far from each other as can be managed, in the hinterlands that must yet support the billion remaining apes.
What remains of the apes’ now skeletal Internet asserts some belief that the planet is now cooling, and that Homo shall reorganize itself around its legacy strengths and finally gain control of itself.
Their air, however, adds more hydrogen sulfide each day, and the entire planet has taken on the odour of a rotting corpse. It is merciful that apes have a poor sense of smell.