Creating the human race may be the single biggest mistake that evolution made. Douglas Abrams writes this in The Book of Hope, a book he co-authored with Jane Goodall. While that is a rather despairing view, in the end, this book is a book of hope, though not without it issuing a dire warning: There are now over eight billion people on this planet and already we are using up nature’s limited resources faster than nature can replace them. In less than thirty years from now, there will probably be ten billion of us and if we carry on with business as usual, that could spell the end of the earth as we know it.
What do we need to do to turn this around? Goodall and Abrams suggest four things:
First, we must alleviate poverty. When people are hungry and desperate, their thoughts are not on the big picture, namely, the long-range future and the overall good of all humans and the planet. Understandably, their thoughts will be focused on survival and there will be no hesitation in cutting down the last tree to grow food or catching that last fish still alive. Desperation and concern for the big picture generally don’t go together.
Second, we must reduce the unsustainable lifestyles of the affluent. Mother earth is not a limitless resource and cannot continue indefinitely to sustain our present lifestyles. Moreover, this is true not just for the lavish lifestyles of the rich, but for all of us in most countries. We haven’t faced the fact that everything is limited and hence, we continue to buy in excess, consume in excess, use electrical energy in excess, waste food in excess, use gasoline in excess, and create garbage in excess. This cannot continue much longer. Already millions of desperate refugees on borders everywhere and dramatic shifts in climate most everywhere are telling us that we must make changes, and soon. Our planet is big, but it is finite, and it cannot sustain the limitless demands of unexamined consumption.
Third, we must eliminate corruption and economic self-interest. Without good government and honest leadership that focuses on the big picture rather than on its own self-interests, it is impossible to solve our enormous social, economic, and environmental problems. As a Barbara Kingsolver character quips in her recent novel, Unsheltered, the free-market has the same morality as a cancer cell. The entrepreneurial spirit that drives our economies serves us well in many ways and affords us comforts, freedoms, and opportunities that few in history have ever had. However, generally it is to the big picture what a cancer cell is to the body, a single cell growing on its own without connection to the overall health of the body. Like a cancer cell, the free-market (with some exceptions) does not take the big picture and the long-range health of the whole body into account.
Fourth, we must face up to the problems caused by an ever-growing population. For most of history, religious and moral voices have literally commanded people to have children. Increase and multiply. This was a sacred duty, owed to God and the human race. However, for a large part, this was predicated on fears that the human race, like any species, was perennially in danger of becoming extinct. Indeed, there was the constant threat that his might happen. Diseases, famines, war, high infant mortality, a short life span, and disasters of all kinds constantly threatened the human species. Humans, like every species, needed to ensure that the species went on. That made sense, in every way, until this present century. Now, with the looming prospect of ten billion people on this planet, the threat of extinction arises more from our sheer number than from some external threat. The planet can only accommodate a given number of us at one time. Granted there are soul issues, moral issues, and religious issues involved with any talk of limiting human growth. Nonetheless, however complex these issues, unexamined growth must now be examined.
Abrams is wrong. Creating the human race was not a tragic mistake that evolution made! Creating the human person was not an accidental and undesired product of blind evolution. God is the author of the process of evolution and God doesn’t make mistakes. God intended from the very beginning for us, human persons, to emerge from the process. Even more, God intended us to have a very special role in the process, namely, to be that place in the process where nature finally becomes conscious of itself and can then proactively help God shape the process towards a final peace and unity (the Kingdom of God) that will include all of us and the planet itself.
Humans weren’t a mistake, though admittedly much of our stewarding has been because we tend to think of the world as something we can strip mine in any way that benefits us rather than as a garden, with limited resources, which we have been asked to care for with love.