Tuesday, December 19, 2017

When do we call "peak civilization"?



The second notice of the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity has just been published (see: https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/doi/10.1093/biosci/bix125/4605229#supplementary-data).

It has a good discussion of population as an underlying driver [Eileen Crist, co-author of an article in Science called "The interaction of human population, food production, and biodiversity protection" (see http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6335/260) is a co-author] , but health is not mentioned. It has a long wish list of actions and concludes “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.” 

I wonder to what extent these concerns are shared outside the affluent West? (eg Saudi Arabia? I once met a Saudi scientist who literally had not heard of “climate change”. At least that is what he said.)

With the air of cities of northern India described as “gas chambers”, with population pressure and insufficient resources driving a flight to Europe from many parts of the Sahel and with four distinct famines is it perhaps time to recognise that the retreat from peak civilisation is well underway; the question is, how steep will this retreat become?

And, where is health in this debate? Where are the universities? In Australia, I think, universities have largely failed .. yet, what else could they have done? Well, the NHMRC could have been less asleep, it would have made some difference. The Planetary Health platform at the University of Sydney may be the exception.

It may be time to call peak civilization, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are headed the way of the Mayans or the Sumerians. It could just be a gradual descent. Let us hope President Trump's advisers remain sane.