Monthly Archives: September 2016

Homo Sapiens – a species too clever for its own good, but too stupid to do anything about it

Two prominent scholars, one physicist and one biologist, were asked the compulsory question: do you think there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? The physicist said yes: given the unimaginable number of galaxies and solar systems, there must be organisms with cognitive capacities somewhere, from pure statistical reasons.

Faithful to his experience regarding the conditions of life the biologist was more reluctant to conventional wisdom on the matter. He assumed that life can be suspected to follow the laws of evolution everywhere it exists. And evolution doesn’t further higher organisms; the simple ones are the most sustainable. Looked at it that way humankind on earth may exist in a unique and extremely short period in astronomical terms, sufficiently unique that it not necessarily occurs elsewhere right now.

I apologize for this depressing opening, but I’m about to try a rough thesis:

Homo Sapiens is a species too clever for its own good, but too stupid to do anything about it.

We could begin with the most obvious risk of total extermination, nuclear weapons. Sharp human brains have figured out how to exploit the energy inherent in the bonds between elementary particles in the nucleus of atoms. Savvy technicians used this knowledge to construct a bomb with monstrously explosive power. Then these devices were handed over to politicians and generals, usually not famous for their intellectual brilliance.

Maybe the balance of terror and the threat of total destruction have hindered the Third World War (and the definitely final one) so far, but it has been a close call several times. And the attempts to diminish the risks haven’t been overly impressive.

On the contrary, the United States enhanced the danger unilaterally by abandoning the ABM treaty in 2001. Russia was then still a harmless wreck, posing no threat. And anti-ballistic missiles are offensive, first strike weapons, in that they block an enemy from retaliating to a nuclear attack. The stupid part of the human nature accepted this unprovoked increase in the risk of total extermination without much debate. Today the US has installed ABMs in Poland and Czech Republic, obviously aimed at Russia. We can’t do much more than keep our fingers crossed.

A less stochastic menace to human survival than nuclear weapons is climate change. We can now be sure that this threat can’t be eliminated, only somewhat mitigated if we put all our efforts into doing so. But do we?

Let’s look at my country, Sweden, considered to be progressive in a number of ways. If you ask an average Swede what s/he first of all does to save the environment the answer most probably is: “I separate my household waste into different fractions, which I deliver at specific waste stations”. Anyone who knows fundamentals about waste realizes that such efforts don’t save any environment, rather the opposite. It just saves the conscience of a misinformed population.

The next thing a house-owning Swede may do is to drill a couple of hundred meters into the ground to capture somewhat warmer water, install an expensive heat pump and thus reduce the amount of electricity needed for heating his house (what he probably not reflects upon is that earth’s heat mainly comes from nuclear reactions). His reduced electricity bill may please him, but considering what he has to pay for investment, maintenance and repair, the bottom line is not overwhelming. And the effect on global warming is thus insignificant.

These everyday environmentalists are usually friends of wind and solar power but opposed to nuclear power. The most enthusiastic among them buy “wind power” from their power company, install solar cell panels on their roofs and vote for the Green Party. The effects of their conviction is not just to promote symbolic actions, but in fact counter-productive for reducing global warming.

Take solar energy. Happy headlines announced that electricity output from solar cells in Sweden had doubled two years in a row. What the news didn’t reveal was that the total output now amounts to 0.04 percent of the country’s energy demand (that is: equals zero with an error margin). To spend large amounts on meaningless investments affects indirectly also the environment.

And then the dedicated and hoodwinked Swede goes out to buy a car which has some kind of “environment certificate”, satisfied that he has contributed to save the world.

The only energy source capable of really reducing carbon emissions on a global scale is nuclear energy. Countries like China, India and Russia take this seriously and install new nuclear facilities. Russia is an important producer of plants, and even developing countries show great interest in nuclear energy. Is this where the future is built, while pampered and deluded western ideologues are reading the map upside down?

What the climate issue – and thus human survival – really needs is for us to adopt an entirely new lifestyle, which most likely requires a completely different economic system. There will be no room for brainless consumerism generated by perverted profit-hunting. Instead we have to see genuine solidarity among entire populations.

In short: the intelligent side of our human nature has to take command over the emotional (stupid) side.