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Humanity: a status report

By Aaron the Humanist

In this article, Aaron explores the contradiction between our stunning technological success as a species and our apparent 'couldn't care less' attitude as we undermine the long-term foundations of planetary health by prioritising our immediate economic needs. Are humanist values the answer?

Does the Earth have a chance?

The Earth is struggling. Global warming and other effects of human civilisation are taking their toll. There is a huge amount of evidence for this, yet there are still 'deniers'. The consequences for Homo sapiens and many other species could be dire, including extinction.

In much of the UK, winter snows are now a rarity, floods are more common, and the summer heat is more intense. Crops go to waste because of floods and excessive heat and periods of drought. Across the globe, we have almost daily reports of droughts, wildfires, drying-up reservoirs, and melting glaciers.

We know that one of the effects of global warming is sea level rises. But because the rate of increase is slow, and measured in centimetres and decades, most people ignore the problem. In any case, other effects of global warming may well kill us before coastal cities are engulfed by sea level rises. Many countries are already finding it harder to grow crops. Lands that were once fertile are becoming dry and barren. Water sources for irrigation are becoming scarce leading to conflicts over rivers such as the Nile. Even in the UK, we experience water shortages during the summer and widespread crop failures. The crisis is already upon us.

The United Kingdom made out of grass - Bing AI image creator

How do we fix the UK?

Yet it seems that, as long as food and water continue to appear from somewhere, most of my fellow Brits don't prioritise caring about the planet because they have other things occupying their minds, such as paying the rent or mortgage, food price inflation, energy prices, water bills and so on. Our public services and infrastructure are deteriorating after fifteen years of austerity, Brexit, Covid, and support for Ukraine.

With the national debt now about 100% of GDP and interest payments eating away at annual government spending, we could do with another decade of austerity to catch up and stabilize our public finances. But our crumbling UK can't wait. All of our public services are struggling now. So what can we do? Is there a way out? Can we fix the UK? Can anyone offer any hope?

Most of my fellow Brits do not seem to care about the planet, as long as goods and services come from somewhere.

Does humanity care?

If an international poll were conducted, asking everyone whether they prioritize having a good life now or putting the planet first, I'm pretty sure the planet would lose out. You could say we have already conducted this poll. Most countries have Green parties which place planetary survival above their countries' economic success. But every year, economic interests are put first. If this is the selfish attitude of an apathetic species, are we even worth protecting? Should we just accept that we are the last few generations and let the planet close down, as it struggles to provide for us beyond 2050?

Planetary darts - are we off target? AI image.

Why we are off-target

The news cycle is often dominated by trivial stories such as partygate and the sexual peccadillos of TV presenters. Too many of us obsess over life’s truly minor issues and miss the real targets altogether. How do we protect the planet? How do we fix a crumbling nation? How do we raise public morale? How do we stop children from knifing each other? Will the UK ever elect a leader that the entire nation can follow? Will AI eventually take over from failing humanity?

The paradox is that in many ways, life on Earth for Homo sapiens is better now than at any time in history. Most of us are better fed, better clothed, better educated, with better health care and longer lifespans. We can communicate with each other instantaneously across the globe at almost zero cost. We can access vast amounts of human knowledge on a smartphone. We can digitally create, scientifically develop, advance engineer, and biologically fix better than ever before. We can do all of this and more. But the planetary impacts of our success are now obvious and the number of people the planet is trying to support is huge.

In the past hundred years we have advanced faster than in the previous thousand, and yet we still have wars, terrorism, mass shootings, knife crime, and so on. In many of our ordinary human interactions, there also seems to have been a deterioration in courtesy, understanding, consideration, and respect.

Humanist values are the driving force of humanism

I discovered humanism as a progression from atheism. For the first few years of being a humanist, the absence of a god was foremost in my mind. But slowly, I have come to understand that values are the driving force of humanism. I now feel, more strongly than ever, that the values and ethics that have been largely lost in the wider society are perhaps the strongest foundation we have to build on.

No doubt morals and ethics are taught in most schools, and a whole range of behaviours such as bullying, name-calling, provocation, prejudice, spite, and cruelty are condemned. And yet we tolerate politicians engaging in name-calling, bullying, tribal antagonism, and just plain nastiness. Of course, when we engage in political debate, we can disagree about policy, but we should attack ideas and actions, rather than the person or blaming an entire political party. We need to break away from the mindset of 'them' and 'us' and focus instead on finding solutions and offering a better way forward. Members of Parliament do, I believe, stand for office for the right reasons. No amount of money, position, or power could be worth the constant abuse, extreme scrutiny, media coverage, and invasion of personal life that comes with public office. Yet, once in office, they so often disappoint and fail to deliver. What can be done about this?

Humanists are far from perfect, of course, but we can strive to uphold a certain level of decency. We can catch ourselves when we stray off the path and we can admit, and learn from, our mistakes. Humanists may not be able to fix the planet or pay off the national debt. We may not be able to protect all of humanity, grow enough food, or provide sufficient water to drink. But we can challenge each other to do more and to live up to humanist ideals. Humanists could, if we really wanted to, become inspiring role models for others to follow.

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Sep 09, 2023

I share your concerns, there are plenty of reasons to be worried, but there is also plenty of opportunity for change and reasons to be positive. Yes, the UK can be fixed; plenty of opportunity and not just for the benefit of UK Citizens but as a showcase for the rest of the world.

The first step would be to recognise that the government does not have to run the country like it is UK inc. It is not necessary and sometimes not even desirable to balance the books like a household budget, a national debt is not always a bad thing. There have been periods of UK history where the national debt in real terms has been much higher,…

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