A Time of Generational Change and World Uncertainty

By Donald A. Collins | 25 May 2023
Church and State

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The excess growth of homo sapiens, up four times in my 92-year lifetime, raises questions about our survival which has come from such amazing cancer like economic growth!

The vast improvement in the quality of human life over the 200 plus years of the world’s industrial revolution has also created the profligate use of our fragile orb’s limited resources.

For our May 2023 event, the Chair of Yale’s Class of 1953’s 70th Reunion, Doctor Richard Ya Deau, asked me to comment on the above conundrum as it relates to the USA status and future.

A reduced version of my remarks to survivors in my Class of 1953 appears here entitled “A time of generational change and world uncertainty.”

(Credit: Top shows the last 800,000 years changes in Antarctic air temperatures and atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Bottom shows the last 100,000 years temperature change, as measured in Greenland with Holocene circled. From Climate Climate Change: A Risk Assesment)

Our so-called Silent Generation (sandwiched between the Lost and Greatest Generations) and the world’s homo sapiens have seen perhaps the most profound changes in our world since our planet’s creation billions of years ago.

Of course, us modern humans, homo sapiens, are not even a pimple on the body of our 4.5-billion-year planetary history. Carl Sagan said we measure with that long history as just a few seconds, but it is nothing short of amazing in what humans have accomplished in that history’s wink of the eye.

When I went to Yale college in 1949, I took my Royal typewriter which proved very useful. Now 70 years later I think most of my brain is in my cell phone.

We should all be grateful for having a democracy that produced conditions that fostered advances in human knowledge and in the computer chip technology invented by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Gordon Moore, and Jack Kilby which changed our world.

But some experts worry that most high tech is unregulated and in need of rules. While not an avid and able user I have tried with some success writing with AI on Chat-GPT.

Perhaps more urgent: in just our 92 years, we evolved from what famed nature photographer and environmentalist Sir David Attenborough called our Garden of Eden, the Holocene, the geological epoch which had been going for 11,700 years into what scientists now call the Anthropocene, a new epoch in which humans have inflicted significant impact on Earth’s ecosystems, not just climate change, initiating the possibility of a 6th Extinction that is now well started.

We’ve all heard often of the 6th Extinction but many sadly don’t believe it is a fact! One urgent issue of concern to most scientists is the fact that Earth now has 8 billion of us homo sapiens, up 4 times from 2 billion in our lifetimes and projected to add 2 or 3 billion more by 2100.

We humans now hugely affect our Earth with presently inadequate responses from the major polluters of which we are number one. Most credible experts now predict the obvious fact that present overuse of limited resources on our finite planet is not sustainable, creating conditions which as early as this century could impact our grandchildren.

The most comprehensive film on the status of our plundered planet’s environment can be viewed on You Tube under the title “Ice on Fire”. The film dramatically chronicles that in the 250 years of the Industrial Age we have dumped 1.4 trillion tons of carbon into our atmosphere, most of it spewed out in our lifetimes.

You can read about this film here.

You can read here an excellent summary about the prior 5 major mass extinctions.

Longevity has zoomed for many people around the world. Of our 1953 graduates, just under 400 of our starting 1949 freshman of about 1250 are still alive.

We had no women in our 1953 class, but we did have one African American male.

The absence of women kept some of us busily communicating to colleges such as Smith, Wellesley, and Conn College for Women now Connecticut College since it started enrolling men in 1969.

30 years after we graduated in 1983, a female Yale graduate named Elizabeth Kolbert, spent 4 years taking literature courses, then on a Fulbright went to Germany and got a job as a stringer for the NY Times, then worked as a columnist at the Times until 1999. She then went to the New Yorker and wrote many respected articles. In 2014 wrote a book entitled “The 6th Extinction” for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2015. Her reviewers included Al Gore and all her reviews were most favorable as to her facts and her writing style.

Let me quote briefly from the dust jacket about her subject.

“OVER THE LAST HAFT BILLION YEARS there have been 5 major mass extinctions. Scientists are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

She draws on the work of scores of researchers in a half dozen disciplines.

Kolbert shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.”

She went to multiple sometimes distant locations on the ground and got direct evidence from the researchers’ scientific evidence firsthand.

Since her book was published in 2014 much more evidence has been put forward such as that Ice on Fire documentary I mentioned.

The NY Times reported on April 20th that our wanton environmental behavior of dumping plastic in our oceans has been recycled into us. Our way of life is poisoning us ironically with personal payback.

The 4/20/23 NY Times article says in “Our Way of Life Is Poisoning Us: There is plastic in our bodies”: “it’s in our lungs and in our bowels and in the blood that pulses through us. We can’t see it, and we can’t feel it, but it is there. It is there in the water we drink and the food we eat, and even in the air that we breathe. We don’t know, yet, what it’s doing to us, because we have only quite recently become aware of its presence; but since we have learned of it, it has become a source of profound and multifarious cultural anxiety.”

We are SuperAgers about longevity, cognitive health. Like Normand Lear now over 100 and Betty White proved that with a healthy lifestyle, social connections, and resilience, we all here have lowered our risks of cognitive decline.

Richard Ya Deau suggested I comment on our democracy which remains under great stress.

In 1791 our founding fathers —let me quote President Lincoln—brought forth on this continent a new nation testing whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated could long endure. I became very scared about that from the events of January 6, 2021.

We are in my view now in a new Civil War with new tests to confront and solve.

We are told by people like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and many of his successors that the original Constitution is sacred and must be adhered to at all costs. Of course, we have amended it 27 times and should be ready to do so again.

For example, our treasured 2nd Amendment was demanded by our Southern founding fathers who were slave owners to keep their slaves uneducated. Four of our first 5 Presidents were Southern slave owners, but all including John Adams were NOT religious.

Now gun terrorism gets largely unaddressed by our GOP legislators by those who fear alienating the MAGA folks who want no changes in gun laws and are fearful of replacement by minorities who they want to keep from voting. Does GOP now mean Guns Over People?

The George Floyd murder awakened many Americans to that sustained racism which has festered too long. MAGA whites believe in ideologies like Critical Race Theory and replacement. They also press to make us become a Christian nationalist nation!

I am wondering how many humans on the planets floating around Alpha Centauri, our nearest star which is only 4.2 light years away are celebrating Easter or Ramadan this year? That marvelous James Webb telescope may not tell us.

Our treasured republic, which was brilliant for its innovations for freedom in 1791, is sorely in need of updating.

We have fallen dangerously into patterns of governance which have led to the alienation of a substantial number of our citizens, many of whom are likely confused as to why they got so upset or angry.

Particularly women. The Equal Rights Amendment long in consideration still unapproved, while at the same time men in our governments legislate attacks on women’s uteruses. Should we ban males from the use of Viagra?

Pat Schroeder a Coloradan who served 11 terms in the U.S. House without ever chairing a major House committee was asked by a male colleague how she could raise her children and still serve in Congress. “Well,”, she replied, “I have a brain and a uterus and have used them both”! She died earlier this year at 82.

Americans may not be able to right our listing ship at the ballot box, given the present divisive state of our democracy.

We all are at the point where our growth mania dominates the outlooks of all businesses and almost every other activity. How to bridle that wild horse? No quick way I can think of.

Second, there is good old human greed. Recall how the cigarette companies claimed for years smoking didn’t cause cancer? Turns out the oil companies knew by the 1970’s that global warming was certain with the level of emissions they were causing.

As we seek enough alternative sources of energy to serve our bloated populations, the options of nuclear, wind and solar are being developed. But will they come online fast enough?

An immigrant Hungarian scientist and inventor Maria Telkes (1900 -1995) who lived much of her life in the U.S. was one of the first solar pioneers among men and women. Her solar thermal storage system invention earned her the nickname “Sun Queen.” This invention was the first solar-powered heating system for residential use. In addition, she is also known for her creation of the solar distiller.

But she was ignored, and the falsely cheap power of the oil companies prevailed. And the importuning of the UN and so many others has not so far spurred adequate actions.

NOVA’s April 23rd documentary entitled Chasing Carbon Zero hosted by Miles O’Brian highlighted exciting ways to reduce the deadly assault of fossil fuels on our planet.

And many other energy innovations are available.

How about Tesla’s EV cars and others EV growth cutting fossil fuel emissions? How much irreparable damage is before those innovations are functioning?

How about green hydrogen? Fossil-fuel executives are following the money into green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water using machines called electrolyzers that run on renewable power. Its ability to carry green electricity where it is needed, and power fuel cells has made it a dream of clean-energy advocates for decades and drawn interest from the fossil-fuel industry.

Greta Thunberg got us going in the right direction. And as we are over ingesting the largely on a comparative bad news, we get daily in our media is as bad for your health as mammal meat, particularly since a lot isn’t true. But I am impressed with much of the quality of reporting which, unlike claimed Fake News, remains a bulwark of our democracy.

Could these promising solutions be implemented? As I said earlier it’s a race against time as the continuing growth of human population now 8 billion up from 2 billion in 90 years and headed for 11 billion by 2100, makes many scientists pessimistic about avoiding massive global devastation.

In 1965 when our population was a more sustainable 3.3 billion, we could have acted as many suggested to help women not have unintended pregnancies since we had then and have now the pill and many non-abortion methods which need better distribution.

In the numerous expressed concerns about our environment, one doesn’t often hear leaders acknowledge the fact that population growth was and is the main culprit in global problems.

But those against women’s reproductive rights prevailed too well as they have now. Remember King Henry VIII got to kill wives without punishment. Now in our democracy as the result of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to kill Roe Casey. Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump made it possible for the far-right Catholic controlled Supreme Court to kill women. Banning abortion only bans safe abortions.

The gerrymandering of voting districts in our states has allowed both parties often to gain unbeatable governing majorities making RED and Blues states and accelerating our divides. These elected officials can’t be easily unseated and forecloses a substantial number of voters particularly minorities from challenging unfair or oppressive laws. This Gerrymandering practice goes back to the earliest days of the republic but now has solidified into a bi-patrician atrophy which allows too many of its beneficiaries—the people we have elected to serve us, unbridled access to our tax money which flows to them uninterruptedly. Why do you think so many GOP House members never stood up to Trump?

Second, the gap between super rich and those extremely poor with so many living paycheck to paycheck citizens has never been greater, but the tax code favors the wealthy and the IRS has been underfunded. You all know why owning a Major league baseball team is so lucrative. Our DC NFL team is now being sold for $6 billion.

Can we fix these obvious imperfections? Only if we can motivate more new and old voters, especially our young, and our minorities to political activism.

As we 92-year-olds age in place, we also may have changed in our attitudes on matters of religion, sexuality, and many other subjects since 1953.

How many of us belong to a so-called Organized Religion? Fewer and fewer.

What news sources do you find most credible?

Has your political party changed over time?

Are you disgusted with a major political party?

Are you disgusted with both parties?

Have you become an almost vegetarian eschewing most mammal meat?

Is Earth on a path to major human extinction?

Do you favor full reproductive choices for women?

As our Class of 1953 days dwindle down to a precious few, as in the September Song’s lyrics by Maxwell Anderson based on music by Kurt Weill, I am especially grateful and consoled to have evolved over my long fortunate life to now embrace my own set of beliefs some of them I admit were influenced by the late George Carlin.

After reciting such mournful facts, I would add that no one can know the future, but the resiliency of América shouldn’t be underrated. There are major innovations that the Ice on Fire documentary explains to save ourselves if we urgently pursue them and time permits their emergence.

While nations, including the USA, the world’s major polluter and other large nations have not met promised UN COP climate goals, many laudable private and governmental efforts are underway. In my opinion the main engine of recovery if it occurs will be led by the world’s private sector.

My personal list of adverse factors which likely will inhibit a partial planetary recovery are these four.

Manic embrace of growth in all aspects of human endeavors!

Greed dominates all human pursuits!

The befuddling belief in gods which sometimes allows religious zealots to control secular decisions and promote worldwide descension!

And finally, the fact of racism which engenders the hatred that stymies cooperation and peaceful coexistence.

My abbreviated capital letter list: GGRR or Growth, Greed, Religion, and Racism!

Breaking away from these behaviors will be mandatory to save ourselves.

The jury is out but the time to act is short!

As noted, before, in measuring the world’s 4.5-billion-year history we often egotistical homo sapiens aren’t even a pimple on our long history’s ass!

Since we graduated, our world has made profound advances to give us a better understanding of the universe in which we live, and the earth’s minuscule part of that universe as now so dramatically revealed by the newly launched James Webb telescope.

Einstein had a plausible way to acknowledge a religious belief. In his famous 1954 God letter he said, “The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

He was not an atheist but believed in “the religious science of the cosmos” meaning as we learned more, we could embrace the uncertainty with respect without embracing the fantasies of religion from man made believers.

Considering my own pending exit, I found comforting perspective in a Netflix documentary called “A trip to Infinity” which reminds us of our tiny time in the history of the universe and assures us that our molecules will never die—really a better belief than the life after death fantasy of religions—we can just float forever in the infinite which may not be infinite but certainly not something for us to worry about. Every lucky day we are here can thus be savored better.

Cancerous growth can’t get me there, but it surely can kill life on earth.

Thank you for attending.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC, has spent over 50 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of “From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013”, “Trump Becoming Macbeth: Will our democracy survive?”, “We Humans Overwhelm Our Earth: 11 or 2 Billion by 2100?”, “What Can Be Done Now to Save Habitable Life on Planet Earth?”, “Vote”, “Can Homo Sapiens Survive?”, “Will Choice and Democracy Win?”, “Can Our U.S. Survive 8 Plus Billion of Us” and “Economic Growth: A Cancer on all Earthly Life”.

Elizabeth Kolbert: How the 6th extinction threatens humans

Earth currently experiencing a sixth mass extinction, according to scientists | 60 Minutes

Beyond Growth opening plenary – Limits to Growth: where do we stand and where do we go from here?

A Life on Our Planet David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough on overpopulation

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