We’re going to become extinct. Whatever we do now is too late.”—Frank Fenner
These words belong to Professor Frank J. Fenner, an eminent Australian scientist who helped wipe out smallpox. In an interview with The Australian, just a few months before his death, Fenner expressed his fears regarding the future of the human species.
As an emeritus professor in microbiology at the Australian National University, he was considered an authority on extinction. After all, he played a key role in eradicating smallpox by erasing the variola virus from the book of life.
Fenner was part of a worldwide group of scholars who believe humanity’s fall began right around the time humans began to rise: during the Anthropocene. This proposed chronological term refers to a period that is characterized by mankind’s significant impact on the environment.
For the past 10,000 years, humans have been changing the face of the earth, never more rapidly than in the two centuries that have elapsed since the Industrial Revolution. The climatic effects of industrialization rival that of any comet impact or ice age in both severity and rapid onset.
Fenner believed climate change was in its early stages but feared it will ultimately lead to our own extinction. The explosion of the global population, coupled with mankind’s “unbridled consumption” would assume the role of center pieces in a global domino effect that will continue long after we are gone. That’s what happens when you show sustainability the middle finger.
Professor Fenner said that planet Earth would be unable to provide sustenance for our demanding way of life. He likened our situation to that of the people on Easter Island. An explosive population growth ultimately leads to fewer resources. Shortage leads to war, war leads to famine.
When the Polynesians settled into Easter Island, it was a tropical paradise. An abundance of resources meant the population could rapidly grow, but in a short period of time, this growth had gotten out of hand. Forests were cut, animals disappeared and resources dwindled. By the 19th century, their civilization had virtually disappeared. Does the same fate await all of us?
Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years,” Prof. Fenner said. “A lot of other animals will, too. It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.
Mitigation will slow things down a bit, but there are too many people here already.”
During his career, Fenner authored or co-authored 22 books and almost 300 scientific papers. Unfortunately for us, he knew what he was saying. So what will we do then?
Accept his prophetic words as irrevocable or start taking a stand?