February 1st, 2002

The New Renaissance

Daniel Quinn

Something extraordinary is going to happen in your lifetime. I’m talking about something much more extraordinary than has happened in MY lifetime, which has included the birth of television, the splitting of the atom, and visits to the moon. I mean something REALLY extraordinary.

During your lifetime, the people of our culture are going to figure out how to live sustainably on this planet–or they’re not. Either way, it’s certainly going to be extraordinary. If they figure out how to live sustainably here, then humanity will be able to see something it can’t see right now: a future that extends into the indefinite future. If they don’t figure this out, then I’m afraid the human race is going to take its place among the species that we’re driving into extinction here every day–as many as 200–every day.

As people like to say nowadays, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. The people who keep track of these things and make it their business to predict such things agree that the human population is going to increase by 50% by the middle of the century. It isn’t just the doom-sayers who say this. This is the conservative and generally agreed-upon estimate. Unfortunately, most of the people who make this estimate seem to have the idea that this is workable and okay.

Here’s why it isn’t.

It’s obvious that it costs a lot of money and energy to produce all the food we need to maintain our population at six billion. But there is an additional, hidden cost that has to be counted in life forms. Put plainly, in order to maintain the biomass that is tied up in the six billion of us, we have to gobble up 200 species a day–in addition to all the food we produce in the ordinary way. We need the biomass of those 200 species to maintain this biomass, the biomass that is in us. And when we’ve gobbled up those species, they’re gone–extinct. Vanished forever.

In other words, maintaining a population of six billion humans costs the world 200 species a day. If this were something that was going to stop next week or next month, that would be okay. But the unfortunate fact is that it’s not. It’s something that’s going to go on happening every day, day after day after day–and that’s what makes it unsustainable, by definition. That kind of cataclysmic destruction cannot be sustained.

Now, you probably think I’m trying to depress you here, but, believe me, that’s not my intention at all.

The extraordinary thing that is going to happen in your lifetime is not that the human race is going to become extinct. The extraordinary thing that’s going to happen in your lifetime is that a great second renaissance is going to occur. A great and astounding renaissance.

Nothing less than that is going to save us.

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