The Human Race Keeps Trying to Make Itself Extinct


February 09, 2022

'Round and 'round it goes; where it stops, nobody knows.
Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour

I believe in science. I do my best to understand and apply it. Sadly, there is no credible science of human, societal, or political behavior. With luck, these can sometimes be useful art forms.

At some point, just as there was none at its beginning, there will no longer be human life on planet Earth. The only questions are when and how, and whether humans will bring extinction upon themselves or whether it will be caused by forces beyond their control. During my lifetime, humankind has faced a trilogy of existential threats with no good end in sight.

The potential of nuclear human extinction dates from about 1945 when the first and second atomic bombs were used by the United States to end World War II. To their laudable individual and group credit (fingers crossed), no nation has since directly used nuclear explosives as a tool of warfare. But the threat is omnipresent. I am heartened by the January 3, 2022, pledge by "The Big 5" to not wage nuclear war.

The recognition of manmade global climate change dates from the 1980s. Warming has continued to grow as a threat despite widespread scientific documentation of its severity and devastating outcomes if unchecked by massive changes in human societal behavior. Our global political processes have yet to be successfully mobilized to even pause, much less reverse, this threat.

And then we have this SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It could have been, and still could be, any number of infectious agents that brings the world to its collective knees. But this one, COVID-19, is a particularly voracious and devious evolutionary wonder for which humankind so far is no match.

Our wondrous technical science may eventually win out. But the frailties of human knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, and the resulting lame social and political entities that drive mass decision-making, are so unreliable and subject to nefarious manipulation as to cast real doubt on a favorable ultimate outcome.

At the start of year 3 of this pandemic, with so many reactionary governments in the throes of "freedom über alles," a large portion of humankind is left to an every-man-(woman, child) for-himself mode. Who survives will depend upon wealth, education, and individual protective actions, such as vaccination, isolation, and masking, much to the harm of "the masses" and the valiant but likely overmatched healthcare workforce. Public health and prevention thinking have been undermined by many. Those old human traits of ignorance, hypocrisy, and greed continue to render many humans easy targets for political and economic exploitation.

The new film Don't Look Up viciously satirizes our culture and its inability to separate what really matters (happy, healthy human life) from all the self-destructive drivel. Given the ingenious capacity of this coronavirus to mutate to its advantage, it is possible that not even Ilan Bezoar (or some other futuristic oligarch) will be able to build a spaceship for the trillionaires and their sycophants sufficient to escape this evolving world tragedy. Where is famed germaphobe Howard Hughes when we need him most?

That's my opinion. I'm Dr George Lundberg, at large for Medscape.

George Lundberg, MD, is contributing editor at Cancer Commons, president of the Lundberg Institute, executive advisor at Cureus, and a clinical professor of pathology at Northwestern University. Previously, he served as editor-in-chief of JAMA (including 10 specialty journals), American Medical News, and Medscape.

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