Aided by science and science-based technology, modern humanity has achieved great material success. But scientific findings also suggest that in pursuit of this achievement human society may inadvertently be putting its future at risk. In remaking the earthly environment, modern society has failed to take into account the full significance of resulting changes in the circumstances of life on earth. Assumptions and behaviors that have served humanity for centuries may no longer be appropriate. The capabilities that have enabled modern humanity to attain present levels of civilization may be insufficient to overcome the risks incidental to this achievement. Accelerating advances in science and technology have enabled humans to reshape the world more rapidly than has growth in understanding of the risks as well as the benefits of these advances.
Having abandoned reciprocity with the natural world in pursuit of command over it, modern civilization has broken an ancient covenant with nature. For centuries humans lived within the parameters of nature, benefiting from its beneficence, adapting to its rhythms, and coping with its adversities. Still interfaced with the natural world, modern humanity lives in an invented environment which appears to be developing more rapidly than have human bio-adaptive capabilities. In consequence there has been a growth of stress on the human mind and body, and on traditional assumptions and behaviors.
Although humans have created the artificial environments called “civilization,” their survival is contingent upon living within the natural system from which they evolved. A critical challenge to humanity is to learn how to live in this natural-artificial hybrid environment which it has undertaken to manage.
We cannot foresee how far or for how long humans will (or perhaps can) adapt their bio-psychological endowment to the contrived environment of human invention. Yet humans must accommodate to those forces of nature which cannot be managed beyond managing ourselves.1 Those who formulate policy should recognize that if humans pit themselves against the fundamental dynamics of cosmic nature, they are certain to lose. To the extent that natural systems and processes are adequately understood, humans may continue to “manage” nature (with nature’s cooperation). But Francis Bacon’s dictum continues to hold: “Nature to be commanded must first be obeyed.” Without a strong and governing principle of limits built into public policy, the ingenuity of humans may impel them toward their own demise. Limits hold true for all life-forms and will ultimately constrain the direction of human development. If the present widespread commitment to a sustainable future is realistic, people and policy makers must act upon the axiom that unfettered growth and unrestrained expansion in a finite system leads toward a condition of cul-de-sac which, if irreversible, could result in destruction. 1
There is sufficient evidence of serious risk in the present trend of human society to warrant collective inquiry into its causes, its probable consequences, and possible countervailing strategies. If we fully recognized our relative risks and probabilities, as well as our beneficial possibilities, then perhaps we could redirect our collective efforts with greater assurance toward a more sustainable preferred future. It might be argued that war and civil disorder are presently the greatest threats to the human future. One need not minimize their dangers to also recognize that attrition of the Earth’s biosphere and life support systems could continue unobtrusively under conditions of peace until a point at which environmental disintegration led to societal disintegration.
Recent practical examples are the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq where mass massacre of innocent civilian men, women and children including infants was conducted and thousands of them have been maimed by the champions of the modern civilization and self proclaimed saviours of humanity.