POST Online Media Lite Edition


The end of the human race?

Joana Rodeiro |
Professor Frank Fenner who helped to destroy smallpox predicts that humans will be extinct in the next one hundred years. Scary thought, but is the eminent professor right?

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Fenner, a professor of microbiology at the Australian National University in Canberra, said that our specie will not be able to survive the population explosion and resources consumption, and will become extinct, perhaps within a century. United Nations official figures from last year estimate the human population is 6.8 billion, and is predicted to pass seven billion next year.

Professor Fenner says that he believes that the situation is irreversible, and it is too late because the effects we have had on Earth since industrialization rivals any effects of ice ages or comet impacts. He said that climate change is only at its beginning, but is likely to be the cause of our extinction. "We’ll undergo the same fate as the people on Easter Island," he said. More people means fewer resources, and Fenner predicts "there will be a lot more wars over food."

Polynesian people settled on Easter Island, in what was then a pristine tropical island, around the middle of the first millennium AD. The population grew slowly at first and then exploded. As the population grew the forests were wiped out and all the tree animals became extinct, both with devastating consequences. After about 1600 the civilization began to collapse, and had virtually disappeared by the mid-19th century. Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond said the parallels between what happened on Easter Island and what is occurring today on the planet as a whole are "chillingly obvious."

While many scientists are also pessimistic, others are more optimistic. Among the latter is a colleague of Professor Fenner, retired professor Stephen Boyden, who said he still hopes awareness of the problems will rise and the required revolutionary changes will be made to achieve ecological sustainability: "While there's a glimmer of hope, it's worth working to solve the problem. We have the scientific knowledge to overcome the obstacles".

Professor Fenner is the author or co-author of 22 books and 290 scientific papers and book chapters and that makes his prediction scary. His announcement in 1980 to the World Health Assembly that smallpox had been eradicated is still seen as one of the World Health Organisation’s greatest achievements. He has won numerous awards including the ANZAC Peace Prize, the WHO Medal, and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science.

So, as crazy at it may seem, this prediction gives us a lot to think about us and our relationship to nature that surrounds us.

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