Guest columnist Win Lavallee: Horsemen of the apocalypse 

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Published: 9/29/2022 11:54:23 PM

Throughout human history there have been numerous warnings of human civilizations collapsing. Today, too many of us often think that the future health of planet Earth is completely under our control and when challenges arise, we can just tweak our behavior and technology and ride them out. But Cassandras keep rising up with scary predictions. Elements of dire trouble probably cursed even primitive societies. And nearly every religion has given similar warnings (portions of Ezekiel — the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible; tribulations noted in the Quran of Islam; versions of trouble cited in Christian message of the Last Judgment or Doomsday).

In 1498, the artist Albrecht Durer created a lasting vision of apocalypse when he depicted four horsemen riding steeds of different colors. Famine was signified as riding a black horse; War riding a red horse; Conquest riding a white horse and Death riding a pale horse. Other artists since then have put brush to canvass with similar themes and numerous writers and scientists have echoed the warnings in an apocalypse theme.

The Englishman, Thomas Malthus, formulated the Malthusian Doctrine in the late 1700s. He predicted that “the fate of man will be persistent war, famine, pestilence, misery and vice.” Human populations may be on track to exceed the limits of subsistence and need to practice “moral restraint.”

Charles Elton, a respected ecologist of the 1920s, cited the complexity of life’s survival on planet Earth and the importance of assuring mutual support among species.

In 2017, Professor Sean Carroll proposed a doctrine called Serengeti Rules as a likely way forward for perpetuation of life on earth. He emphasizes the need for self-regulation in nature and the preservation of keystone species (those having long-term influence on planet health) to assure homeostasis, a steady state of numbers and population levels of creatures. His warning is that we must take the pressure off all creatures, not just ourselves, if we are to survive an apocalypse.

Our understanding is growing of how to promote nature’s ability to heal itself through natural regeneration. Although subject to considerable criticism, the English scientist, James Lovelock, proposed the Gaia hypothesis suggesting that all living things on planet Earth mutually support life and promote the self-healing process.

Unfortunately, these recent understandings seem to have little effect on the idea that a fifth horseman, Human Ignorance, is now galloping along with the others and promoting planet destruction. The top threat according to the World Health Organization is climate change that could easily lead to a human population crash and mass extinction of many if not most other living creatures. This threat is composed of a virtual army of unprincipled cavalry charging head-on into possible disaster. Repeated scientific evidence shows that ecosystem decay and destruction is clearly becoming rampant.

The accumulation of money and power by human societies and political entities is fueling the charge. Among its proponents are businesses that appear blind to anything but making money by increasing their market share and bottom lines. Politicians abound who are spineless and have become politically dependent on money from wealthy sponsors, bent only on winning their future elections. Today, many of these so-called leaders will subvert just about any truth to get their way. A number of modern political figures, some unknown and others well-known, appear to be riding mangy, flea-bitten jackasses, trying to keep up with the pack by fomenting lies and dissention. Money = power and power = money is today’s battle cry!

Citizens who do little to stem these attacks on order and decency yet remain silent are also culpable. The result has given us a country divided into angry partisanship and an absence of cooperative efforts towards solutions that may stabilize planet health and eventual survival.

The clock is running down! Isn’t it about time to get off our high horse?

And what about our children? They will be inheritors of a degraded environment. Despite valiant efforts by some teachers and concerned parents, little is being done to slow coming generations from joining the galloping mob. Are enough of us hearing the pleas of Greta Thunberg? – Listen to the scientists, listen to the scientists.”

Almost daily, new evidence emerges of environmental degradation (global warming, rising seas, loss of fresh water through pollution and drought, reduction of viable farmland and limited natural resources).

In response to such repeated warnings, is it any wonder that moods of anxiety and negativity among youngsters are on the rise? Indeed, a just and healthy democratic future for them seems limited, especially when influenced by leaders only looking for instant gratification. Where are the mentors for the rising generations who will assure healthy planet stewardship?

It will take lots of energy and willpower to claw back a sensible plan for future survival. But to continue to mess with Mother Nature and ride that sordid and greedy handbasket into hell solves nothing.

A Greek proverb seems as appropriate for today as it did in ancient times — “A society is great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.”

More recently, the indigenous Chief Seattle in northwest Washington, suggested a way of life we might all espouse — “We humans do not inherit the earth. We borrow it from our children.”

Win Lavallee lives in South Hadley.
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