He's one of the best scientific minds Britain has produced in the postwar era. Lord Martin Rees (Baron Rees of Ludlow to the likes of you) has been Britain's Astronomer Royal for the past 20 years, former Master of Trinity College, Cambridge and past President of the Royal Society. In other words, he's got a lot of cred.
Responding to the announcement that Earth has now entered a new geological epoch, the man-made Anthropocene, Rees has penned a commentary in The Guardian. His message is that all is not lost but it's our choice.
Should we be optimistic or anxious? It’s surprising how little we can confidently predict – indeed, we can’t predict as far ahead as our forebears could. Our medieval ancestors thought the Earth was only a few thousand years old, and might only last another thousand. But they didn’t expect their children’s lives to be very different from theirs. They built cathedrals that wouldn’t be finished in their lifetime.
...Our time horizons, both past and future, now stretch billions of years, not just thousands. The sun will keep shining for about another 6bn years. But ironically we can’t forecast terrestrial trends with as much confidence as our ancestors could. Their lives and environment changed slowly from generation to generation. For us, technological change is so fast that scenarios quickly enter the realm of wild conjecture and science fiction.
...The darkest prognosis for the next millennium is that bio, cyber or environmental catastrophes could foreclose humanity’s immense potential, leaving a depleted biosphere. Darwinian selection would resume, perhaps leading, in some far-future geological era, to the re-emergence of intelligent beings. If this happens, or if there are aliens out there who actually visit and study the Earth, then, digging through the geological record (and applying archaeological techniques as well) they would uncover traces of a distinctive transient epoch, and ponder the all-too-brief flourishing of a species that failed in its stewardship of “spaceship Earth”.
But there is an optimistic option.
Human societies could navigate these threats, achieve a sustainable future, and inaugurate eras of post-human evolution even more marvellous than what’s led to us. The dawn of the Anthropocene epoch would then mark a one-off transformation from a natural world to one where humans jumpstart the transition to electronic (and potentially immortal) entities, that transcend our limitations and eventually spread their influence far beyond the Earth.
Even in a cosmic time-perspective, therefore, the 21st century is special. It marks our collective realisation that the Anthropocene has begun – and it’s a century when human actions will determine how long that epoch lasts.
So, what does all that mean? To me, he's saying, "no more drunk driving." We have to sober up, realize we alone are at the wheel, and start figuring out where we're going and how we'll get there. It's the Anthropocene. We made it. On a geological time scale we made it in the briefest of instants. That doesn't matter now. We're here. It's ours while it lasts and we get to decide how long what we have created will last or how quickly it will end.
The modes of organization that got us here have lost most of their utility and threaten our continuation. These modes - social, economic, geopolitical, industrial, environmental, the lot - need a major overhaul to reflect this new reality. We can't afford the "game of chance" mentality of the past. That's the worst bet of all.