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  • The Fifth Great Ape

  • One of the great revelations of the age of space exploration

  • is the image of the earth, finite and lonely, somehow vulnerable

  • bearing the entire human species through the oceans of space and time.

  • Here we are on a planet which is about five thousand million years old,

  • the sun around which it goes is not much older

  • it is part of a galaxy which is perhaps ten or twelve thousand million years old

  • which is one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of millions of other galaxies...

  • Humans have been on this planet for something like a million years

  • and for the vast bulk of that time things changed extremely slowly.

  • The population increased very slowly,

  • our technology increased and improved by very slow steps

  • and just recently we had a huge increase.

  • It's what's called an exponential,

  • it's flat for a long time and then... boom!

  • it's an increase in population,

  • increase in technology, increase in pollution

  • increase in our powers to disturb the environment

  • to change the planetary environment

  • but we're the same old human beings as we were a thousand years ago

  • or a hundred thousand years ago,

  • not much has changed with us

  • and so it's very hard for us to catch on

  • that there's a new situation, and we have to adapt to it.

  • On the other hand, that's one thing we humans are good at...

  • adapting, figuring out

  • We're smart. That's our principal advantage over all the other species

  • I mean we're not faster, stronger, better diggers,

  • we don't fly all by ourselves.

  • What we do is figure out and build because of our hands.

  • The ancient myth makers knew

  • we're children equally of the earth and the sky

  • in our tenure on this planet we've accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage...

  • propensities for aggression and ritual,

  • submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders

  • all of which puts our survival in some doubt.

  • But we've also acquired compassion for others,

  • love for our children,

  • a desire to learn from history and experience

  • and a great soaring passionate intelligence.

  • The clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity.

  • Our ability, to understand things instantly

  • so called common sense

  • derives from a certain range of size and speed and duration

  • that are appropriate for human existence.

  • We know about things from a tenth of a millimetre

  • to a few kilometres

  • from a fraction of a second to a lifetime

  • and so on.

  • So when we are dealing with matters of quantum physics

  • where particles are the size of 10^-13th centimetres

  • or in cosmology where we are talking about

  • ten billion light years or more,

  • it is very reasonable that our intuition

  • is not adequate to the task.

  • Fundamental changes in society are sometimes labelled impractical or contrary to human nature,

  • as if there were only one human nature

  • but fundamental changes can clearly be made

  • we're surrounded by them

  • in the last two centuries abject slavery,

  • which was with us for thousands of years,

  • has almost entirely been eliminated

  • in a stirring worldwide revolution.

  • Women, systematically mistreated for millennia

  • are gradually gaining the political and economic power

  • traditionally denied to them.

  • and some wars of aggression have recently been stopped

  • or curtailed, because of a revulsion

  • felt by the people in the aggressor nations.

  • If a five or six year old asks why the moon is round or why grass is green

  • the usual adult answer, at least in my experience

  • is to discourage the child.

  • say 'what shape did you expect the moon to be, square?'

  • or 'what colour did you expect the grass to be, blue?'

  • instead of saying that 'those are interesting questions, lets try to find out the answer'

  • or maybe nobody knows the answer

  • and when you grow up you'll be able to discover the answer.

  • It would be very healthy for the human species if there were

  • less discouragement and more scientists.

  • It's not that pseudo-science and superstition

  • and new age so-called beliefs and fundamentalist zealotary are something new

  • they've been with us for as long as we've been human

  • but we live in an age based on science and technology

  • with formidable technological powers

  • science and technology are propelling us forward at accelerating rates

  • that's right and if we don't understand it

  • and by we I mean the general public

  • if it's something that 'Ohh I'm not good at that, I don't know anything about it'

  • then who's making all the decisions about science and technology

  • that are going to determine what kind of future our children live in

  • just some members of congress?

  • but there's no more than a handful of members with any background in science at all

  • and this combustible mixture of ignorance and power

  • sooner or later is going to going to blow up in our faces.

  • I mean who's running the science and technology in a democracy

  • if people don't know anything about it?

  • Science is more than body of knowledge it's a way of thinking

  • a way of sceptically interrogating the Universe

  • with a fine understanding of human fallibility

  • if we are not able to ask sceptical questions

  • to interrogate those who tell us that something is true,

  • to be sceptical of those in authority,

  • then we're up for grabs for the next charlatan

  • political or religious that comes ambling along

  • it's a thing that Jefferson lay great stress on

  • there wasn't enough said that to enshrine some rights

  • in the constitution, or the bill of rights

  • the people have to be educated

  • and they have to practice their scepticism in their education

  • otherwise we don't run the government

  • the government runs us.

  • The global balance of terror

  • pioneered by the United States and the Soviet Union

  • holds hostage all the citizens of the earth.

  • Each side persistently probes the limits of the other's tolerance

  • like the Cuban missile crisis,

  • the testing of anti-satellite weapons in the

  • Vietnam and Afghanistan wars,

  • the hostile military establishments are locked in some

  • ghastly mutual embrace.

  • Each needs the other

  • but the balance of terror is a delicate balance

  • with very little margin for miscalculation.

  • and the world impoverishes itself by spending a trillion dollars a year

  • on preparations for war

  • and by employing perhaps half the scientists and high technologists on the planet

  • in military endeavours

  • We have let all sorts of social programs languish

  • as we have permitted the amount of poverty in children to increase

  • before the end of this century more than half the kids in America may be below the poverty line.

  • What kind of a future do we build for the country if we raise all these kids

  • as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society,

  • as resentful for the injustice served up to them...

  • This is stupid.

  • and then what happened with the resources is they went into increasing budgets for arms

  • isn't that where the money went?

  • That, and making rich people richer.

  • The money all gets re-invested,

  • if you've got money you put it in the bank

  • the bank lends it out to people

  • to people to buy homes and cars

  • But not poor people, but not poor people.

  • well that's a good..

  • It tends to stay up at that highly stratified, very...

  • so more people employed with capital formation...

  • I believe that the government has a responsibility to

  • care for the people.

  • I'm not talking about dole,

  • I'm talking about making people self-reliant

  • with people able to take care of themselves

  • there are countries which are perfectly able to do that,

  • the United States is an extremely rich country

  • it's perfectly able to do that.

  • It chooses not to.

  • It chooses to have homeless people.

  • This country has vast wealth,

  • just look at something like Star Wars [The Laser anti-missile defence system]

  • they've already spent $20 billion on it

  • if these guys are permitted to go ahead they will spend a Trillion dollars on Star Wars...

  • Think of what that money could be used for.

  • To educate, to help,

  • to bring people up to a sense of self-confidence.

  • We are using money for the wrong stuff.

  • So, that's another calibration of how serious the

  • stakes are these days, how high the stakes are

  • putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere

  • promises, if that's the right word...

  • a global catastrophe.

  • In the particularly field that I'm involved with

  • the exploration of planets

  • there we have opened up a universe of wonders

  • we have looked close up at dozens of new worlds

  • worlds that we never saw before

  • when you study these other worlds you learn about this one

  • it's a very important fact

  • by comparing our world with other worlds you can see a lot of things that can go wrong

  • Venus for example has this immense greenhouse effect

  • the surface temperature is hot enough to melt tin or lead.

  • Anybody who says the greenhouse effect is just some fantasy...

  • all you have to do is look at Venus

  • very important object lesson.

  • You put gases like Carbon Dioxide or CFCs

  • other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere

  • over this country...

  • They don't stay over that country,

  • those molecules don't have passports,

  • they don't know about national sovereignty,

  • that's something they've never heard of.

  • The atmospheric circulation spreads those gases all over the planet

  • and so what one country does affects all the other countries.

  • That's serious stuff.

  • The depletion of the ozone layer lets more ultraviolet light from the sun down

  • to the surface of the earth.

  • Skin cancer is a serious consequence

  • but there's a more serious aspect of it is...

  • that the ultraviolet light attacks the little one-celled plants that are at the base of the food chain

  • those are the guys that the next guys eat

  • and the next guys eat and the next guys, next guys

  • and way at the top of the ecological pyramid there's us.

  • we're ultimately eating the one-celled plants that have been processed through lots of intermediate

  • plants and animals

  • and it's, it's clear that very thin atmosphere, it's so sensitive to the depredations of human beings

  • you look at that and you say 'hey that's only one little world'

  • We don't have anywhere else to go.

  • No other planet in the solar system is a suitable home for human beings,

  • it's this world or nothing.

  • That's a very powerful perception

  • and, so again

  • we're messing around the global environment

  • in a very serious, very stupid way

  • and we just have to get our technology ahead

  • it's not enough to say that corporations can

  • do whatever they want as long as they make a profit,

  • not if they're putting at risk people all over the world.

  • They can't.

  • There has to be a new way of approaching this

  • and we can't say that one nation can do what it wants within its borders

  • because as I've said before, what you do in one countries borders

  • has consequences all over the planet.

  • The solution to these kinds of problems has to be that everybody on earth works together.

  • and so I think there's a

  • certainly a chance of us getting out of this mess

  • but not by business as usual,

  • not by the idea that we shouldn't plan ahead,

  • not by the idea that anybody can do whatever the hell they want

  • and it doesn't affect the environment...

  • So, there has to be a new way of looking at the future

  • and that is that we are all humans and that we are the same species

  • on one fragile little planet.

  • We are all in this together,

  • and we have to work together.

  • That's kind of the silver lining of these crises,

  • they are forcing us to become a planetary species.

  • Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain

  • particularly when our visions and prospects are bound

  • to one small part of the small planet earth.

  • But up there in the cosmos an inescapable perspective awaits

  • national boundaries are not evident when we view the earth from space

  • fanatic ethnic or religious or national identifications

  • are a little difficult to support when we see our planet as a

  • fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light

  • against the bastion and citadel of the stars.

  • The old appeals to racial, sexual and religious chauvinism,