100 Years Left

Every day billions of humans go about their daily lives- some in poverty, political turmoil and war and in other places - eating, sleeping, working and worrying about mortgages, love affairs, kids, skin rashes, their futures and a multitude of other human concerns. Just like the masses of humans who have lived on this earth before them, they are living life like there is a tomorrow...

The Doomsayers
The Doomsayers

Frank Fenner

There are some scientists who believe our days here on beautiful, troubled, Planet Earth are numbered. One such doomsayer was Nobel-prize winning microbiologist Professor Frank Fenner who died last month in Australia, at age 95. Fenner was a luminary in the field of science, having been responsible for eradicating the variola virus that caused smallpox. As well as the Nobel, he also won the Japan Prize in 1988, the Albert Einstein World Award for Science in 2000 and the Prime Minister's Science Prize in 2002. In addition he has published hundreds of scientific papers and written or co-written 22 books

As a microbiologist, Fenner was fascinated by evolution at every level-an enthusiasm that never waned and his "deep understanding was shaped by studies of every scale, from the molecular to the ecosystem and planetary level." (The Australian)

If Professor Fenner makes guesses about humanity and our relationship to the natural world..they are educated ones.

Professor Fenner...Image by Bluey Thomson
Professor Fenner...Image by Bluey Thomson

Easter Island Scenario

According to Professor Fenner, the human race probably shouldn't make any long term plans. Fenner predicted we will be extinct within the next 100 years. Toward the end of his life he didn't bother with debates about climate change because he believed it is already too late -the human race cannot survive.

The cause? Population explosion and unbridled consumption.

The cure? Sorry, it's terminal:

Homo sapiens will become extinct, perhaps within 100 years. A lot of other animals will too. It’s an irreversible situation. I think it’s too late. I try not to express that because people are trying to do something, but they keep putting it off.

As the population keeps growing to seven, eight or nine billion, there will be a lot more wars over food. The grandchildren of today's generations will face a much more difficult world.

~Frank Fenner

Fenner posited that what happened to the Easter Islanders will happen to us...

Anakena, Easter Island...Image from Wikipedia
Anakena, Easter Island...Image from Wikipedia

Archeologists believe that within a few centuries, overexploitation of resources on Easter Island caused the widespread extinction of plants and animals . The social fabric of Islanders unravelled and a state of chaos and cannibalism emerged in it's place.

The Islanders got to a point where they were destroying the forest more rapidly than it could could regenerate. Springs and streams dried up and there was no wood for fires. The animal food supply dwindled, crop yields declined due to soil erosion and fishing became difficult as wooden canoes could no longer be made.It is believed the population eventually starved.

Mad World

From the Lunar and Planetary Institute
From the Lunar and Planetary Institute


Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday...nothing happened, nothing will.

Fenner may not be correct of course. As well as pessimistic scientists, there are optimistic ones and others somewhere in-between. Environmentalist and futurologist Professor James Lovelock, stops short of total extinction within one hundred years but warns that the world’s population may sink as low as 500 million over the next century due to global warming...a phenomenal  drop when you consider the 6.9 billion or so walking the earth today. Lovelock suspects any attempts to tackle climate change will not be able to solve the problem, just buy us some time.

The danger with such views is they don't encourage action but rather a kind of apathetic fatalism. The idea of human extinction within such a short period is almost too big for me to contemplate and I believe much of the world, including governments, are in a kind of denial. I suppose the Easter Islanders were too.

I've got no idea what will happen...I've always been an optimist about the human race, but my optimism is becoming a bit ragged around the edges. I'm aware that some people don't believe there is that much of a problem at all - who say climate-change is a hoax and a scare campaign generated by those with a vested interest in order to control people for some purpose or other. It'd be good if they were right but I think they are wrong. The bulk of those making such claims are not experts in the field, rather they are vocal media players, conspiracy theorists and mouthpieces for industry and political factions. They lack credibility.

Chances are high you and I will be be long dead before the final extinction, should it occur. Perhaps that's part of the problem...it's what everyone thinks:

Why should I care about posterity? What's posterity ever done for me?

~Groucho Marx

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)


The Australian Newspaper...June 16

Jared Diamond, Easter Islands End, Discover Magazine1995

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Comments 24 comments

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Oh Jane, this hub has moved me. There are too few of us to fight the overpopulation boom and destruction of our species. How ironic.

I think Professor Lovelock is more correct. Something will happen to the majority of humans leaving only a small percentage to carry on. It will probably be a combination of things: war, famine, disease. But I'm quite sure 100% of it will come from man's inability to think.

Thank you for the link and I will go and add your hub to mine. They are very important hubs!

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I can't really bring myself to believe we only have 100 years left but who knows? Either way, it's not looking that good.

I'm sure you're right about the thinking part. We're only partly rational beings.

Cheers, Merry Xmas and thanks for reading.

Mike Marks profile image

Mike Marks 6 years ago

Ray Keizwell, a reknown futurist and inventor, makes a strong case about how progress, both destructve as well as construcive, is expedential, how the next few decades will carry foward to degrees that the past took mellenia, and then the decade follwing those few, and so on, so that the next 100 years will be vastly more significent than much linear calculation may suggest (excuse my spelling)

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Mark that's exactly right...the exponential growth over the last hundred years has been phenomenal and it's increasing all the time. There we were plodding along for thousands and thousands of years and in such a short time we've managed to steer ourselves to the brink of destruction.

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Or perhaps we have steered ourselves to the edge of enlightenment. That would be a positive spin that the Mayans predicted. My fingers are crossed.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I like that idea Austin...another enlightenment is just what we need. So chances are it'll either be annihilation or a New Utopia.Here's hoping!

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Yep, could go either way :-) Scary isn't it?

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

Very good hub. I believe that we have more than 100 years left,Professor Fenner does have solid ground for his thoughts and ideas. This should surely move all of us to action not to mention it is food for thought. Very good!

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks mquee,

Definitely food for thought...I agree.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

It's a crazy place. It's time civilization became civilized. Thank you Jane!

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Cheers Micky

Shahid Bukhari profile image

Shahid Bukhari 6 years ago from My Awareness in Being.

There are thousands, if not millions, of Easter Islands like endings ... disappearences, occuring, on this earth of ours, every day ... so are countless Beginings !

What Prof. Fenner States, is within an angular approach ... Genetics ... as the means of an understanding, rooted in the study of Organic Structures.

We should remember... Nobel Laureates, are humans, like you and me ... just happening to be proficient in any of Science's many Disciplines. Thus, what they say, is not the Word of God, and only God knows, when His Created is to End.

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

So Shahid, are you suggesting we leave it all up to God and sit on our butts until he fixes everything?

Why don't you break your leg and then wait for God to heal it?

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol!! Austin you said it. Shahid, assuming for the sake of argument God exists, we got ourselves into this mess and it's up to us to get out of it.

I do agree though, that Fenner's words aren't written on a stone tablet and that what he says must necessarily come to pass. It's a warning...not an immutable declaration.

Joyus Crynoid profile image

Joyus Crynoid 6 years ago from Eden

Excellent article Jane. I tend to agree with Lovelock, although Fenner may be right if something happens that unleashes the nukes (as has come very close to happening by accident several times). One way or another, the human population will decline precipitously within the next century.

The Easter Islanders story brought to mind Cormack McCarthy's book The Road--a story I found to be disturbingly within the realm of possibility.

The vast majority of us are living in denial; your picture of the ostrich with head in sand pretty much sums it up.

So here's to a more enlightented 2011!

P.S. I love the MacBeth quote.

P.P.S. I expect life will go on, with or without us. At the end of the Permian ~250 million years ago 95% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate species went extinct. It took a while for life to recover, but when it did it produced the age of dinosaurs. They had their day, and now we are having ours...

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Thought provoking piece and quite a cadre of comments Jane. I am a hesitating optimist like you. My ancestors, the Anishanabe tribe here in North America, believe as do many aboriginal peoples here that this is our fifth or sixth "earth". That is, that the slate has been wiped clean of us hominids several times before. Our legends say that in the past our "true" white brothers guided our existence and lived among us in peace. Unlike the marauding, empire thirsty false white brothers (of which my blood is also a part) who have ravaged the earth now. My heart says people like you and Austinstar are correct, we will arrive at a sort of enlightenment, possibly with the aid of family from an advanced civilization that has given mankind a hand many times before. I am also hopeful, this means a possible selective "weeding out" of the excessively greedy and violent individuals among us.

I loved the Groucho Marx quote, one of my personal heroes.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Joyous, thanks very much for the comments...and yes, there is that denial..it's as though the problem is 'too big' to deal with. There's some comfort in that thought that life will go on without us..but not much!

I haven't read The Road but it sounds interesting.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Ben, nice to see you here. We desperately need that Enlightenment and I really, really hope it materialises.

I don't know much about the Anishabe..well actually I don't know anything but I'm going to search out some information. Imagine a world without the greedy and violent? It seems impossible. Then again...


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 5 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

I have never heard such a fatalistic view, I had no idea we were in that much trouble!

I fall into the camp that "climate change (or global warming or global cooling)" is a hoax, BUT there is no denying that humans are destroying the environment.

Although I love my truck, (Okay I've got two because at this point they're both unreliable and I can't afford a new reliable one - please give me some slack, I don't drive them at the same time!), I am fully aware that the way we mechanize our lives can NOT be having a positive impact on the planet.

What is visible to environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike is the local environmental damage caused by pollution and building. I'm not sure it's not reversible, but we would need to drastically change our lifestyle to make it better, and I don't think that's happening anytime soon.

I don't agree with "modern science," as it is coined, but this was an enjoyable read and educational. Great hub.

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Mark, I was shocked too. Whether it will happen or not I suppose is anyon'e guess. I certainly don't believe that humans are beyond extinction..it could happent to any species given the right set of circumstances.

Sadly, I suspect you're right, that not much is happening/will happen, to avert disaster...we're too caught up with *strutting and fretting*.


Lilleyth profile image

Lilleyth 4 years ago from Mid-Atlantic


100 years left 4 years ago

Wow, this inspired me to start a blog, 100yearsleft.blogspot.com

Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 4 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

What a great idea...send me a link when you've got it up and running.

Mike 4 years ago

Population growth for mother earth will continue until it reaches about 10 billion (we are close to 7 billion now) then it will flat line and possibly decrease. The civilized nation will populate at less than .5 per adult. The third world nations will continue to birth more, but the infant mortality rate will be sky high and starvation will take the lives of many.

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