The End of the Second Decade

This century is clearly telling us that Mother Nature cannot take it any longer: we humans are out to exterminate ourselves slowly but surely

By Dr Rajagopal Soondron

This December a few of us will exhibit the same doubt that troubled us 20 years ago at the turn of the century — when does the present decade end: on 31 Dec 2019 or 2020? Of course it will in a few weeks’ time.

A majority of us will remember what we did exactly the few hours before the year 2000 swept us into a new century.

Being on call on that 31 Dec 1999 night I was busy in the Operation Theatre of Jeetoo hospital; I had requested my wife to prepare a “tempo” of ‘rasom’ and chicken which I had brought to hospital to share with my colleagues. Many of the latter had decided to stay in the surgeon’s mess of the OT after work to have a glimpse, from the small balcony of the mess, of the coming fireworks that would be visible in the harbour skyline at midnight at the dawn of year 2000. I could remember that when I joined service at that hospital in 1975 one could see almost the whole of Port Louis and the Citadel from the same vantage point of view. But gradually new buildings and small skyscrapers have obliterated that view and panorama.

In that last instant of that past century, a call had come from Moka Bharati Eye hospital for a semi-emergency work at 2 am of that 1st Jan; the patient having had a late dinner could only be safe after 2 am for anaesthesia. So I decided to rush to Marie Reine de La Paix area around 23.45 and tried to have a glimpse of the fireworks that the then Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam would inaugurate. I enjoyed the presence of the crowd with all heads and eyes turned towards the harbour, everyone expecting to have a memorable moment at the foot of the mountain. And perhaps trying to read or guess in those spectacular fireworks the signs of better omen of a new century to come. Soon when the fun was over, I lazily made my way to Moka via Mount Ory – being the only one passing there in the dawn of that new century.

The Bharati Hospital had contacted me through my pager — a contraption that the new generation would not know. It was the time when mobile phones, and drones, were yet to come into our life while the personal computer was already a wonder — though not every family could afford it.

20 Years Later

Now we feel the impact that mobile phone, which epitomizes the latest in electronic discoveries, is having on our life. Suddenly we, of the old generation, wake up to the fall of barriers between people of the world, more impressive than the fall of the Berlin Wall. From the dawn of our species we had always yearned to communicate – to know what is going on in the minds of others in the tribe. This attitude has served us well to plan ahead, to beat our neighbours in that fight for survival strategy.

But, in time, communication and exchanging information had also helped us to build bridges between individuals, different cultures and nations. And suddenly each individual is being empowered to communicate with anyone on the planet, at any time in a fraction of a minute, with the CPU switched from home onto our mobile. We can consult anyone, can see what’s going on in our bank account, reserve hotel rooms, or plan/cancel last minute trysts. And no wonder social upheavals have become easier as news, rumours and fake news could be decanted into others’ minds and ears so easily. So much are we bombarded by a plethora of facts, decoys and emotionally loaded news.

As we are discovering — our species being at the mercy of the action and reaction principle — our brain is bearing the brunt of a longstanding evolutionary tug of war between our environment and genes; so the question is what will be the impact of mobile phones on our grey matter? The deleterious electromagnetic effect is already being highlighted in the lay press; but the question is how will we evolve psychologically and emotionally in the face of such easy exchange of information between people? The impact on the family ties is already becoming more than evident.

If we think that the mobile phone is the apex of our social electronic concern, then we should have a second thought. A few weeks back Google has used a Quantum computer to solve a problem in 200 seconds, which would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years!!! The quantum computer will not be available to us soon. But the frenetic race is on between competing firms like IBM and Google to produce more performing gadgets. In a decade or two, we would be able to solve very complex problems that we had always thought were beyond our capacity or understanding, for example our genetic past and the formation of the universe.

Shattered Hopes

It is in our human biased mind to think that a change in time, like that of a coming new year or a turn to a new century, would suddenly see a change in human heart for the better, with more social equality between people; but this is pure naïveté on our part. A change in linear time is out of phase with human relationship and mentality. We discover to our horror that the rich is still becoming richer and the poor poorer. No wonder as our world population is now well above the 7 billion mark, the poor have no option but to start moving, migrating at any cost. The grand exodus from poor counties to the richer ones has already started long back and we must expect it to be at the centre of global social concern this century. Just as high pressure always rushes to low pressure regions, high temperature flows easily to low temperature areas – why should it not be the same between the have-nots, the hungry ones and those gorging themselves in stinky waste of food at social gatherings and parties? The force of nature will tell.

Pessimism or the truth

Scientists are an optimistic tribe of people — predicting everyday a better future as they delve into research to discover new truths that would open the Ali Baba cavern of unlimited possibilities. They may be right in their extrapolation of things to come, especially with electronics aiding.

However, we are discovering to our dismay that there is no free lunch. The richer we become, someone or something else must become poorer. And we realize that our environment is at the receiving end – and what impact! We have succeeded in degrading our environment in the last two centuries that nature had taken millennia to put in place. And already we are witness to the fury of nature as our temperature keeps rising and our ocean waves go higher and higher – that even we Mauritians are witnessing with our shores’ erosion.

So who will be right, the scientific optimists or the social climatic pessimists? The remainder of this century will be crucial to our survival, unless we act very fast now, discover a new cheap clean source of energy… and a policy to stop overpopulation, to find water and food for all of us and a plan to live in harmony with Nature once again. In between we have to curb our human tendency to want more and more, to over-exploit and over-fish, to go for unnecessary luxurious life, to destroy our forests for more unbridled industrial development.

We are back to square one: our tug of war between human selfish mentality and Mother Nature is yet to be solved. This century is clearly telling us that Mother Nature cannot take it any longer: we humans are out to exterminate ourselves slowly but surely.

It could be pessimism – but it still could be the truth.

* Published in print edition on 13 December 2019

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