Robert Scheer SI Podcast

Dr. Warren Hern: Humans Are a Metastasizing Cancer Terminating Life on the Planet

Physician and anthropology scholar Dr. Warren Hern delves into some of the most upsetting aspects of human behavior as a fatal threat to all life on earth in the near future.
Dr. Warren Hern. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hern

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It is not an exaggeration to call the future of the planet an apocalyptic, extinction-bearing time, according to physician and anthropologist Dr. Warren Hern. Hern joins Scheer Intelligence host Robert Scheer this week to discuss his latest book, “Homo Ecophagus: A Deep Diagnosis to Save the Earth.” Apart from conducting decades of research in fertility and population trends based in the Peruvian Amazon, Hern has had his clinical and epidemiological research published widely in respected journals as well as had his public advocacy of reproductive rights appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications.

The book title stems from what Hern wants to call the human species now, “the man who devours the ecosystem.” It also means, “we are a super organism on the planet that has all the major characteristics of a malignant process.” Hern likens the human species to a cancer on the planet, a harsh yet realistic examination of the behaviors of humans and their impact on the biosphere.

The time in which we are living and the times ahead are considered extinction events for Hern, so much so that he has given a name to this age: “We are conducting what I call the Anthropocene extinction event, which will be the sixth extinction event that the world has experienced in the last half billion years,”. “We are not adapted to the heat levels that we are going to experience and that means a lot of other species are going to go extinct.”


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Credits

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Transcript

Robert Scheer:

Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guest. In this case, a highly educated expert on global warming, a lot of different medical issues and he’s written an incredibly important book. I’m talking about Dr. Professor Warren Hern. He’s got a medical degree. He’s been a physician. He’s got a master’s of public health. He’s got a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Colorado. He’s a professor of medicine and a professor of anthropology. And he’s written an incredibly depressing but interesting book. I don’t want to turn anybody off, I think it’s a must read book. And the title of it is “Homo Esophagus: A Deep Diagnosis to Save the Earth.” And basically, let’s cut to the chase, you’re saying that this is beyond the discussion about climate. You’re saying that we may have, that we human beings are a cancer that’s metastasized on the body of the planet, not just humanity, and that we may lead to the extinction of all life, except for some cockroaches and single cell activity, all life on the planet, that we are at an incredible moment. So, well, why don’t we begin by stating the case so that I don’t overstated. 

Warren Hern:

Well, thank you, Bob, for the invitation to be on your program. It’s a great honor. I expressed my admiration for your great career in journalism. It’s an honor to be with you. First of all, your summary of this is really quite correct. What I’m saying in the book is that the human species now has all the major characteristics of a malignant process on the planet, and that what we’re doing will lead to our own extinction, as well as the extinction of a lot of other species. In fact, right now we are conducting the sixth major extinction in the history of the planet that I call the Anthropocene extinction event, which we are conducting. There have been five major extinction events of the last half billion years and we’re now arranging the sixth one. So that if we continue what we’re doing, we would arrange the biosphere even up so that we can’t survive and many other species can’t survive. We’ll be back to the primordial soup that we started with as one cell organisms. And that’s where we’re heading. 

Scheer:

So I should explain you are all bundled up in a, I guess a writing shed near your home, and you’ve also just come through a COVID scare. So I don’t want to endanger your health here or are you comfortable? 

Hern:

Yeah, I’m fine, Bob. I mean, I’m recovering and so, you know, it builds character, let’s put it that way. 

Scheer:

Okay. But I appreciate your taking this effort because you have a better Internet connection there? I just don’t want it to be too big a sacrifice. So let me ask you, what is the time frame for this and what can we do about it? I mean, you know, this is, as you point out in the book, people might find this depressing. It’s a very well-written book and it basically draws on your own journey. You’ve practiced medicine throughout the world and different cultures. You have an anthropologist mentality of different cultures and diversity and the world, and you bring the brilliance of your masters of public health as well as your M.D. degree, and you’re given to prudent analysis and diagnosis. And you’ve made a very stark diagnosis here that it may be over. 

Hern:

Yeah, well, it is a stark diagnosis, and the prognosis is not good. Cancers don’t stop being cancers. And so the cancer continues until the host organism has ceased to function, it has died. In our case, the host organism is the biosphere and we have been attacking it throughout our entire existence as a species most of the time in the last, particularly in the last 10,000 years. So the title of the book, “Homo Ecophagus,” means the man who devours the ecosystem and so our scientific name as a species is Homo sapiens. Sapiens, so a wise, wise man. And that makes us the most misnamed species on the planet. We are not wise, we’re destroying the biosphere. So my new name for the human species is Homo Esophagus, the man who devours the ecosystem. And this also, it means that we are a super organism on the planet that has all the major characteristics of a malignant process. The four main characteristics of a malignant process that I learned in medical school are rapid, uncontrolled growth, invasion and destruction of adjacent normal tissues, in this case ecosystems, metastases and distant colonization and dedifferentiation, which requires a little translation. But that’s the basic diagnosis, the prognosis is terminal disease unless we change what we are doing. The difference between us and cancer is that we can think and we can decide not to be a cancer. 

Scheer: 

But one point you make in the book is this, yes, it’s been going on for a long time. But you point out that the world and your, I believe we’re in the same area there octogenarians, but your parents, when the world population and where it is now, this is in 100 years we what? Doubled? And this is really what’s making the problem pressing. We have had an out of control, a population growth and at the same time and even greater, proportionately greater, consumption of resources and destruction of the environment. So why don’t you lay out those startling statistics? We can really blame most of the people who came before us. This is an aspect of a modern civilization. 

Hern:

Well, it has unfortunately been a characteristic of the human species to change the environment radically from the very beginning of it. That became much more prevalent in the last ten, twenty thousand years. For example, when human beings arrived in pristine ecosystems such as Australia, the South Pacific and North America, that had not been inhabited by human beings, they immediately made a lot of species extinct. That’s been going on for tens of thousands of years. And when the Pleistocene hunters came across the Bering Land Bridge into North America 15,000 years ago, whenever it was, a lot of important megafauna species went extinct almost instantaneously. But we’re now, and with the Industrial Revolution, we have destructive technologies that apply this on a mass scale. And we are now at the point where we have changed climate already and we’re changing it as we speak to the point where it will not support humans, organisms. We are not adapted to the heat levels that we are going to experience. And that means a lot of other species are going to go extinct. And so we are conducting what I call the Anthropocene extinction event, which will be the sixth extinction event that the world has experienced in the last half billion years. 

Scheer:

And so what is the time frame and what choices do we have? You know, I want to get to a key question about are there adults watching the store? I mean, who’s responsible? We can’t blame all of humanity because most of humanity hasn’t had any agency, hasn’t had any power. And, in fact, in the last 100 years, it’s been largely advanced Western capitalism; the United States and Western Europe and now China, that have been responsible for ravaging this environment, is it not? 

Hern:

Well, it’s very tempting to look for culprits and to blame somebody. But if you’re a human being, you’re part of the problem, you can’t help being part of the problem. And you use resources and people in the United States, for example, use far more resources than people in other parts of the world. It’s true. I work with the Shipibo Indians in the Peruvian Amazon, and they have had very little impact on the environment over thousands of years. But now, the destructive technology is brought into that environment and they can’t help participating in it. That’s true for traditional societies all over the world. The hunter gatherer societies had very, very little impact, but industrial society does. So to the extent that any human beings who are involved with industrial society, you’re part of the problem. So I think that when we have fossil fuels, for example, that we’ve been using since the beginning of the industrial age, that has a major effect on the climate. And we’ve already changed the climate almost irreversibly at this point. So the question is how much longer would we be able to survive? And I think my point would be unless we change what we’re doing, not much longer. 

Scheer:

How much longer? I mean, really you end… 

Hern:

I think we’ll be lucky to make it by the end of the century. 

Scheer:

Well, that’s… Okay, this is coming from a man who’s extremely well educated, knowledgeable and in different areas. You obviously know the science, you know the public health issues. You’ve had the medical training, you have the MPH. You’re also an anthropologist, you understand different societies, their cultures and so forth. And so this is a warning, which you document in your book and you talk about what you’ve both seen and experienced and the data. What can we do about it? You end your book with a very moving poem. Your descriptions are evocative, but, you know, short of just telling people to have fewer children. Right? Which has been tried. I mean, China had a very aggressive one child policy. Now they seem to be abandoning it and most of the world thinks that that was kind of brutal. Right? What can we do? What are really the realistic options? 

Hern:

Well, it’s very complicated… It’s a good question and a very complicated answer. It’s a complicated problem because we are in an industrial society dependent on fossil fuels. We have tremendous energy demands. We now have 8 billion people on the planet. And the human population has been doubling every 40 or 50 years. The middle of the century is doubling every 35 years of the 20th century. And so that, for example, my mother and her sister, born in 1915 and 1917, the human population quadrupled in their lifetimes before they died. And I think that as long as the human population is growing, there is no hope of solving these problems. There is no hope. This means that women must have access to, and men, must have access to every kind of fertility control or voluntary fertility control that is available, including abortion, birth control, sterilization, etc. And this is a really, pretty easy aspect of the problem, but we have ferocious and physically violent opposition to voluntary fertility control in the United States. I’m a physician, I perform abortions, and I’ve been on the hit list of the anti-abortion sessions for 50 years. So we have other things like we could stop using fossil fuel for energy. We have to make that transition. There’s tremendous opposition in the fossil fuel industry, the coal industry, the oil industry to making that change. That’s a matter of survival. We have to stop polluting the ocean and polluting the air. We’re using both the atmosphere and the ocean as sewers. So we can make changes, but we have to change it right now, we’re out of time. 

Scheer:

I understand that. But you keep using “we” and I get the point, you know, we’re all complicit. But seriously, I remember you have favorable comments on your book from Anne and Paul Erlich who wrote, “The Population Bomb,” I believe it was back in the 60s, when I was a graduate student, when I read that. And even then, you know, it concerned me because who are or where are the decisions coming from? At that time, when he wrote “The Population Bomb,” I believe the population of China—let’s take China as an example—was between 400 and 500 million. It’s now 1 billion, 400 million. It’s almost three times greater. But what were people supposed to do in China? Even with the severity of a communist revolution deciding to try to hold back the population, they did the one child policy, which was condemned universally. People, as they become more prosperous, want to spend more, want to consume more. And I get back to who are the adults watching his store? Right now, we are very concerned about climate change. We have, you know, heat waves and cold waves and chaos and everything else. Yet we’re in the middle of an old fashion war in Europe now, which obviously takes our attention away from conservation, from planning, from cooperation. Right? We’re destroying things at a rapid rate and we’re, you know, becoming more dependent on fossil fuel rather than less so. 

Hern:

Well, you make a very good point. I think that these are political decisions that societies make at the political level and there are plenty of examples of good things that we’ve done to control air pollution, water pollution, things like that. But there are a wide range of problems that need change in our approach, and we know what to do and the question is what to do? Will will we do it? But people have been talking about this, these issues for thousands of years. Plato talked about the deforestation of Attica, of the peninsula in which Athens is located. But we have struggled with issues of clear cutting, old growth forests for example, the Northwest United States and the examples of these abound. But we have to think with every political decision we make, what are the consequences of these decisions? And so a lot of the things we’re doing are positive feedback loops. We get very hot and very insufferably hot and we turn on the air conditioning, that makes the problem worse. We need more energy for the air conditioning. And so we have automobiles that use large amounts of fuel. We have energy plants that produce coal fired power plants. All of these are part of the problem. And no matter where you are on the planet, if you’re a human being, you’re part of the problem. Some people are less part of the problem than others because they’re living at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, they barely have enough to eat. But, you know, there’s an ecologist named Bill Rees, he and his graduate student developed the idea of the ecological footprint about 30 years ago. And they talked about to what extent we are using the resources on the planet. And they came up with the point that we’re using more than one planet’s worth of resources and that we’re using it up very quickly. Paul Ehrlich was on the 60 Minutes just the other day talking about how we’re using seven Earth’s worth of resources, but we can’t, it’s not sustainable, we can’t do that. We have to change what we’re doing. 

Scheer:

But again, good doctor. I keep getting back to the question: who is the “we?” Let’s take Paul Erlich and his population bomb in relation to China and the United States. Since he wrote that book—and it had a tremendous impact—”The Population Bomb,” we have too many people on the planet. Okay. Beginning and really in a way, the end of the whole discussion. What were you going to do? Tell the people in China not to develop? On the contrary, we have used China as a factory floor, but we, in the United States and in Western Europe, are consuming most of what they produce. Right? So what were we to say, peasants in China? Don’t have your daughter go work at the Apple plant? Don’t let your society make those disposable Apple computers and iPhones and everything? What is really the message here? The leadership had to come from the big consuming societies, and they didn’t offer that message, they said to the rest of the world, and they’re saying that right now Brazil, South Africa, and India, produce more. They’re saying, oh, look, we can’t produce in China, we’ll produce in Vietnam. So the model is one of ever more production and consumption and including fueling it with military economies. You even have Germany and others re-militarizing, an incredibly destructive activity, and interrupting, wasting fossil fuels. So they were even more dependent. Where is hope? 

Hern:

Well, it’s hard to find. Let’s put it this way: this is a global problem that affects every single society and every human being. And for example, let’s take some specific examples. There is the idea that we need more growth. Okay. Edward Abbey said and I’ve said the same thing in different contexts, that the ideology of growth is good is the ideology of the cancer cell. That’s exactly what we have become. But let’s take some specific things, for example, Ronald Reagan wanted to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Okay. And destroy that ecosystem. Senator Tim Wirth was our Colorado senator at that time and said no, going to increase… We want to increase it, and require more fuel efficiency in automobiles. Those are policy choices. You can also make alternative energy sources and Jimmy Carter installed solar energy panels on the White House and Ronald Reagan took them off. You know, we have issues in terms of fertility control. Most women… I’ve been a physician for a long time, most women want to be able to make decisions about their own body, whether they have children, and they will use contraception when it’s available to them. The Republican Party has made a campaign against abortion for the last 50 years and has opposed birth control and abortion for women as a way of gaining political power. As long as people vote for the Republicans, who are opposed to fertility control, those programs are in trouble. So, you know, there’s a specific example we have in Brazil, you had the president of Brazil, Bolsonaro, had a program of destroying the Amazon rainforest. Well, he was doing it and he was kicked out of office. But a lot of the Amazon has been lost. And those are specific examples. When you go to the polls, do you want to vote for somebody who wants to support alternative energy sources such as wind power or solar energy or you want to vote for the guy, want to drill for oil in the national parks? Those are choices that we make at the ballot box. 

Scheer:

I think you’re undermining the power of your own book. Because basically what you say in your book is we don’t have time for this partisan debate that we’ve been having. And I agree with you. Yes, you know, you have the Republicans and right wingers who are more wasteful and more reckless and so forth and just undermine the ability of women and families to make rational planning decisions. But the fact of the matter is, a Democratic president in the United States, and a Democratic controlled Congress just passed an enormous expenditure bill of $1.8 trillion, more than half of it going to the military, an inherently destructive activity. The drums of war are beating louder than any time since the height of the Cold War. Buildings are being destroyed, alternative energy facilities are a joke when people want more fossil fuel to stay warm this winter. And so I’m asking whether you are not now in a way betraying the urgency of your book? Yes, we’re all responsible but the fact is, the leaders of what were considered the most advanced societies are particularly responsible. They threw open and closed the spigots and they opened them wide. 

Hern:

No, it’s very complicated and there are no simple answers. But what I’m trying to point out is that if we can make a list of horrible things, but that doesn’t tell us why this is happening. I’m offering a diagnosis and saying this is why we’re in this fix. And here’s the prognosis. And the alternative is that we can have to change what we’re doing in many ways in order to survive as a species and to keep destroying the biosphere, which is what we’re doing. 

Scheer:

Well, towards that end, let’s get back to your book. You’ve wrote this book and, you know, you could be retired. You have other things you could do. And the book has an urgency to it. It’s poetic. You introduce your own pictures, your own poetry, your own ideas. You care about the survival of the human species, and you care about the survival of the planet. It’s in many ways a beautiful tribute to all that and you’ve seen a lot of the world. Yet now, we’re having one of those dull discussions about, well, what can we do? We should try better and the nasty Republicans, if we just didn’t vote for them, no! You know, we voted for a lot of progressive, democratic, enlightened people in Europe, in the United States and so forth. And what did they do? They got the Chinese to make more junk and more consumer goods and they even discouraged the Chinese from holding back their population. They said it was barbaric to have a one child policy. And so I don’t see this core of elite leadership anywhere in the world that is responsible. And I do think to blame ordinary people who are going about their lives as the source of the problem, that was my concern with Paul Erlich’s “Population Bomb,” and it’s my concern now, you know, who has agency here. And it’s a relatively small group of influential people in the most advanced societies who clearly do not want to close that spigot of waste, excessive consumption. Growth. Growth. Growth. Growth is the religion of advanced societies. 

Hern:

Well, you’re right. I agree with you. And I think that ultimately every society on the planet has to make decisions about what policies to make in terms of the future, in terms of the environment and the health of their own population. And we might agree with some of the decisions, might disagree with others, but we have to look at our own society and what we’re doing. Exactly what you’re saying in terms of how much resources we consume and what we’re doing about limitation of the human population. But when, for example, the Republicans are putting up laws that force women to have babies that they don’t want and can’t take care of, where is the logic and reason in that? That’s not about the health of the women, that’s about getting political power. And they’re doing it because the evangelical Christians want to oppose fertility control. So the details of the politics of that are very uncomfortable. But that’s what’s going on with that particular point. 

Scheer:

Yeah. But again, I’m going to defend your book and I want people to read it because I think the blame is much more widespread. And the good folks that most of us vote for think they’re enlightened and progressive by most of us, I guess people listening to public radio or what have you, where I do this show for KCRW, a very enlightened audience in Santa Monica, California. But the fact of the matter is, when we went through this pandemic, we consumed frantically. Most of that stuff was made in China. And if they didn’t have all these people, they’d be taken off the land and put into factories. And they were acting under very rigid, totalitarian discipline. We wouldn’t have had all of these toys and things that kept us alive and, you know, gimmicks and excessive consumption and what have you. I’m asking you to put your anthropologist hat on now, as well as your medical doctor hat. You know, this is real, your book is an indictment of the Enlightenment. It’s an indictment of education, of civilization. The culprits here are the best educated people, because they are the best, biggest consumers. They are the biggest wasters, including with their high technology war that wipes out huge areas and have to be rebuilt in everything, whether it’s bridges or houses or hospitals. Isn’t that the reality of modern civilization? 

Hern:

Okay, Bob, the problem goes back thousands of years and… 

Scheer:


Not according to your statistics. In your book, what I found so compelling was how this rapidly metastasized. Okay? That the last hundred years since your mother was… 150 years, has been a disaster. So, yes, it’s always been with us. But what your book is saying, let’s just be clear and we’re going to wrap this up, I guess. But what your book is saying is, wait a minute, we don’t have any time. And the acceleration is the key. And that acceleration is coming not just from Republicans and not just from people all around the world who may want to have a bit more now that they’re catching up with us. That is the mark of what we call modern civilization. 

Hern:

Yeah. 

Scheer:

Isn’t it? And modern capitalism. That’s really what it’s about. 

Hern:

Yeah. It’s we’re… this is a long, long process we’re in sort of the end phase to this and the time is running out. We have to change things a lot. We have to change a lot of things. We want to survive. We want to live in a world that’s as beautiful as it is right now. But a lot of it’s been lost in the last 50 years and most of the Amazon has been destroyed and has come down in the last 75 years, for example. And global warming has accelerated during the last century. So these are very ominous signs. We’re getting heat waves that are very deadly for people all over the world. And this is an example of what we’ve been doing. And so if we’re going to survive, we have to make some very serious changes all over the world and everything we’re doing. And so I’m sorry, I can’t offer a simple answer, but it’s very, very complicated. And I think it’s very urgent right now. 

Scheer:

Well, let me just make a good point on which stem because, you know, I do these things that I want to learn from it and I learned quite a bit from your book. And the main thing I learned from your book is that we’re running out of time. Yeah, you make a cogent, powerful, depressing, but very thoughtful argument that, you know, it’s not going to, that there isn’t going to be a technological answer that’s going to turn it around or there’s something new. That we are, as the analogy with cancer, uncontrollable that we are the cancer we, our modern civilization.

Hern:

That’s the point. 

Scheer:

And that is the point of your book. Well, that’s very depressing and then I think about it. Okay, I can change my behavior today. I can urge other people to change their behavior today. But that’s not what’s going on in this world. Right now because of this war, because of, you know, our inability… We are people, not just Republicans and not just right wing crazies. We have very sensible, smart people saying we have to drill more and we have to have more fossil fuel or people will freeze in Europe and we have to consume more. And they’re not talking about cutting back, even if they get angry with China, they say, well, we’ll do it in Vietnam, we’ll do it in Brazil, we’ll do it elsewhere. You have a monster or a cancer out of control. Yeah. And the cancer is of our creation. 

Hern:

Yeah, that’s right. And we’re in a tough spot. I’m not sure there’s a good way out. 

Scheer:

Well, that’s a heck of a note. So why should I buy your book and read your book?

Hern:

If you have nothing else to do and you want some cheap entertainment, you can buy it and amuse yourself. My feeling is that it is my obligation as a scientist to make the diagnosis and to call it as I see it. And I don’t like what I see. And I would like to be proven wrong. People say I’m wrong. Okay. Show me how I’m wrong. I’d like to know if I’m wrong. I like to be proven wrong. I’ve been watching this for a long time, and I am very, very clear about what I see. 

Scheer:

I know and the book is very powerful, because I do think it’s irrefutable. It’s scary. It scares me, you know. And you know, there’s a picture of yourself as a young man looking out over, you know, a bucolic scene of nature and so forth. And there’s… While you are blaming the human species for 10,000 years or whatever. I wonder whether the blame is not more modern and that we have to come to grips with it. That, you know, I guess this is what I’m pushing here in my response to your book. I think, wait a minute, I could get really angry with a lot of people who came before me. But the culture that I grew up in here, in the United States and modern society, there’s worship of science and technology, and capitalism and so forth. As your figures show in the book, this pace of destruction was accelerated very rapidly, and it’s not a normal progression of the human species. It’s a result of entering this stage of production, of industrialization, of waste, of consumption that’s all too modern and I daresay uncontrollable. The metastasizing of this thing didn’t come from the human body, it came from the human mind.

Hern:

That’s my point. One of the papers that I published in the process of developing this idea was published in Bioscience in 1993. And the title is “Is Human Culture Carcinogenic? Uncontrolled Population Growth and Ecological Destruction,” that’s the title of the paper. And the answer is yes. And I’m afraid that means that we really have to take a look at ourselves as who we are as a species, what we are as a species. Right now, we’re a planetary super organism. That is a malignant process, and we can decide to stop that. But I think we need a lot of luck and survival. 

Scheer:

Right. And can I just end on a provocative note? 

Hern:

Yes. 

Scheer:

Let me ask you a question. Isn’t there a danger in attributing the major responsibility to people we don’t agree with politically, you know, The Donald Trump’s and Ronald Reagan’s and so forth. The fact is, the good folks, the well-educated folks, the liberal folks have had a lot of power, a lot of power, a lot of time to deal with this. And we look like we’re actually making it worse in the current moment. We’ve had all of this warning, all of this knowledge of inconvenient truths, you know, and yet right at this time, as you and I are talking, two old guys, it seems like we have fewer adults watching the store. We seem to be more irrational than ever, despite all the warnings. And your book is a very critical warning. But I just wonder whether, you know, we’re just drunk. We’re drunk on consumption and our own uniqueness, our own exceptionalism. And we always blame it on someone else. 

Hern:

That’s exactly right. But my point is that no one is exempt from responsibility for this situation. But some people are better able to manage it than others. And have better chances of doing something different. But, for example, my friends in the Peruvian Amazon have to make a living and feed their kids every day. They have to catch fish and they have to live. And they can’t change what they’re doing. But they’re making a far less impact on the environment than somebody driving a four ton smog mobile in downtown Los Angeles or Denver. 

Scheer:

Well, that’s true. Let me ask you a last question. I know I’m prolonging this, but do you really think right now under Biden, I don’t want to get political here, too political. Trump, yeah, he’s the boob, he’s the guy, he scares a lot of people. Biden, a lot of people thought would be more rational. Is he really better for dealing with this problem right now, right now, has he really done in his couple of years, really a significant, better job than Trump? 

Hern:

I think so. I think that in their particular terms, I mean, Trump and the Republicans have been conducting a war against the environment, you know, for a long time. And under Barack Obama, for example, you had the best scientists on the planet in the White House running agencies to try to stop these problems. You had Jane Lubchenco in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. You had John Holdren, who’s an expert on energy work with Paul Ehrlich. You had Steven Chu. You had the very best people who could understand what to do about these problems. They were stymied by the Republicans in Congress. I mean, that’s our political system. 

Scheer:

So, I’m going to take the radicalism of your book finally. I’m sorry. I’m going to give you the last word, and I respect that. But the real danger, I think, is right now, if you look at the things you warned about in your book, war is certainly a big one and ability to cooperate, we should be cooperating with China, for example, to figure out how to consume less and yet take care of your people or cooperating with Brazil, whether it’s a right wing or a left wing government. And I’ll just throw in my own two cents, I really frightened by your book, and I’m frightened because I don’t see responsible people of either party in our own country or the leadership of any other country in the world, really responding to what I think is not only alarming, but valid plea in your book. I mean, for God’s sake, to be serious about it, if we are really going to end as a planet, as a civilization in this century, what are we talking about? Everything else is aside. 

Hern:

I don’t know if that’s true. I’m just saying, we’re galloping toward the cliff and we have our foot on the accelerator as we’re headed for the cliff. 

Scheer:

All right. 

Hern:

And I think that depends on who’s foot is on the accelerator, how far down it is. But I really think that, you know, to try to respond a little bit, we made political decisions in the last 25, 50 years in this country that have major effects on our opportunity to mitigate these problems. And we have chosen sometimes to make them better and sometimes to make it worse. And those are decisions people are making. I’m afraid that it’s a very difficult, complicated problem, and we’re going to have to try to find out each, look at each problem in its own right. But in terms of the general picture, we are headed for the clouds. 

Scheer:

And my own view is it’s a simple problem in the sense that if you’ve got your foot on the accelerator and you’re ready to go over the cliff….

Hern:

Take your foot off the accelerator. 

Scheer:

Get your foot off the accelerator. Okay. You don’t have to have five different advanced degrees to know that. Ease up on the accelerator. Get your foot off it. And I don’t see much possibility of that happening. But I want to thank you so much. And the book is “Homo Ecophagus: A Deep Diagnosis to Save the Earth.” Well worth reading. I want to thank you for doing this. I want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW, the wonderful NPR station in Santa Monica for hosting this thing. I want to thank Joshua Scheer, our producer, and I want to thank the JKW Foundation in memory of a very important writer, Jean Stein, for helping fund these podcasts. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence. Thank you.


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