Risteard Mulcahy

On the Survival of Humanity

On The Survival of Humanity is intended to be read at one sitting, where you will discover on each of the 52 pages, the ripeness of cogency and visionary thought which is the gift of age and sagacity – the author is in his tenth decade – and methodical observation, and yet for a treatise it is executed in a spirited English, and reminds me of E. M. Forster’s review of Twenty Years A Growing by Maurice O’Sullivan: ‘here is the egg of a sea bird-lovely, perfect, and laid this very morning.’

Mulcahy’s cogitation about the present state and future of the planet is based fundamentally on the premise of scientific evidence, which points to a dystopian (CHECK) future of diminishing natural resources, over population and rising sea water: as coastal cities flood, millions will migrate inland, and sardine claustrophobia will follow.

The author, in what is his twelfth and last book, revels in the forensic attention to detail of his former trade (cardiologist), but his dialectic is neither cumbersome nor over wrought by an over dependence on numerical facts; much of what he deduces is self-evident insofar as he is both an acute observer and active participant in the world around him.

The devil, as usual, is in the detail, but on quantifiable evidence Mulcahy is on terra firma: despite an estimated six per-cent fall in the fertility rate in the past half-century, he argues that it is unrealistic to think that the predicted increase in global population is sustainable, considering the planet’s struggle with 7.3 billion, and growing.

“We might understand that those who believe in God and a better world hereafter might be less concerned about our future here on Earth, but the godless at least should be cognisant of our criminal neglect of nature and the future of our children and the natural world, on which we depend for existence,” he writes.

Mulcahy is echoing sentiments which have been expressed with equal passion since the turn of the millennium: Brain McCallum and Alison Benjamin in A World Without Bees, argued that agriculture will collapse, followed by civilisation, if the world stands idle and allows the collapse of honeybee populations.

Photographer James Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey in 2006 to create a memory bank of ice sheets that are sucked into oblivion, by using 35 solar powered time-lapse cameras to take up to 12,000 frames a year: the geologic clock ridiculously sped up global warming.

Is redemption out of reach? Mulcahy’s perfect storm is that the huge increases in population size – he urges the Pope to be frank and open on the question of birth control – are having a profound effect on the planet in terms of CO2 and temperature, and it remains unclear if political leaders are looking in the wrong places for the right answers. On the Survival of Humanity is a thoughtful and incisive work, intelligible and argumentative, with no loss of intellectual or emotional wattage in what is a compressed volume. You may contribute a verse, said Whitman, and Risteard Mulcahy has.

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