| There is a kind of terrible irony that at the point that we are
best able to understand and appreciate and value the richness of life
around us, we are destroying it at a higher rate than it's ever been
destroyed before. And we are losing species after species after species,
day after day, just because we're burning the stuff down for firewood.
And this is a kind of terrible indictment of our understanding.
But, you see, we make another mistake, because we think somehow,
this is all right in some fundamental kind of way, because we think
that this is all sort of "meant to happen".
Now let me explain how we get into that kind of mindset, because
it's exactly the kind of mindset that the kakapo gets trapped in.
Because, what has been a very successful strategy for the kakapo
over generation after generation for thousands and thousands of
years, suddenly is the wrong strategy. And he has no means of knowing,
because he is just doing what has been successful up till then.
And we have always been, because we're toolmakers, because we take
from our environment the stuff that we need to do what we want to
do and it's always been very successful for us--
I'll tell you what's happened. It's as if we've sort of put the
"pause" button on our own process of evolution, because
we have put a buffer around us, which consists of medicine and education
and buildings, and all these kinds of things that protect us from
the normal environmental pressures. And, it's our ability to make
tools that enables us to do this.
Now, generally speaking, what drives speciation, is that a small
group of animals gets separated out from the main body by population
pressure, some geographical upheaval or whatever. So imagine, a
small bunch suddenly finds itself stranded ina slightly colder environment.
Then you know, over a small number of generations that those genes
that favor a thicker coat will come to the fore and you come back
a few generations later, and the animal's got a thicker coat.
Man, because we are able to make tools, we arrive in a new environment
where it's much colder, and we don't have to wait for that process.
Because we see an animal that's already got a thicker coat and we
say we'll have it off him. (Laughter.)
And so we've kind of taken control of our environment, and that's
all very well, but we need to sort of be able to rise above that
process. To rise above that vision and see a higher vision--and
understand the effect we're actually having.
Now imagine, if you will, an early man, and let's see how this
mindset comes about. He's standing, surveying his world at the end
of the day. And he looks at it and things, "This is a very
wonderful world that I find myself in. This is pretty good. I mean,
look, here I am, behind me is the mountains, and the mountains are
great. Because there are caves in the mountains where I can shelter,
either from the weather or from bears that occasionally come and
try to attack me. And I can shelter there, so that's great. And
in front of me is the forest, and the forest is full of nuts and
berries and trees, and they feed me, and they're delicious
and they sort of keep me going. And here's a stream going through
which has got fish in it, and the water's delicious, and everything's
And there's my cousin Ug. And Ug has caught a mammoth! Yay!! (Clapping).
Mammoths are terrific! There's nothing greater than a mammoth, because
you can wrap yourself in fur from the mammoth, you can eat the meat
of the mammoth, and you can use the bones of the mammoth, to catch
Now this world is a fantastically good world for him. And, part
of how we come to take command of our world , to take command of
our environment, to make these tools that we need, is that we ask
ourselves questions all the time. So this man starts to ask himself
questions. "This world" he asks himself, "so, who
made it?" Now, of course he thinks that, because he
makes things himself, so he's looking for someone who will have
made this world. "So, who would have made this world?"
he thinks. "Well, it must be something a little bit like me.
Obviously much much bigger, and (glancing up) necessarily
invisible, but he would have made it. Now, why did he make
Now, we always ask ourselves "why" because we look for
intention around us, because we do things with intention.
We boil an egg in order to eat it. So, we look at the rocks and
we look at the trees, and we wonder what intention is here, even
though it doesn't have intention. So we think, what did this person
who made this world intend it for. And this is the point where you
think, "Well, it fits me very well. You know, the caves
and the forests, and the stream, and the mammoths. He must have
made it for me!"
I mean, there's no other conclusion you can come to. And it's rather
like a puddle waking up one morning--I know they don't normally
do this, but allow me, I'm a science fiction writer (laughter).
A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks "Well, this is a very
interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact,
it fits me so neatly, I mean, really precise, isn't
it? (Laughter) It must have been made to have me in it!"
And the sun rises, and he's continuing to narrate the story about
this hole being made to have him in it. The sun rises, and gradually
the puddle is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking, and by the
time the puddle ceases to exist, it's still thinking, it's still
trapped in this idea, that the hole was there for it. And
if we think that the world is here for us, we will continue
to destroy it in the way in which we have been destroying it, because
we think we can do no harm.
There's an awful lot of speculation one way or another at the moment,
about whether there's life on other planets or not. Carl Sagan,
as you know, was very keen on the idea that there must be.
The sheer numbers dictate, because there are billions and billions
and billions, as he famously did not say, in fact, of worlds
out there, so the chance must be that there's other intelligent
life out there. There are other voices at the moment saying that
if you look at the circumstances here on earth, they are so
extraordinarily specific that the chances of there being something
like this out there, are actually pretty remote.
Now, in a way it doesn't matter. Because think of this--Carl Sagan,
I think, himself, said this. There are two possibilities: either
there is life out there on other planets, or there is no life out
there on other planets. They are both utterly extraordinary
ideas! But, there is a strong possibility that there isn't anything
out there remotely like this. And we are behaving as if this planet,
this extraordinary, utterly, utterly extraordinary little
ball of life, is something we can just screw about with any way
And maybe we can't. Maybe we should be looking after it
just a little bit better. Not for the world's sake--we talk
rather grandly about "saving the world". We don't have
to save the world--the world's fine! The world has been through
five mass extinctions. Sixty-five million years ago when, as it
seems, a comet hit the earth at the same that there were vast volcanic
eruptions in India, which saw off the dinosaurs, and something like
90% of the animals on the planet at the time. And another 150 million
years earlier than that, another giant, giant, giant extinction.
The world has been through it many times before, and what tends
to happen, what happens invariably after each mass extinction, is
that there's a huge amount of space available, for new forms of
life suddenly to emerge and flourish into. Just as the extinction
of the dinosaurs made way for us. Without that extinction, we would
not be here.
So, the world is fine. We don't have to save the world--the world
is big enough to look after itself! What we have to be concerned
about, is whether or not the world we live in, will be capable of
sustaining us in it. That's what we need to think
about. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause).