Are Ecology/Biology Professors Obligated to Lie to Their Students About Their Future on Planet Earth?

“I guess I was hoping you might have something to tell me. I mean, I have a two-year old.”

“Holy shit,” I am thinking as I look at my young student, twisting her foot back and forth as she demands from me what they all demand from me—hope. In the past, I could spit something out like, “well, you are the light of the future,” or “you are the new hope for the future” or “you get to create the new paradigm” (congratulations!!) or even more lame, “you always have the option to go to your local legislators” (please) but this time, nothing comes out of my mouth. Anyone that knows me knows I have no shortage of ideas and opinions but the words won’t form in my mouth to comfort this beautiful new mother, my student. All I can get out is “well, uhm,” as she sees her husband who has arrived to pick her up, the new baby in the backseat. She waves goodbye while I stand in place, mumbling like an idiot.

I’m teaching another ecology class for a local community college this semester. I would rather be working on my second novel but since I have bills to pay, it has to wait so I can answer questions about why I spell the planet name as “Eaarth”, what is the “Anthropocene”, and owing to how things are going to shit, is it too late? I think about how much I miss the characters of my novel, how comforting it is to be with them, all of us tucked safely inside my head, as I look into the concerned faces of my students and realize in light of the new data out on climate change, when it comes to gobbly gook hope speeches, I’ve blown my wad; I have next to nothing to offer them anymore.

Never has teaching ecology been as difficult and depressing as it now and my time teaching is nigh. I cannot do it anymore – try to put an upbeat spin on the fact (fact) that the human species is wiping out its own planet and itself. I can’t give the pep talks to the 18 year old’s that “you are the hope for the future” when they aptly point out that they have inherited this big fat mess from previous generations and why didn’t previous generations give a damn about them – their own children and grand-children?

But I know why. In short, it is because the human species is driven by two things its life span – the human life span frames why every current generation behaves the way it does meaning the human species is motivated by the idea of individual death and “getting it all in” before death, future generations only peripheral considerations, and; the human life span combined with a still primitive ancestral human brain (selfishness, violence, possession, and territoriality) means as a species, we are incapable of truly planning for future generations. We talk…oh yeah, we talk, but this is all we are capable of.

Imagine for a second if human beings, you, lived to be 200 years old, 500 years old, how different “planning for future generations” would be. I do not believe the human species is capable of planning for future generations due to these two factors. Ironically, I think if the human species could admit to these facts, we would see far less global conflict because we would come to grips with our “normal” condition which is greed, violence, possession, etc. and then be able to counter it through cultivating a cultural condition that, if you will, repels the primitive human condition because culture is our only hope. Right now, our culture is base and aligns with our “primitive” brain (just watch cable television for a few minutes or note how “entertainment news” is now mixed in with the “real news” – tragedies of war side by side with some movie star’s new bikini)…giving us very little chance of surviving as a species long enough to biologically evolve. Culture is our only hope – yet capitalism feeds into short life spans (gratification) and all the characteristics of a primitive or ancestral brain. I personally do not have high hopes for our future as a species nor the planet. Climate change is now turning the turbines of the future of our planet and at present, it appears nothing can stop this. As a field biologist of a few decades, I do believe it is too late.

I admit, I have sought refuge within my own life span with the default rationale. We all have. “By the time it gets REALLY bad, I’ll be dead anyway.” You know the line because you’ve probably thought it, said it. But even I am getting worried because within my life span serious ecological shit is hitting the fan right now.

What to say to them? “Sorry but your generation won’t give shit after age 35 and we need another 10,000 years to evolve as a species anyway, and well, I gotta’ go.” I could try the default line on them: “Look, kid. Lemme’ tell ya’ sumthin’. By the time it gets really bad, you’ll be dead anyway” except this generation is freaking on to us! Unlike past generations of students, this generation knows we are blowing smoke…they feel it, see it – what’s happening. But c’mon! They’re looking for comfort from the generation that put them in this big mess. They should know better plus their intense questioning, stares, well it’s making us all uncomfortable, itchy, bumbling…forcing us to lie to them to make them feel better about THEIR up and coming life span…and anyway, we need to install that even bigger energy-sucking plasma television in the living room, and gosh, we’re out of boxed wine…we only have maybe, 20 years left so really kid, quit bothering us.

Then again, what the hell if I lie to them—tell them it’s not really THAT bad because, hey, by the time they figure out the real truth, I’ll be dead anyway.