The past 200 years have been marked by two worldwide explosions: population growth and economic growth. The latter, necessary to cope with the former, also dramatically improved how most the of world’s people live. But in the last decades of the 20th century, population growth began to slow, and eventually it will plateau and even decline. Yet the world’s economic system, built for growth, roars on – and is both unsustainable and dangerous. Climate change, change for the worse, is only the most dramatic of its consequences.
So we will soon be at an inflection point. Call the past two centuries Epoch A. Call what we are about to enter Epoch B.The transition will be filled with turmoil and conflict, but also with opportunity as the human race can and must embrace a new reality. It will be a new reality based not on competition and but on collaboration, a new reality that sets aside growth for sustainability. A New Reality: Human Evolution for a Sustainable Future (City Point Press), a newly published book by Jonas Salk and Jonathan Salk, outlines what we face and what we can and must do.
It’s a newly published book but it’s not totally new. Dr. Jonas Salk, who in the 1950s developed the first effective polio vaccine, spent many of his later years studying population growth. He accurately predicted its slowing, and he named Epochs A and B.
And in 1981, with his youngest son, Jonathan, he published his observations and his predictions in World Population and Human Values: A New Reality. Now, 23 years after his father’s death, Dr. Jonathan Salk, a highly respected psychiatrist in Los Angeles, has updated and revised the book. Handsomely designed – with many simple but beautiful and powerful graphs and photos – its relatively short text can be absorbed quickly.
But its effects on the reader should be long-lasting. Elizabeth H. Blackburn, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, says in her introduction, “This elegant and hopeful book is small, but far from small in its vision and aspiration for humanity’s betterment. We will all be better off if we listen to it and heed it.”
A long-lasting effect and a positive one. For the book’s message is optimistic: we can evolve, we can adopt a whole new set of values. “And in doing so,” says Jonathan Salk, “we’re not only going to survive, we may actually have a world culture that is much more in line with the highest ideals of generosity, of mutual benefit and of fulfillment of human potential.”
In a recent interview, Jonathan Salk talked about A New Reality – its past, its present and what is says for the future.
Jonathan Salk says his father started writing the book in the early 1970s, and it somewhat reflects the optimism of that time (the first Earth Day was April 22, 1970) and his father’s optimism. Jonas Salk felt, look, we’ve done this, we’ve eradicated polio – let’s apply that same can-do spirit to human problems. Jonathan Salk says he too has a lot of faith in the human spirit. Pointing out that he re-wrote the book in 2016, he admits that what has happened since has given him pause.
“There is an attempt to go backward, to values that served us well in another period of time. Massive numbers of people are scared, which leads to isolationism, nationalism and racism. But even in a difficult and even bleak period, I am optimistic. I have to be. We will find a way because we have to.”
What is that way? Jonathan Salk says we must rise above and supersede day-to-day political conflicts, rise above arguments and name calling. He says of the book, “Here is a larger map.” Yet he admits the map needs to be filled in. Yes, good and smart people know we are running out of fossil fuels and the ability to deal with its wastes, most importantly the carbon dioxide that is changing the climate. With climate change, we may be reaching the point of no return.”
Yet, says Salk, “Even these good and smart people are not addressing the breadth and depth of the changes facing us. Even liberals have failed. The existing system – based on growth – is insidious. It absorbs everything, including all the tinkering at its edges. We need a new vision, systematic change, a radically different economic and political system. We need a system that puts emphasis on human beings and the environment.”Where could this come from? Jonathan Salk points to books such as Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, which Financial Times named “The Best Book of 2017: Economics.” Saying the economic ideas that dominate government and business today are centuries out of date, Rawarth offers some “game-changing analysis.”
If that’s where the analysis could come from, the inspiration could come from the father-and-son vision in A New Reality. As Arianna Huffington says of the Salks’ book, “This is the cultural shift we need to make.” As Jonathan Salk says, “We must acknowledge interdependence and institute collaboration – not because it is morally correct but because it is necessary.”
A New Reality: Human Evolution for a Sustainable Future is now available to purchase.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Jonas Salk is one of the most famous and revered figures of the twentieth century. He was the developer of the first effective vaccine to prevent polio. Almost overnight, he became a hero to an appreciative public, and his legacy survives to this day.
In the last decades of his life, Salk devoted considerable attention to the development of an evolutionary philosophy that would be the basis for solving some of the most fundamental problems of humankind. He was the author of four books, including World Population and Human Values: A New Reality, written in 1981. A New Reality is an update, revision, and redesign of that title.
Jonathan Salk is a highly respected adult and child psychiatrist and Jonas’ youngest son. He has lectured and taught about the theory and practice of psychiatry and is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, as well as Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council, and member of the Advisory Board of the Population Media Center.