Chilling tales of the "end of times" and various other apocalyptic stories have long been in the purview of religion. But it seems the church doesn't have a monopoly on these gloom and doom yarns. If you want the best end of times story, you may just want to find a good environmental scientist.

Recently, Eric Pianka, an ecologist at the University of Texas gave a speech at a meeting of the Texas Academy of Sciences in which he laid out a grim vision for the fate of humankind. According to Pianka, overpopulation is likely to trigger a sweeping epidemic that will wipe out 80 to 90 percent of humanity. From the speech:

"Things are gonna get better after the collapse because we won't be able to decimate the earth so much. And, I actually think the world will be much better when there's only 10 or 20 percent of us left."

It would be foolish to immediately dismiss Pianka as a hack. And there is certainly something to be said for scientists who spend their time researching controversial problems like overpopulation. Evidence can be found to support claims on both extremes ("were all going to die" vs. "overpopulation shmoverpopulation !"), but for the time being, things are actually looking pretty sanguine. According to a March 2002 report conducted by the UN, we need not fear overpopulation as much for two reasons: 1.) the development of new agricultural and medical tecnhnologies, and 2.) the relative decline in fertility on the global level.

Moving beyond the nuts and bolts of scientific arguments, Pianka's view is troubling for a much more profound reason: his naked lack of humanity. Like Pianka, I too am an environmentalist. I believe in preserving clean water, land, and air for all human beings. Unlike Pianka, I insist on grounding my claims on humanistic values. Simply put, I don't think the earth would be "much better when there's only 10 or 20 percent of us left." There is a startling similarity in the postures of Pianka and a Southern Baptist minister. Both stand on their moral high ground and proudly condemn the people of the earth for their "wickedness."

Daniel Corbett