Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Life on the line: can humanity survive?

By Robert Burrowes - posted Wednesday, 2 October 2013

As we approach the International Day of Nonviolence on 2 October, which recognizes Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, one challenge we face is to celebrate his life in a way that Gandhi himself would have found meaningful. Gandhi was not a man of token gestures. His life was dedicated to his search for the Truth and guided by his passionate belief that nonviolence was the means to reach it. He was a visionary who was profoundly aware of the damage human violence is doing to ourselves, each other and the Earth.

Despite his example, most of us are familiar with those horror lists that reveal the extent of our ongoing violence. Here is a sample just to refresh your memory.

Human beings spend $US2,000,000,000 each day on military violence, the sole purpose of which is to terrorise and kill fellow human beings. And we are poised on the brink of dramatically expanding the war against Syria with unknown (and possibly nuclear) consequences for us all. Because we spend so many resources on military violence, one human being in Africa, Asia or Central/South America is starved to death every two or three seconds - that is 35,000 people each day - and poverty and homelessness continue their relentless expansion in industrialised countries.


In addition to this problem, 'water starvation' is becoming a frequent reality for many people and the collapse of hydrological systems is now expected by 2020. Human activity drives 200 species of life (birds, animals, fish, insects) to extinction each day and 80% of the world's forests and over 90% of the large fish in the ocean are already gone.

As polluters, humans are supreme: Eighty-one tons of mercury - the most toxic heavy metal in existence - are emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation, there are 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in every square mile of ocean and each year we dump billions of kilograms of pesticides into the environment which pollutes the groundwater and seriously damages human health.

Moreover, as everyone knows, we pump vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and release radioactive contaminants into the environment too. How serious is this? According to James Hansen and colleagues, ongoing burning of fossil fuels at the current rate will cause catastrophic levels of global warming and burning all fossil fuels 'would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans'. (See 'Climate sensitivity, sea level and atmospheric carbon dioxide').

And, according to Layne Hartsell and Emanuel Pastreich, commenting on just one aspect of the radioactive contamination problem, 'Radiation continues to leak from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi site into groundwater, threatening to contaminate the entire Pacific Ocean.' (See 'Peer-to-Peer Science: The Century-Long Challenge to Respond to Fukushima').

Can humanity survive? The odds are now stacked heavily against us: despite the persistent warnings of visionaries, such as Gandhi, and scientists since the 1940s, we have breached far too many limits that it would have been wise to respect. And the forces still arrayed against us, particularly those corporations that profit from this violence as well as their political puppets, are not going to give way without a struggle.

Moreover, they can use education systems and the corporate media to try to manipulate us into believing what they want, whether it is their denials of reality or that our resistance cannot work. In addition, they have the police, legal and prison systems to inflict more violence upon us when we do find the courage to resist.


But there is good news too. The good news is that there are a lot of great people. And by 'great people' I mean ordinary people like you and me who are willing to listen to the truth and then do something tangible to make a difference, sometimes by taking no risk at all and sometimes by taking a small, shared risk. So what can we do?

In Gandhi's view: 'If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children.' And I agree with him but in this respect particularly: we must end adult violence against children, the source of all other violence.

This is because an integrated strategy to fight for human survival must be based on a precise understanding of why human beings are violent (see 'Why Violence?' and offer a comprehensive program for tackling this violence at its source and in all of its manifestations.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

"Determined spirits" can wish Gandhi 'happy birthday' by joining the worldwide movement to end all violence, and chart a new human future, by signing online 'The People's Charter to Create a Nonviolent World

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

18 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Robert has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach, State University of New York Press, 1996. His email address is and his personal website is at

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Robert Burrowes

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 18 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy