Is science fiction just biding it's time before it becomes science fact? Jules Verne had us flying into space and diving to the depths of the ocean, long before we had the technology to even consider that such adventures would one day be possible. Children of Men is a movie that also predicts the future. One that is short on the bright and shiny. It's 2027 and humankind hasn't experienced a single birth in the past eighteen years. The youngest people on the planet are celebrities in the same vein we revere centenarians today. The reason for our loss of fertility is unknown and no cure to the problem seems imminent. When the future of your species is scheduled for extinction within a generation, then hope becomes a fading commodity. Vigour, enthusiasm and the will to live are similarly in short supply. With the result that civilised society in many parts of the world has crumbled into chaos. And while The Day After Tomorrow may've seemed like far fetched fiction before Al Gore graced the very same screens, the Children of Men reminded me of a couple pertinent research papers on fertility. A Danish study released in 2000 observed that otherwise healthy 19-20 year old men were showing a 30% decrease in sperm quality compared to males born earlier that century. Then in 2003 another study found that Florida juvenile male alligators had smaller penises and a 50% fall in testosterone levels. In the alligator, at least, changes were linked to increases in the nitrate-nitrogen concentrations in the water of the Everglades. (Wetlands are the kidneys of the planet, they filter waterway pollutants, yet some countries, like Australia, only have 50% of the wetlands they had 200 years ago.) Such varied research has found itself into a book called Our Stolen Future, a review of over 4,000 scientific publications. The authors' conclusions can be summed up thus: "The simple truth is that the way we allow chemicals to be used in society today means we are performing a vast experiment, not in the lab, but in the real world, not just on wildlife but on people." Will the outcome of this experiment be a childless tomorrow as already envisaged by movie makers? Or will we wake up to the wisdom of the Precautionary Principle in time? ::Children of Men.
NB: fertility should not be confused with population growth. The first concerns quality, the latter quantity.