From the Afterword (by Meave Leakey) to the highly recommended The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans:
...We can see the world from outer space, and appreciate that we are all confined to one small planet, dependent on its resources for our survival. We can measure our population numbers and calculate that we now number over 6.5 billion individuals and that this number is increasing every minute. In a single generation, we have watched the volume of water, a vital resource, in many wells, boreholes, reservoirs, and rivers decrease dramatically; some of the largest rivers in the world now no longer flow to the sea. We can measure the acreage of forests that are destroyed daily, and we know that forest cover is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. We can see that we are irreversibly changing our planet and destroying the very systems that support us. And we can predict the course of these adverse trends and understand the urgency of taking actions to secure our future. Because of our increased numbers and wasteful utilization of resources, our activities are threatening the survival of our species and that of many others as never before.
Because we are intelligent, we know these things, and because we are intelligent, we have the ability to do something about it. We are unique in that we can plan for the future. We can educate our children, and they their children, to appreciate the urgency and necessity of taking serious action to stop the destruction of our planet. Through education and population control, these trends can be reversed. Inevitably, many millions of years from now, the Sun will become too hot for any life to survive on Earth, but for now we certainly have the ability to extend our brief tenure on this planet from one of the shortest to one of the longest.
This book puts humanity into perspective in time, in space, and as just one of millions of species that have inhabited Earth over the last 3.5 billion years. It has taken 6 to 7 million years for Homo sapiens to evolve from a common ancestor of modern apes to ourselves, and we have existed as a species for just 200,000 years. The success of a species can be measured from several different angles. In terms of population numbers, we are undoubtedly successful, and increasingly so. In the last fifty years, our population numbers have increased exponentially from 2.5 billion to 6.5 billion. In terms of technological development, no other species has ever reached out level. We can probe outer space, penetrate the depths of the oceans, and accomplish undreamt of calculations through increasingly sophisticated computers. But in terms of longevity of our species, only time will tell. We are newcomers to this planet. From an evolutionary perspective, 200,000 years is just a blip, which raises the key question: Is our unique combination of adaptations, and most particularly our enlarged brain, a successful adaptive strategy in terms of the long-term survival of our species? Or will Homo sapiens, the only surviving species of a diverse evolutionary past, be a short-lived phenomenon that appeared and disappeared in a few hundred thousand years, inhabiting the planet for less time than the majority of our ancestors portrayed in this book?
On a related tangent, I just came across this:
Education is not a preparation for life. Education is life itself. (John Dewey)