DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers of Dan Brown’s book Inferno and the movie. This is also not a book review.
Our favorite Harvard professor of religious symbology Robert Langdon woke up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. He had a severe head injury. Unlike in The Davinci Code and Angels and Demons, Dan Brown started the story in a blur, putting the readers in the same condition as Langdon. The protagonist couldn’t remember the events of the past 72 hours. Plagued by the visions of a death mask used by medieval doctors during the Black Death, Langdon struggled to remember why he was in Florence, though clearly remembering that he was in Harvard doing school work.
But, the story picks up when—as with Brown’s other books—Langdon met his leading lady, Sienna Brooks. Still confused with the attempts to kill him, Langdon embarks in a puzzle quest of finding clues while evading Italian authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO). Brooks found a biotube—used by medical professionals to contain viruses—in Langdon’s Harris Tweed jacket. The biotube contained a Faraday pointer. Recalling a similar device, he shook the pointer and a beam of light emitted from it, only to realize that the light was projecting an image. Langdon projected the light into a flat surface. And by surprise, presented in front of him is one of the famous artworks of Sandro Boticelli, La Mappa dell’Inferno (Map of Hell). The inspiration came from a 715-year-old poem written by Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy.
Langdon noticed the changes in the circles of hell, only to find out that it was purposely restructured by an American billionaire and genetic engineer, Bertrand Zobrist, to send a clue to his accomplice and lover, Sienna Brooks—which was later revealed in the book that Brooks was trying to stop her lover’s mad plan. Zobrist created a vector virus that would endanger the human species. He hid clues using Dante’s works and even associated it with the Black Death. This virus that Zobrist created was not intended to inflict disease-caused pain or suffering, but rather it attacks the fertility of every human being in this world to stop reproduction. Zobrist intended to cut a third of the world’s population.
In this part of Brown’s book, it tackles the grave issue of human overpopulation. Zobrist cited a famous example, Barlett’s beaker. Al Barlett is a physicist who showed the shocking power of exponential growth. In his example, Barlett assumed that there is a steady growth of bacteria, and that the bacteria double every minute. If a bacterium is placed on the beaker at 11 o’clock, the beaker would be half full by 11:59.
In this analogy, it is appalling that the human population is growing exponentially. The United Nations (UN) reported that the 1800 world population is at 0.9 billion. In just a span of 100 years (1800-1900), the humans added 0.75 billion, making it a total of 1.65 billion. From 1900, it just took 60 years for the world to inflate to 3 billion. And now, population is at 7.5 billion which is 833 percent of 1800 world population.
Zobrist’s way of addressing overpopulation may be mad. But, the underlying question of human survival is at stake. The UN projected that by 2100, the human population will be at 11.2 billion, an increase of 1.49 percent in just 83 years (2017-2100). The effects of human populations hurt nature – the source of man’s needs and wants. Clean water. Clean air. Food. Shelter. These things are important to human survival. But, we should remember the ultimate problem in economics: Resources are scarce yet man has unlimited needs and wants. Once the resources of this planet diminish to a point that it cannot sustain the human population, the real fight for human survival begins.
Maybe the apocalypse is not what we imagined in books and movies. Maybe a comet larger than Earth, a zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion is not our demise. But rather, it is the survival of the fittest. Probably, 40 years from now, we are now fighting for food, or even killing for food and shelter. We don’t know. Is it the survival of the fittest again? Yet, I would pose a clearer question. Are we fit to survive here on Earth? It seems like that we are cancer cells dividing uncontrollably and slowly destroying our planet. Are we destined for this?
There may be actions to reduce overpopulation. Both present ethical and unethical ways. From family planning to abortion, we have devised solutions that embattled moral values and medical viewpoints. But, the real solution starts with you. Are you the cancer cell or the healthy cell?
“We are a minute to midnight.”
—Bertrand Zobrist, Inferno