The United Nations estimates that on October 31st, the world’s population will reach 7 billion. Although the actual number is not certain, it does underlie the fact that our population is growing at an alarming rate. It took until the early 1800’s to reach the 1 billion mark, but the last 50 years alone have seen the births of 4 of the total 7 billion This rapid increase raises the question, how many more people can the earth sustain? Or have we already surpassed the earth’s capacity? Among the many people asking questions like this are Dr. Madeline Weld, President of the Ottawa-based Population Institute of Canada, and Robert Engelman, President of The Worldwatch Institute in Washington. They discuss how various factors – including access to contraception, the empowerment of women, poverty, consumerism, and the environment – apply to our population growth, now and in the future.
“Be afraid, be very afraid…” I love this–I have thought about so much of what they discuss in this two person interview. Oil, a non-renewable resource has allowed us to “over-shoot” where we as humanity really oughtta be today. The ‘stlen’ or ‘free’ energy boost since the 1850s. The unsustainable industrialized production of foods such as corn. The inefficient production of meat. The fact that cultures have not changed, yet babies no longer die. Cultures dictated that a “real man” or a “real woman” reproduce at a rate much higher than necessary for population replacement. But this was so when if you had 8 children, 5 perhaps were not expected to reach reproductive age. Today all 8 will make it, and in turn produce 8 of their own children due to cultural memes such as religion which dictate that this is the ONLY WAY.
So many have disagreed with me. So many have called me simplistic to point to the growth of population as the REAL problem and climate change as merely a symptom. But it is in no way ‘Malthusian’ to ask, what is the POINT of ‘conservation’, ‘kyoto protocols’, ‘environmental awareness campaigns’ etc etc etc, if EVEN IF we maintain 1990 levels of pollution, carbon consumption, garbage, the number of showers a human takes, and how many times a toilet is flushed per day–thus water use…the food one eats and from whence it originates, IF?
There are 10 Billion, 20 Billion, or 100 Billion humans?
This is not an irrational observation, though I have been told it is. This is not a simple minded, non-intellectual, comment.
This is about the Tragedy of the Commons. This is about witnessing the growth of certain cities, such as Calcutta, Shanghai, Lagos, Mexico City, Tokyo etc and seeing that for a given level of infrastructure, from trains, buses, roads, all the way to the farming lands that feed and the water basins that provide potable water to these megalopoli–only a certain number of people can enjoy them before it all becomes a hellish experience of the scarcity of resources writ large, on a daily basis. No room for your child in school, no electricity, no water, no fresh fruits and vegetables, no room on the road for your car, no sufficient public services of any kind.
I have been told that life and economics is not like this, as eventually all people reduce their fertility rates when they reach a standard level of income. I actually have a minor in Economics and have studied a variety of theories on developmental economics. So I am not speaking from ignorance or ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing’. Listen to what is stated as ‘the scientifically sustainable human population’ in the audio link above.
I’d also recommend listening to Robert Wright’s Massey lectures on his book (or reading the book itself) called ‘The Short History of Progress’–where he shows that human history is filled with groups of humans not paying heed to the natural feedback loops of nature. We are a part of nature. And it frustrates me to no end, when humans in 2011 deny the unity that is humanity. There are no more ‘groups’–we are all one group, and are aware of this, in some respects yet not others.
We are all one. It doesn’t MATTER if you live in Edmonton, Mexico City or Calcutta. It doesn’t MATTER what your last name is, what religion you’ve been handed down or converted into and what this meme teaches you. There are basic facts about the sustainability of the human earthling population.
If you add to the population, it affects the whole world. But I don’t think humanity is yet ready to understand that we are indeed one.
For a while until human population is reduced enough that the Earth itself is not suffering, and neither the humans on it? I envision a world where each child is raised by perhaps 8 sets of parents. Imagine the love this child could experience. Gay, straight, of all types and tribes, who cares. But IMAGINE how well-adjusted such children could be! But the problem I see, which is somewhat addressed in the above radio show is this: cultural memes–cultural legacies–that no one questions.
Marriage for me is one of them. And marriage to me is a representation of property transfer. Much as what we have just recently seen with the silly ‘vote’ the Commonwealth had with regard to ‘Royal Succession’–to permit females the right to the English throne. Why silly? Because royalty itself is a symbol of absolute, ‘god’-given power! It predates any constitution or democratic governance structure and yet today they ‘vote’ to “let the women in.”
Marriage at one time was the transfer of property from one elder man, to a younger one. This property included a baby-making machine that happened to be the daughter of the elder man. Women were considered chattel, and marriage was a contractual transaction of wealth. It had nothing to do with a relationship between two individuals, or the love they shared (if there was even that, since most every relationship had been arranged between clans (yes even in Europe).
People are shocked and angered when I mention this, but this is merely historical fact, no matter what Oprah or the wedding industry (Hollywood too) tells us today. I find it ironic that girls today are socialized to look so forward to a day …which historically signified their transaction. When memes such as this are perpetuated so unquestioningly, I really have no hope that humanity will gain the awareness of how our family is growing too big for its home. Notwithstanding so many clues, such as climate change, AIDS, epidemics of stranger and stranger varieties, the exhaustion of resources. Can you imagine when AIDS becomes mosquito-borne? Many will die.
And dying is what it is all about. But religions would never reference this. Nature is about death. (Evolution is in fact the mere function of most of all species dying and some surviving, I never understood why this continues to be so hard for people to comprehend–and rejected so irrationally–if you make babies, your genes move on, if you die or if your genes die with you, you did not make babies…simple–when DNA alters for whatever reason, if this gives some advantage, more babies are made, and if it does not, like two heads or missing genitals, less babies or no babies are made.). The fact that there are more and more natural disasters, aside from climate change to me? Is about there being MORE PEOPLE AROUND TO DIE. Look at Haiti a few years ago. Yes, huge earthquake. Yes, bad. (well not if it was uninhabited) And that’s just the point isn’t it— the day that earthquake happened, I just considered, hmmm..a million years ago there were earthquakes, but, they weren’t judged, they weren’t reported…trees fell in the forest and no (human) heard them. Humans are listening all over the place now.
When you hear a report of “The Worst ______ in 200 years!” —Tornado, Typhoon/Hurricane, Earthquake…..whatever, you have to realize that 200 years ago? 7 Billion people were NOT scattered about this earth! When there were 100 Million humans? It was harder for them to coincidentally BE? in the path of whatever…Tsunamis, Avalanches, Severe Cold, Severe Heat, Hail…………
So this is what I think: If we do not, as a family of earthling humans, take heed and create different social structures so we don’t merely live in myopic groupings, focussed only on those who look like us, speak like us, eat like us—–where we all need to reproduce, where we all must ‘transfer wealth’ to those of our own patrilineal last name (ever wonder why women don’t have their own last names, anyway? My great-great-great-great grandmother has no recallable identity today, –she doesn’t exist in history–merely? due? to? wealth transfer practices = a social convention, a meme), nature will correct our behaviour for us.
But we should try to attribute the cause correctly…no, not the second coming of Jesus, and the End of Days, not Shiva incarnate, not the fact homosexuals can marry, not immoral behaviour however you’ve decided to define it….not the fact we don’t recycle, not evil Tar Sand exploitation, not people driving Hummers…it is merely people making more people making more people.
When I went to my father’s ancestral village as a child i realized that a man and a women way back more than a century before, having moved there, had spread there genetics to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of offspring–you too can look back and see this. Just two people can create 1000. One of those two can be you. So as you recycle and conserve ‘less’, how much does it matter, in consideration of the future of humanity on Earth? DOES CONSERVATION WITHIN A LIFETIME MATTER, if from that lifetime is produced multiples of consumers? Sustainability is about more than a human lifetime–Earth is about more than a human lifetime. Our individual lives aren’t even blinks in the eye of mother nature.
You may doubt this, you may not comprehend this–you may say I am sitting here with tin foil wrapped around my head– but I recommend that you visit a place like Calcutta–on a five year basis–every half decade, and observe the Tragedy of the Commons manifest. Ask yourself what is going on. Ask yourself about sustainability, and agglomerated carbon footprints–both of the wasteful West, and the impoverished global South.
I love kids. I love meeting someone with whom you wanna share the awesomeness of creating a new life created from love. I even love humanity when I am not feeling too misanthropic from studying these humanoids so intensely. I love family. I love being a witness to childhood and celebrating the process of discovery with others. The thing is though, some of us will have to share child raising with others. A change in society is what I foresee, not murder or forcing anyone to do anything. I just wish humans would think more about everyone–the whole family more, and less about artificial distinctions that we ourselves created so long ago that we’ve forgotten they mean nothing. The world is actually pretty darn small. Perhaps capitalism and the requirement of ‘growth’ ad nauseam may be untenable in a world that does not keep pace? I don’t know. But how do we go back now? For a while we don’t just need to slow down, we need negative growth. This means adoption. Or no kids.