Intellectually, it is far easier to get your head around what a pox mankind is for our Mother Earth. Emotionally it is quite another thing. Since we walked out of Africa (we are all Africans) approximately 125,000 years ago, modern man has rapaciously consumed the environment, never really pausing to consider our impact upon the planet.
By the 1970s, however, it became clear to the most casual observer that human activity (population growth, agricultural practices and industrialization) was quite literally destroying Earth’s rich diversity of life.
Every day we are inundated with countless “canary in the coal mine” examples of the specific impact we humans have on the land, water and air that sustains us. Our oceans are warming and increasingly acidic. Our topsoils are washed and blown away, or being relentlessly sprayed with polluting herbicides and fertilizers. Our atmosphere is increasingly filled with carbon dioxide. Animal, plant and marine species are becoming extinct at an ever-accelerating pace.
We are fishing our oceans clean of edible species. Our fellow humans are “harvesting,” perhaps this moment, the last elephants and rhinoceroses of Africa. Twenty-five million Brazilians now live in the South American rainforest with more humans on the way. In the next few decades all of Earth’s coral reefs will have succumbed to warming waters and acidification. The fresh water Himalayan glaciers that today quench Asia’s insatiable thirst are inexorably melting away.
Of all of this we are well aware. All of this is caused by human activity, by human population levels unhealthy and unsustainable for our planet’s ecosystem. And there is virtually nothing we can do about it. Even if we stumbled upon “cold fusion” tomorrow, discovered how to cleanly desalinate ocean water and developed innovative new food sources not requiring yet more untilled acreage or scarce freshwater, mankind is heading to a day of — let’s speak euphemistically — to a day of, uh, adjustment. The bill is coming due.
It’s ironic to me that the one nation on earth that should be at the forefront of building a sustainable population and economy is the United States. But now we are hearing increased rumblings that America is heading for population problems. Our birthrates are “plunging,” and we could soon become an “empire” in decline if we don’t increase our national population (look at Japan — we are constantly admonished). We are told that if our population is not expanding, that our economy will not flourish. Who’ll support the aging Boomers for gawd’s sake?
Our economic model is predicated on growth. Growth today, growth tomorrow, growth forever. It is a growth based on an ever-increasing population (to be consumers — to buy Pampers, toasters and vacations). Not only in America, but worldwide. There is no economic alternative (sustainable and green) being offered that is not predicated on an ever-increasing world population. More people – more growth – more consumption. Argue otherwise and you are painted as un-American, a collectivist and anti-human. To challenge why America “needs” to be at 500 million people, well, we’re talking jobs. And, that I totally get. It is hard to embrace “sustainability” with so many babies crying for more.
Yes, let’s avoid today’s financial “meltdown.” But unless we, as a species (nations), imagine and create a sustainable future, what we now experience as a “cliff” will be remembered as a distraction.
Either we humans wisely reduce our population, or Mother will do it for us. Mom will cull the herd, our economies be damned.