Sunday, October 17, 2010

Too Many Of Us

Gliese 581c, By Graphic Artist John Kaufman

There is simply too many of us. Looking around the world, traveling as I do for my job, its obvious that there are simply too many humans. We are eating ourselves out of house and home. Tiara Walters, a South African journalist working for the Sunday Times here in Johannesburg wrote in her column today that "human demand on the biosphere more than doubled between 1961 and 2007, but the global population is only projected to stabilize at 9.22 Billion people in 2075".

Already, according to Lester Brown and other thinkers, we have passed the Earth's renewable carrying capacity and are living on ancient water deposits and borrowed time.

That we are running out of food, fuel and everything needed to make people happy and healthy members of society may not be apparent to people in developed nations. They have the financial resources to stand closer to the front of the growing queue. But in Developing countries such as Mozambique or Bangladesh the people are much further behind, lacking the cash resources to afford the rising costs that are becoming a measure of food scarcity. Bread riots last month in Mozambique are a perfect example of how even a modest cost rise can lead to civil unrest when people are living hand to mouth.

What is about humanity that we think that the right to reproduce is inalienable and permanent? This is clearly at odds with the carrying capacity of this particular piece of farmland that we call the Earth. So I have been thinking up solutions, some off the cuff and some simply impossible, but the status quo must change, of that there is no question. Population pressure will push out all of our wilderness into city parks and the margins of maize fields, with a massive extinction and an even higher risk of the sensitive food distribution system collapsing. (Systems become more susceptible to catastrophic failure the more highly organized they become, according to the law of entropy).

This is scary stuff. Not many voters, writers or thinkers are seriously even considering espousing many of these ideas, since they inevitably smack of the "one child" Chinese policy, with all its ghastly implications like infanticide. I have left out the more nightmarish "final solution" type ideas and focused on what may be the most equitable and random way of doing away with our excess folks.

1) Create a breeding ticket lottery. A yearly lottery is held that prospective people can enter and receive a breeding ticket, completely randomly.
This idea can only work in highly organized societies, the kind of societies where a rising birth rate is not a problem today, replete with good medical care and a draconian civil police force with informers and the idea of neighbors ratting out neighbors about that secret child in the basement.

2) Cyanide capsules on a rolling system that slightly increases the death rate in an equitable fashion.
This needs a less organized society and is a much more democratic process since everyone would be required to participate. However, the idea of popping a pill once a year in the chance that you will be that unlucky one in fifty that kicks it would probably turn off voters.

3) Focus the capital of the world in the pockets of a few countries that are insulated, with enough food to get them through bar environmental catastrophe, and let rest of the world's uneducated and poor people starve slowly to death.
The moral implications of this are perhaps the most ghastly, rivaled only by Hitler
-no wait, even he killed most people quickly.

With the discovery of Gliese 581c only twenty light years away, there could be a chance we could get off of this planet and take over another. Obviously twenty light years is still far away, too far even, but the implications of this discovery go beyond this odd little world that has all the goldilocks qualities we have been looking for. The reason we found it is because it is so close to its dim, cold star. But since there is a planet that could be habitable in such an unlikely planetary system, most astronomers feel that planets could be as common as pickled cabbage at a Korean wedding. Meaning that aside from euthanasia, breeding tickets and certain death for the poor, there may be a close-by neighbor we could invade and occupy in our time-honored human tradition.

All levity aside, what do we do? Its a conundrum, it is serious, it is the worst kind of political hot potato, and its only going to get worse. So rather than point fingers at people who may have taken the go forth and multiply idea a bit far, we should all be thinking about what we can do to sort it out, or nature will do it for us.


  1. Hey Jeff,

    Ha - I love the idea of cyanide roulette... or a breeding ticket...

    This is a serious problem we are facing but what are the "powers that be" doing? Looking for a new planet to inhabit... oh wait, electing the alien welcoming committee? Pack your bags, we are moving to a new planet!

    Imagine if people start making different choices? Stop believing that happiness can be found in the next shopping bag? How do we change this?

    What is your take on the 2012 predications? Do you think something so extraordinary can happen that it will push up out of our commercialized comfort zone and back to the soil of the earth?

  2. Maybe nature will do the sorting for us since we cannot get our stuff together.It is probably the best solution since no one has the authority to decide who will die and who will not. Since we are too many people overloading the system and everyone wants to protect their own interests, how will we get people together to clean up? Everyone is just adapting the "wait and see" attitude and not taking resposibility. Why take responsibility when you can pay someone else and opt out? That is the dilemma. When the individual takes the responsibility the global attitude will change...

  3. Hi Theresa and Pierre,

    I think that dire predictions of global collapse like in 2012 or whenever are sadly just part of living on a precarious piece of real estate, especially one that we are not taking very good care of.

    It makes me think of an old payoff line from US television back in the 1970s, "Its not nice to mess with Mother Nature".

    So high time or not, there will come a day when we cannot hide from the things we have done, and whether its a long recession that dips into a permanent state like my friend and science writer Paolo Bacigalupi calls a contraction, or whether its a major catastrophe, we will have to pay the piper.

    Unless of course we can change our behavior, clean up our messes, and live in a balanced way with our Earth.

  4. Hello Jefferey, It's so wonderful to come across your blog and see how you are doing so much for the environment. I am from Zimbabwe but presently live in Dominican Republic, almost every week I am saddened to see the forests being burnt for grazing and charcoal, soon it will look like Haiti.

    We recently went on a trip to seek land to buy in the USA, we travelled from Miami overland to N. California, I could hardly enjoy my trip when the results of so much destruction was before my eyes. Land from state to state without any trees, logged and chopped for grazing and cattle, and even now the cattle are kept in small feed lots thousands of them packed like sardines, living in their own manure, the land is now delegated for corn, soy, and alfalfa hay business. Horses in tiny corals with nothing to graze only to dream of all the land before their eyes, trying to grab a blade of grass through the small coral opening.
    I was hoping to see wild animals but they to have been driven away.

    Dust bowls, low water levels in lakes and rivers, most of them were dried up. (I'm sure you read the special edition of "Water" written by the National Geographic. There seemed to be more trucks driving than cars transporting goods and food offloading their emissions on all the crops lining the roads. The farms that did have water, waste and abuse with the flood irrigation system. Not to mention all the pesticides and herbicides used and running directly into the water.

    Where is there a clean place to live, there aren't many places. My husband is overwhelmed and disillusioned by all the negative information in environmental charts and research he has done to find this place.

    It's the children that can make a difference in the world, they are the ones we need to reach out to, show them love and how to care for mother earth, this is the only way we can change the world.

    If only we could buy less, if the food and meat were more expensive, people could eat less and grow their own. If only we could all be a little more self sustainable and use less water.

    In my last post I left an article from the nature conservancy blog about Christmas trees. We have ours potted so we have it every year. We plant thousands of trees on our farm which is 160 acres, and it's beautiful. Why can't others see this?

    My weakness is for animals, I take on many strays, dogs, cats and horses and bring them back to health and give them much love.

    I feel the blogging world is a wonderful way to reach out, I have emailed your blog to many friends in Africa. I wish you all the luck, we can all make a small difference!

    Thank you for doing so much for the future, for our children!