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.