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Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it… (Genesis 1:28)
Dear patriarchal, monotheistic Deity,
thanks for the good advice. We have dutifully followed these instructions. What next?
The People of Earth
Today the human population is rapidly approaching 7 billion, growing by around 80 million a year. That’s 1.5 million every week or 10,000 every hour. The human ecological footprint (impact upon nature) is the total number of people multiplied by average per capita level of consumption. Both total population and average consumption are increasing which is why we have an environmental crisis. Humanity is consuming the living fabric of our planet faster than it can regenerate and thus extinction is increasingly likely (for us and many other species).
There is a pervasive and dangerous taboo which prevents an honest, open and pragmatic debate about reducing the total human population. There seems to be an assumption that because human life is sacred and reproduction a fundamental right, we should all just keep reproducing as if the planet was still a giant unexplored wilderness and resource constraints inconceivable. Sadly, this era is long gone. If human life is sacred, shouldn’t we work to keep it in existence for as long as possible? Over population is a short cut to extinction, as David Attenborough says “All environmental problems become harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.”
Limiting human fertility also offends because it may discriminately affect the underprivileged but there are multiple ways to reduce human population in a progressive way that actually helps to redistribute wealth more fairly. The greatest mistake we can make is to ignore the population time bomb, for whatever reason.
Population growth is highest in developing countries. The two proven, most effective ways of slowing this growth is (1.) to reduce infant mortality and (2.) to educate woman for longer. Both of these should be given top priority anyway, irrespective of the importance for the global ecosystem. Governments must join up their environmental and developmental strategies and, urgently, invest far more to achieve these aims.
The aspiration in many developing countries is to have lifestyles like people in the West, for example, car ownership in China has ‘exploded’. However, this is impossible. It is not just that the developing world cannot consume like us in the West. We in the West cannot continue to consume as we do, resources are running out.
Current global rates of consumption are said to be unsustainable and with population and consumption both increasing the only way we can become sustainable is by reducing consumption combined with reducing population. Developed countries must contract consumption to converge on a sustainable and fair global average.
Some Western countries with static populations like Spain and Italy have set up funds to boost fecundity. Spain now offers a 2,500 euro bonus for every baby born. Of course, from a global perspective this policy is diametrically opposed to sustainability. Countries faced with the fiscal problems associated with static growth and an ageing population can make their borders porous and accept the flow of immigrants coming from more crowded countries rather than incentivising additional populaion growth.
At a time of global ecological collapse the notion of the nation-state isn’t just anachronistic, it is dangerous and retarded. We cannot shift to sustainability and survive without taking a global, scientific view-point on resource use and climate change, so, with this planetary perspective in mind, lets respond as one species without borders.
Project Prevention is a US charity that has caused an uproar by paying (bribing) drug addicts to become sterilized so that they cannot bring a child into the world that is born to suffer. Should this concept be extended? Why not set up a global fund to pay anyone who will voluntarily take the money: a fee to be sterilized?
The reason this plan would be unpalatable is because within the unfair global economic system the poor will more likely take up this offer of cash, but is the world any fairer, or better, where half a million poor women die every year in child-birth and millions of children die from malnourishment? At least paying volunteers to be sterilized will help to redistribute wealth and alleviate suffering.
Why don’t we do this in the UK too? Currently the government pays increasing child care support with each extra baby, an ill-advised incentive to increase the population further. Why don’t we shift things around so that if you have had two children the government will pay you a one-off lump sum to get sterilized. This reduces population and increases the quality of life of those remaining.
Thousands of years ago when the Old Testament was being put together, the human population was a minute fraction of what it is today. In that era, the guidelines for human success were to procreate and claim land. Today, the game has changed. Go forth and multiply are instructions for a long gone era. It is time for new planetary guidelines for our species. Crucially, these plans, policies and ideas must reduce the total human population, reduce per capita consumption whilst creating a fairer and happier world so how about:
Slow down, stay local, conserve and be happy
- For more on sustainable populations for the UK and worldwide check out http://populationmatters.org/
- For essays on population: http://www.populationpress.org/essays/index.html
- For more on environmentalism and religion see: http://ecohustler.co.uk/2010/02/26/science-is-great-but-god-is-green/
Stereo ★ Type A (1999)
This evening EcoHustler is rocking a BBQ party and afterwards we are going to dance like this:
Best Beastie Boy Videos:
Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose. — Sir Fred Hoyle, 1948.
The mighty genius of man has made steel and chemicals and computers and rockets and bundled these together to fire ourselves into space. The giant phalluses thunder up, unleasing gigawatts of power; shooting life into the void. Nobody has returned the same. As Dr Edgar Mitchell put it:
We went to the Moon as technicians; we returned as humanitarians.
No perspective could be newer then that of an earthling no longer on earth. Suddenly our planet seems small and fragile and the atmosphere a remarkably thin layer. The exceptional book Moondust documents how astronaughts return to earth forever changed.
Here are some reactions to seeing our home from space:
If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried. — Alan Shepard
This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and this is all we’ve got. — Scott Carpenter, Mecury 7 astronaut
For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light – our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance. – Ulf Merbold, Federal Republic of Germany
(For more on the fragility of our atmosphere check out: Climate sceptic!? You do the maths…)
Dr Ed Mitchell had an epiphany (a powerful Savikalpa samadhi experience) in his spaceship on the return trip from the moon and wrote:
On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious.
My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.
Our technology has flung us into space. It is also tearing apart the living fabric of our planet. We must listen to our spacemen. It is time for us to care for our planet as if it was a living being; because that is what she is. And she has a name; Gaia.
For more on Gaia check out: Science is Great but God is Green.