Monday, May 17, 2010

Too Many

A few years ago I got into an online debate with a character styled as Dartmouth. As near as I could tell this person was a shill for Lyndon Larouche as the debate was occurring at the message board of a known Larouche supporter. One of Dartmouth's assertions was that the increase in human population was to the benefit of the world seeing as we are so smart and capable. Not to mention made in the image of God. It's been about 8-9 years since that encounter and I wonder if Dartmouth's view has changed.

In the post below I commented on the fact that the Earth is a planet filled with relationships. Everything is interconnected. Consider Earth a system, of which we are a part. Yet most people don't see that systemic connection unless it's pointed out to them. Plants breathe CO2 and excrete O2. Without O2 we couldn't live. We need the plants, we need the trees. The earth is made up primarily of H2O, and so are we, but we can't drink ourselves. But we do sweat, and that gets back into the atmosphere and recycled. If we only operated using natural rhythyms, rather than artificial tools, life would be very different than what it is now, and consequently our future is not nearly as bright as we might hope.

Each of us exerts a pull on the Earth's resources because it's all about me, the human. Whatever I need or want is what matters and the Earth needs to provide the resources to meet that need or want. Fossil fuel energy has been cheap enough to enable us to achieve a standard of living far removed from direct interaction with the Earth. The US and Europe have led the way, but China and India are rapidly catching up. The Chinese and Indians are not immune to the siren call of the "good life" as practiced in America. Cell phones are nearly ubiquitous, and technology is the solution for every problem. Ergo, everyone who wants to live as Americans do has the opportunity to do it, if they can get enough money to pay their way.

The pursuit of the "good life" is not without cost. As noted below, the oceans are in trouble. Serious trouble. Water is becoming the new peak resource as fossil aquifers are depleted and cannot be recharged. Here in Chicago there have been news reports about town water wells that are polluted, and the population was not fully aware of the dangers. The Colorado River and the Yellow River don't always make it to the sea, being diverted to many other uses. The Arctic ice cap has been melting, with multi-year ice disappearing. We may open the fabled Northwest Passage, but at what cost in terms of erratic weather events and more severe weather extremes? Increasing CO2 may not be as beneficial as once believed for plants. The systemic interconnections throughout Earth's environment are not fully understood and it isn't until they manifest themselves that we begin to see the problem. But it doesn't end there.

Fossil fuel energy has made it possible to do so much more with so many fewer people. The productivity gains that are helping the economy to improve are not due to a massive influx of jobs. It is due to efficiencies achieved through technology and improved business processes. My Congresswoman fails to see that the potential for reemploying the thousands without a job at a pay scale they were previously accustomed to is slim, if it exists at all. I have watched this play out in my own family. I am retired, and possibly the last of my siblings with a substantial income. How long it lasts depends on the financial integrity and sustainability of the US Government. The rest are either unemployed or underemployed, yet grateful to have a job even if there is no health insurance attached or it is too expensive to sign up for.

We are too many and the jobs too few. The unwinding of the economy, and of America, is underway and going unnoticed by most as they focus on their own pocketbooks and listen to the smooth reassurances of elected officials. The truth may be out there, but it is in short supply. We are like the frog who is sitting in a pot that is slowly coming to a boil. We may be dead before we realize we are dying.

And when the end comes, what will it finally look like? I have no idea, except I am sure we must become fewer, and I suspect the division between rich and poor will become starker. The remaining resources will be of a lower quality than we have known, and harder to retrieve. Canada's reliance on the Athabasca tar sands and the Deepwater disaster and should make that very clear. The chronically poor, especially in Third World countries, already know how to live with nothing. The rich don't.

I was discussing this with an older friend. He wanted to know where the too many is too many. I told him it was a global issue. Too many people with too few resources and a whole lot of resources used by a limited number of people. Slice it any way you like, it is trouble.

So Dartmouth, still think humans should continue to increase and multiply? Is there any point where that increasing needs to end? Dartmouth?


The North Coast said...

The population WILL return to sustainable levels, whether we make it happen by choice, or let it happen to us.

We could arrange an orderly attrition to more sustainable population levels as younger people decide to pass on breeding, and instead save their money to fund their own retirement so they will not have to depend on a shrinking population base to support them in their dotage.

Or, we can just keep breeding incontinently and let the Four Horsemen do the work of pruning the population back to homeostasis. That's how it's always been done before.

There's no question of which way is less painful. There's also no question which course we'll most likely choose, given the prevalence of people who think like "Dartmouth".

It's too bad that we have not evolved to behave with any more foresight and ability to make choices than the micro-organisms in a petri dish that heedlessly breed till they reach its limits, then die back sharply.

mcl said...

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."
Albert Einstein