Thursday, 28 June 2012

Humankind's Talents.

Human beings are very good at, among a select few others, three things: first, making so much noise that we confuse ourselves. Second, breeding uncontrollably. Third, an alarming inability to learn from the past. These attitudes are threatening to seal our fate - our extinction, according to many. Why? There are too many of us for the planet to support, and some of us are hoarding all the resources at the expense of the rest.

Population has exploded in the past not-quite-a-century. As seen in figure 1, this is unprecedented and enormous, but next to nobody is acting like it. In the 1700's, English economist Thomas Malthus observed that population patterns conform to the available resources - both human and natural. He was a critic of the poor laws and work-houses that were springing up in his home country, which earned him the brand of an immoral heretic, even though he was right. About both. Today, human resources have developed into behaviours such as the misguided cheap charitable impulses that Malthus condemned, and galvanisation of empathy and the 'alien other' into market-state patriotic apartheids. Humanity's other characteristics are an embarassing promiscuous inability to not think before making more of us, and our ingenuity resulting in technological petro-chemical enhancements to everything, in particular, medicine and agriculture. These have resulted in a massive population surge.

Like Malthus, modern minds such as Slavoj Zizek and William Shockley, the man who gave us the transistor, have come under fire for criticising humankind's propensity to generate such self-confusing noise (such as the 'climate change crusade' and capitalism 'with a human face'), to breed uncontrollably, all-consumingly, and to not learn from our mistakes.

Keeping the poor alive helps them in the same way as a slave owner helped his slaves by being nice to them. The situation is merely aggravated and prevented from being changed to make such evils a thing of the past. The shrill and obscene crusade surrounding climate change is also similarly misguided and self-sabotaging, since most of the noise there ignores most of the important facts about our impact on the planet, our home, whilst providing a 'moral' justification (to replace the old imperial and colonial excuses) for stealing the resources of the developing world, particularly Africa. This is all noise and it, along with all the other ideological cheap substitutes for truth that we are so good at finding, is inequitable, confusing, destructive and immoral.

Much closer to the truth is realistic and responsible measures like those employed by China, and realistic and responsible minds like Ronald Wright. China's policies have seen a marked drop in their population growth, with an increase in their quality of life. Ironically, when one looks at China's energy consumption per capita, they use dramatically less than the U.S.A., Canada, Norway, Australia, the European Union, etc. Why has China been so successful at its policies but others can't succeed comparatively well in managing their energy use? China's population control policies are relatively successful experiments and examples to the rest of the world, in terms of the direction it should be heading.

This still, however, comes at the direct expense of the Earth's ability to feed us all, as per Jeremy Rifkin's empathy/entropy paradox. Recognising such hard truths as we are the Earth's emphysema (in deforesting 20% of the Amazon, the lungs of the Earth), and the morbid obesity (rendering 1% per year of Earth's arable land barren in the last three decades). We are 1% of her biomass, but consume over 26% of all photosynthesis. This is ridiculous. Not to mention the fossil fuels we used to become so will run out. I'll say that again - they will run out. We will soon, if we have not already, hit world peak oil production and peak oil per capita. The problem of population is not just one for the developing world. It threatens us all. We have, in the words of Ronald Wright, built our own suicide machine.

To fix this problem we first need to fix our attitudes that we apply to it. We need to agree to focus on equity and justice; on responsibility and truth; on education and empathy. And then act accordingly, by repairing the damage to both people and environment - we have the technology for that, let's find the drive. We need to live off Earth's interest, not her capital, and we need to do it equitably and sustainably. 7 billion people is not sustainable, and having the top 1-ish billion hoard everything is not equitable. These two are related to each other very closely. Social and environmental justice, perhaps. We need to keep it in our pants for a little while and take some time to cut through the confusion, and learn from our mistakes. We're not likely to get another chance.