[ Still feeling like hell, but I couldn't keep away ... ]
Here’s a personal reaction to a recent bit of news:
(And look at this BBC Where Do You Fit In? calculator. )
When I was born, there were 2.6 billion humans on the planet. Today there are 2.6 TIMES more. World population is expected to tip over 7 billion in the next few days.
Speaking as an environmentalist (someone who cares about the ecosystem of Planet Earth), and a humanist (someone who loves human beings, and wants them to do well) I do not see any way in which this is happy news.
EVERY environmental problem you can name is, at base, NOT an environmental problem but rather a population problem. We have around us an entire planet full of resources, energy, healthy ecosystems, and food. But that one planet is OVERfull of humans consuming same.
The action of NOT dealing with population is, to me, literally insane.
The stand you’re expected to take on the issue of overpopulation, lest you be labeled a tinfoil-hat-wearing crazy or, worse, a “pessimist,” is one of optimism. “Sure it’s bad, but hey, we’ve got science! And education! And smart people making wise decisions! There’s still time! Something wonderful will happen!”
I think I’ve said it here at least once: I met a climate scientist a few years back, and jokingly asked “Tell me the truth: Are we fucked?” And he said, in a non-joking voice: “Yeah. We’re fucked.”
Ongoing optimism has gotten us here. And we grab at any little straw of hope: Population growth is slowing. Educated women have fewer babies. We’re developing better, more productive crops. Technology will provide solutions.
All of that translates, in MY head, to what I call the Modified Thelma and Louise Scenario:
We’re driving toward a cliff, fast. We’re close, and getting closer. However, we appear to be decelerating … slightly.
But to me, the fact that we’re going 95 mph now instead of 100 is cause for very limited rejoicing.
Why is all this happening? My guess is that we’re just not up to solving the problem. I half-jokingly say that humans are about half as smart as they need to be for the species to survive.
I do hope I’m wrong about that.
But for humans, irrationality has been the base norm. I think we naturally desire reason and rationality, but in every early-human-society situation, there have been sharp limits on how much of reason and rationality we could work out on our own.
Plus, we’ve never really been allowed to see what unfettered rationality could do. We’ve had the immense disadvantage that unreason/irrationality can be made to pay, for certain individuals, certain predatory social groups.
In my view, the craziness has always been opposed by reasoning individuals, but that opposition has itself been very successfully opposed, for all of history and pre-history, by an entire class of social predators who don’t give two shits about what happens to people long-term as long as they personally can be enriched and empowered short-term. Given a choice of providing universal education or golden robes and cathedrals, they have opted throughout history for robes and cathedrals.
By no means do I think the greedy deeds throughout history have been carried out only by churches. But the underlying gullibility among the human population that allowed each victimization to take place … that has been formulated, taught, sold, defended, by ONE organized force.
Religion has been humanity’s Crazy School, humanity’s Lawyer for the Defense of Crazy, for its entire lifetime.
The craziness that got us here, that keeps us from stopping or reversing overpopulation, is absolutely a side-effect of the history-long reign of religion. The craziness that gives religion its power over us is the same craziness that prevents us from dealing with all of these real-world problems. Given a history of craziness, a society filled with it but comfortably familiar — in the same way a cat creeping oh-so-slowly up on a pigeon is comfortably familiar — we mostly can’t even see the dangers.
Up to now there’s been world enough to absorb the crazy.
Now, there is not.
I’d like to say I think we have 100 years to grow up and be sane, or 50 years, or even 10. But I think we have zero time to grow up and be sane. Actually I think we have minus 50 years – we’ve already been, for decades, breaking the world in ways that likely only geological ages can repair.
All of this is one of the many reasons I’m an atheist, and a cheerleader for atheism (and all other forms of reason and rationality, actually, but this is the one I know something about).
So we can survive? No, that’s not what I want.
Bare survival is a pitiful goal, it seems to me. I want to live in a world that allows more than survival. A world where there are African lions roaming free, where there are mountain gorillas and black bears and whales, and wide, beautiful spaces for them to live in. And yes, I want us to be there too. I want there to be people with leisure and wealth enough to create art, and write blogs, and build cities in space.
It seems to me that push has come to shove, kids. It’s past time to rip the world out of the hands of the crazies, and let sane people see what they can do.
Whatever you can do to help that happen, whether it’s outspoken atheism, defense of fact-based education, voting for the best available candidates in every election (or maybe BEING one of the candidates), manning the lines at Occupy Wall Street, choosing a career in the sciences, or just talking up the real need to limit population growth … it’s all worth doing.
Otherwise, in fact, I don’t think we’re going to make it.