Happy New Year!

I just arrived home after a nice Christmas celebration and a reasonably calm drive from Fort Worth, and sat down to read a few lines of Buddhist philosophy that explained to me that my suffering can be controlled by my own mind because it is caused by my own thinking. I made a couple of notes that reflect on the suffering of other people through no cause of my own, took a nice hot bath, and toddled off to bed with the latest National Geographic and opened it to: “This month we begin a series of stories about population that will run through the year.” Damn I wish I had waited till tomorrow morning for this.

OK. I’m suffering. It could very well be that I am suffering needlessly, given that I can’t change the facts, but my state of mind duplicates that several years back when I read on the United Nations web site their promotion of “sustainable growth.” I was horrified to the bottom of my roots. That one moment changed my future. It’s one thing to live with a looming problem while trying to resolve it. It’s quite a different matter when important, rich entities promote a disaster for individual gain, group gain, or for any other reason including mistaken dogooderism. We have an obligation to evaluate the long-term consequences of our behaviors in light of available knowledge. Especially if we have the power to take big actions.

There is no such thing as sustainable growth of human population or economy. Any intentional effort to make more people, on the excuse that the economy requires growth, is nothing more nor less than farming human kind. Like we farm the cows that live over my back fence. The end result of such efforts can only be more physical suffering for more people and the eventual collapse of both the economy and the lovely social structures that I helped to build in this “land of the free.” Or to quote Richard Heinberg: “Social liberals and progressives who fail to talk about population and resource issues and to propose workable solutions are merely helping to create their own worst nightmare.”

Smithsonian Magazine, NOVA, and some more disreputable sources have lately published articles on the subject of population growth, all of them either overtly or more subtly, promoting the growth of the population for the benefit of the economy. I have cancelled Smithsonian and written them the strongest, most honest letter that I could devise. My own best publication on this subject, among several, was not written by me, but by my colleague, Dr. Dorothy Bennett.

I am delighted that the article in National Geographic is an effort to write a genuinely balanced report of the world we are now entering, thank you very much National Geographic, you have not destroyed my faith in you. Every responsible person must read this January 2011 issue and consider its implications. Happy New Year – we can finally deal with this problem together, with honor and honesty.

Nobody is perfect, of course, and the author can’t cover everything. He seems to think we should be encouraged by the fact that we humans have weathered such crises before. I do not agree with that assessment. I believe every time we deal more or less effectively with another limiting factor, that effort increases the probability of catastrophic crash when we approach the next one. My reasoning is very briefly explained in Bare Bones Biology 035 (KEOS 89.1, Bryan, TX), that aired the week before Christmas. It is also posted on my blog and I will make the audio available on line ASAP.

The other reality that we tend to ignore is the extent to which the ecosystem requires balance to maintain its own viability (without which we are cooked geese). This aspect of ecosystem health is discussed on pages 32-37 of Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook (available at the Brazos Museum of Natural History and at Brazos Natural Foods), and also in my blog post, Levels of Organization.

The concept of sustainability and the concept of resilience, as proposed by Rob Hopkins, both emphasize the need for multiple species to maintain a healthy balance of the ecosystem, as does the certainty of unknown emergent properties. These considerations make the devastating extinction rate of our species a real but unpredictable danger, as well as tying global warming with overpopulation, a connection that the author seemed to doubt.

And at the same time National Geographic has so neatly initiated the more honorable conversation, we also have finally a truly excellent, no-hype book that outlines options for our individual actions and group actions, relative to the many, many problems raised by our population crisis. (The Post Carbon Reader, available at their web site, or I have a few extra if you want to get in touch with me.)

I offer my differences of opinion because I hope they will help in a small way to lead toward the solution of our common problem. Opinions will be needed and are helpful, so long as we honor the measurable facts, that do not change, and maintain our common goal, which I assume is to provide a long-term future for human kind on earth, with minimum suffering. No more farming people. No more growing the economy to save the world. No more self-serving politics and no more toxic propaganda. It’s time to get down to business and – as the Buddhists keep saying – work together for the benefit of all living things.

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