Saturday, August 04, 2012

Reducing the Titanic Passenger List

Population growth and per capita resource consumption are the twin swords of human impact on the natural world.

At 7 billion and counting, Homo sapiens has drastically overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth, even in areas where per capita resource consumption is low. There is no place on Earth that has not felt the destructive impact of human activity. Where humans live in poverty, the land is stripped bare for fuel and food. Where humans live in profligate excess, the map of destruction extends world-wide, feeding never-ending demands for more and more of more and more.

Ironically, population is the one factor that humans can most easily control. If there is one common thread that anthropologists have discovered in human societies throughout the world, it is that family size and reproduction rates are a function of local economy, social position of women and availability of food. When social conditions create a stable environment for families, increased social status and autonomy for women and access to sufficient food and energy, birth rates decline, since large families are not seen as necessary for survival.

However, even in developed countries, social conditions can increase birth rates, despite better conditions for women, where economic incentives exist for large families, where religions discourage effective birth control and family planning, and where social values favor families over non-breeders. Developed countries also have the highest rates of resource consumption, providing double edges for the twin swords of human destruction.

To further enhance population growth, the medical intervention industry has fostered the attitude that all humans born must live to maturity, regardless of congenital medical conditions complicating their lives and the society in which they live. 

Those who in the recent past would have died in infancy, childhood or early adulthood now live to become reproducing adults, thus passing on their genetic diseases to future generations, and increasing population by lowering death rates.

The result is that we have allowed human population to outstrip resource supplies necessary for all life on the planet, and we have further magnified the problem with a corporate capitalist economy that produces material goods for profit at a rate far greater than that required for human use. We have created human societies that consume resources hundreds of times faster than they are naturally replenished, and we produce wastes hundreds of times faster than natural processes can assimilate them. 

It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that this is a formula for environmental disaster, coming soon to an ecosystem near each and every one of us.

Coming Next: Consuming ourselves to death.