The ancient saying, "The rich get richer, and the poor get children," has more wisdom in it than does the demographic transition theory.
The moral is surely obvious: never globalize a problem if it can possibly be solved locally. It may be chic but it is not wise to tack the adjective global onto the names of problems that are merely widespread -- for example, "global hunger," "global poverty," and the global population problem."
We will make no progress with population problems, which are a root cause of both hunger and poverty, until we deglobalize them. Populations, like potholes, are produced locally, and, unlike atmospheric pollution, remain local unless some people are so unwise as to globalize them by permitting population excesses to migrate into the better-endowed countries. Marx's formula, "to each according to his needs" is a recipe for national suicide.
We are not faced with a single global population problem but, rather, with about 180 separate national population problems. All population controls must be applied locally; local governments are the agents best prepared to choose local means. Means must fit local traditions. For one nation to attempt to impose its ethical principles on another is to violate national sovereignty and endanger international peace. The only legitimate demand that nations can make on one another is this: "Don't try to solve your population problem by exporting your excess people to us." All nations should take this position, and most do. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to believe that our nation can solve everyone else's population problems.
~ The Feast of Malthus: Living within Limits | There is No Global Population Problem!? ~
Paul Ehlrich | Island Press: Eco-Compass
A central problem of the human predicament discussed in The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment is that we’re small-group animals trying to live in ever more gigantic groups - and not doing very well at it. If catastrophe can be avoided, we’re stuck with gigantic groups for a century or more, and very large groups “forever.” It therefore behooves humanity to start asking itself how to maintain the small group coherence and interests that make people comfortable while greatly damping down intergroup competition and substantially enhancing the intergroup cooperation desperately needed to solve the human predicament.
Can human cultural evolution be directed away from its current trajectory toward disaster and diverted toward creating a prosperous and equitable long-term future for society? The answer is, “yes, it could” if the small-group animal “family” attitudes can be properly channeled. The basic requirements would be quite simple - a set of overlapping and intertwined ethical-environmental steps toward sustainability such as suggested below and over the next few weeks here at the “Eco-Compass” blog. Whether such steps will be taken is, of course, an entirely different question. But here’s the first of the steps we should take:
One: Put births on a par with deaths.
Human beings have always fought against early death from accident, hunger and sickness, and in the past century or so have employed improved sanitation and the use of pesticides and antibiotics to good effect in raising life-expectancy. But given the horrendous potential consequences of the explosion of human numbers following reduction of the death rate, we must pay equivalent attention to reducing the birthrate as well. As been done in many family planning programs, the happy family should be promoted as one that limits its numbers. But the change should be in the motivation. Traditionally the small family was supposed to supply a higher standard of living - including more stuff for each individual. The new approach could be to promote it as a multigenerational unit that in each generation limits its size in order to maximize the chances of each following generations retaining a happy, sustainable life style.
To move in that direction, humanity must rapidly expand programs to educate and give job opportunities to women, make effective contraception universally available, and develop public support of population policies. The goal must be to halt population increase as soon as humanely possible, and then start reducing human numbers until births and deaths balance at population size that can be maintained without irreparable damage to our life-support systems.
Two: Put conserving on a par with consuming.
At any given level of technology, there is a trade-off between how many people can be born into a society and the level of per capita physical affluence that can be sustainably supported. The more people there are, the smaller each one’s share of the pie.
One way of dealing with this trade-off would be a cultural shift away from creating ever more gadgets to creating more appreciation and better stewardship for Earth’s aesthetic assets. A high priority should be rethinking how we use the resources available to us - as individuals and societies - manage manufactured and natural capital (our ecological assets) carefully, and distribute their benefits more equitably. Success there, if it were combined with a decline in numbers, should eventually permit most people to live satisfactory lives. Of course, success would require abandoning the insane idea that growth in consumption is automatically good and can continue forever, No physical quantity can do that, including the total bulk of the human population (which at recent exponential growth rates would equal the total mass of the universe in less than 10,000 years).
Three: Transform the consumption of education.
Education is what economists call a “non-rival good” - something that can be consumed without reducing the amount available to others-and as such it is an ideal consumption good for a sustainable society. More quality education could help us solve the human predicament - the combined crises of overpopulation, wasteful consumption, deteriorating life-support systems, declining resources, multiplying weapons of mass destruction, and widening inequity within and between nations. Education reform is also crucial. In the future, both the need for sustainability and the multi-dimensional environmental, social, political, and economic requirements to achieve it must be central elements of education around the world. Unless a much larger fraction of the human population becomes aware of the predicament we all face and its possible solutions, sustainability is unlikely to be reached.
There exists today what I like to call a “culture gap.” When I lived with the Inuit (Eskimos) more than a half century ago every Inuit individual possessed the vast majority of the non-genetic information (culture) available to the Inuit community. Women knew how seal hunting was done; men knew the use of a woman’s knife. Perhaps a shaman had a few secret chants, but in general everyone was “fully educated.” In our global society that has changed completely. Even the most educated people do not possess even one millionth of the non-genetic information housed in human brains, libraries, computer disks, arts, and artifacts. Given the parts, I could not begin to assemble the computer on which I am writing this. How many readers of this blog could explain quantum physics or ecosystem science, or recite the poems of Shakespeare? There is a huge gap between what society knows collectively, and what people know individually. We obviously cannot close the culture gap across the board, but we could narrow it selectively. In short, we must strive to narrow the culture gap in the most crucial areas related to reaching sustainability..
Four: Judge technologies not just on what they do for people but also to people and their life-support systems.
A novel synthetic chemical added to the plastic in a sports bottle may increase its durability or prolong its life. But if it leaches into the bottle’s contents or into the environment and functions in tiny doses as a cancer-causing agent, is the risk worth the benefit? In general, benefit-cost analyses are not done frequently or carefully enough before the introduction of new technologies. Freons (chlorofluorocarbons) looked extremely beneficial until it was discovered they could destroy the ozone layer and with it all life on land. Risk cannot be avoided completely. But a cultural change toward more careful analyses and deployment only of technologies that carry very clear benefits will help humanity keep the odds in its favor. It is an example of where the small group alone just can’t produce the necessary cultural evolution - information from the large-group institutions of governments and international science necessarily must be integrated into the process.
Five: Rapidly expand our empathy.
We’re a small-group animal, trying to live in large groups. Although we no longer can associate exclusively with a clan “family” of, say, 125 relatives, most of us have a group of “pseudokin”—friends and close associates of about the same number. In both cases, we develop a sort of “we” versus “them” culture, with the “themness” increasing with physical and cultural distance.
People are gradually gaining more empathy toward those others distant from us in skin color, gender, religion, class, culture or physical space, but our ability to inflict harm on them has also increased. Cultural evolution is not rapidly enough reducing this discounting by distance (caring less about situations the further away they are). The same can be said about discounting by time—not caring enough about the world we will leave to our children and our descendants in the more distant future. Can affluent people in the West learn to care enough about a starving child in Darfur to take real action to save her? If society takes step five, the answer will be “yes,” and we’ll be on the kind of road that could lead to a level of global cooperation that might allow a billion, perhaps three billion small-group animals to live together sustainably in relative peace.
Six: Decide what kind of world we all want.
What are the ultimate goals of our lives? Are Americans really happier traveling to work an hour or more each day wrapped in a few tons of steel and breathing smog that threatens their lives?
While the U.S. GDP has increased almost five times since 1958, satisfaction, as shown by polls, has not increased at all. The situation in other countries is similar. Must all nations then strive to emulate the American superconsuming life style? Or should all of humanity strive together to seek a more equitable global society, which could replace today’s bipolar super-rich—desperately poor population in which the split widens as growth continues. We could initiate a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB) to begin a discussion of what economic, social, and political systems will best fulfill a small-group animal’s desires as it struggles to live in gigantic groups. How, for example, do we take advantage of the enormous benefits that market mechanisms provide to societies while constraining their propensity to do gigantic damage when unregulated? Starting and maintaining a global cultural discussion is a step that would help determine the kinds of lifestyles people really want., Armed with that knowledge, we could try to establish as accurately as possible the conditions of population size, consumption patterns, economic arrangements, and technologies required to make such lifestyles sustainable.
Seven: Determine the institutions and arrangements best suited to govern a planetary society with a maximum of freedom within the constraints of sustainability.
This is closely related to step six. In the 200,000 year history of Homo sapiens, states are a recent invention, existing for only a tiny fraction of our existence. In their modern form as nation states, they are only a little more than 200 years old. We need to look closely at possible alternatives that could combine greater awareness of the problems of living at a global scale while regaining family-style psychological comfort. More cooperation at a global level is clearly necessary for civilization’s long-term survival.
All seven of the steps could be written of as an exercise in Pollyannaism. “Totally impractical,” people will say, “not gonna happen.” Well, I tend to agree. But there is nothing more impractical than letting our global civilization go down the drain, with billions of people dying. Pundits seem to think we have choices, but they are wrong. If we don’t change our ways, they’ll be changed for us.
Paul R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. He is the author of hundreds of scientific papers, and numerous books including The Population Bomb and Betrayal of Science and Reason (Island Press, 1997). His latest book is The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, which he co-authored with his wife Anne.
Source: Island Press: Eco-Compass
According to Paul Ehlrich | ForaTV (01:28:38)
Paul Ehrlich gives a seminar at the Long Now Foundation about the evolution of human culture and its effect on the environment. A perspective of the State of the World, from ecologists, biologists, etc.
Human Dominance of Earth | Early Human Evolution | Cultural Evolution | Big Cultural Steps | Human Effects on Environment | Population | Global Climate Change | Toxification of Earth | Epidemic Problems | Resource Wars | Changing Human Behaviour | Drilling for Oil | Questions