In case you didn’t know, we’re fucked.
The reality of the inevitable decline of humanity in the face of insufficient natural resources is described, with much more eloquence than that, in this fascinating excerpt from Wasted World:
In “The Limits to Growth,” Dennis Meadows and others concluded from one calculation that the number of humans could crash suddenly rather than stabilize gradually. But none of the other calculations showed this effect; their results suggested that the numbers of humans on Earth had to be reduced gradually, and with them, the overuse of natural resources. It seemed that this single result was anomalous and could be ignored, although its cause remained unclear.
Twenty years later, however, in their 1992 follow-up book “Beyond the Limits,” on the basis of calculations using data from the intermediate years, the authors reported that such crashes were no longer exceptional but had become the rule. Results without a population crash had become exceptional; crashes appeared to be normal and seemed not easily avoidable. This was a very different story. Without knowing the underlying causes, population crashes were now being attributed to delays in the fine tuning of interactions within the system and to the exceeding of limits of irreversible degradation.
So I’ll amend my opening statement. If we don’t stop both consuming and reproducing at the current rate, we’re fucked.
Generally the focus is on consumption because, as the author notes earlier in the piece, discussion about population decrease is a major taboo.
It’s not taboo because people see anything fundamentally wrong with reducing human footprint(s), quite literally, on the planet. It’s taboo because the ways of doing so in the expedited fashion necessary fall, arguably universally, under the category of eugenics to some degree or another.
If they do not fall under eugenics, most strategies are at the very least socio-economically unfair in some way or another.
So we preoccupy ourselves with the consumption portion of the equation. It’s less morally and ethically troublesome. Easier to pontificate upon. Easier to run a campaign about.
Whenever I end up in discussions about climate change–what it is, what it means, who or what is responsible for it–I always, somehow, through the bramble and tangle of politics and moving pieces, arrive at the same conclusion:
It hardly fucking matters if we don’t, as a species, at the very least stop increasing our numbers — and preferably decrease them.
That statement, perhaps understandably, usually signals the end of the conversation. What else, after all, is there to say?
People prefer to stick to questions that are compatible with their politics and have apparently obvious answers. People like questions that don’t challenge their most basic beliefs and assumptions about human rights.
But if there are 14 billion apples, and even if we all eat only one apple a day and consume nothing else, if there are 15 billion of us, there will not be enough apples.
End of story.
The end of the metaphorical apples is in sight. It is not as far off as you might imagine, and certainly not as far off as you hope. Probably. Increasingly probably.
In fact, as the excerpt states, the longer we go without having the conversation, the faster the end of the apples comes. As with anything exponential, it actually increases in relative speed:
Moreover, system collapse follows from almost any simulation experiment based on relatively recent data—data that are now already twenty years old and are therefore too optimistic. In those twenty years, it has become even more likely that the conditions theoretically leading to system collapse will occur.
So. When will the mainstream, public conversation about human reproduction and population — the exceptionally difficult conversation and the one that truly, actually, matters when we’re talking about finite earthly resources — actually begin?
Or, as I’ve been told before, is it better to focus elsewhere, not to risk infringing on human rights, and to simply lean into our fate, heroically swinging our organic fruit-laden, upcycled Dorito wrapper tote bags at the beast that will, unquestionably, devour us anyway?
Should we go into that good night, but not gently, so we can at least say — to whom, one wonders, if the collapse is utter — that our conscience is clear? And to whomever has to salvage what is left of the human world, will having done so appear as integrity or selfishness?