It’s the elephant in the room when climate change is being discussed (and when isn’t it being discussed these days?).
The fact is, it’s hard to take seriously a climate change movement that rarely alludes to the population explosion over the last century (from 2 billion to 7-plus over the lifetimes of many of our aging population) as the most obvious causative factor or to population reduction as the most obvious (and perhaps the only) solution.
Even the way we refer to the problem is misleading and counterproductive. You could argue that it’s not a careless technology problem at all. It’s an overpopulation problem.
Here’s a Cape Cod Times op-ed column I wrote in 2014 about the various advantages of a world with fewer of us in it.
THE RISING TIDE OF US
Robinson Jeffers, a misanthropic poet of the early part of the last century, preferred hawks to his own species. Though having to share the world with a mere 2 billion fellow humans (compared to our 7 billion), it was way too many for him. Wikipedia calls him an icon of the environmental movement, but he might have rooted for climate change if it could have produced the superstorm he hoped would come along to purge the world of his own sort.
Most of a century and 5 billion more of us later, it’s the great issue of our era: Shall we—will we– continue getting bigger or shrink ourselves?
Climate change is just part of it. Climate change could be seen as a subset to population growth. In every way we’ve gotten too big. There’s too many and too much of us. We worry about the seas rising around us. What about the rising tide of us?
“What have they done to the rain?” sang Joan Baez in the early 60s when radioactivity from Chinese nuke testing was making its way around the globe. Rain? What have we done to everything?
Bill McKibben’s early book “The End of Nature” (1989; world population 5 billion) lamented that there was now no place on earth we hadn’t been; our grubby fingerprints were all over it. Everywhere we look, there we are.
Stephen Hawking praised the recent Mars adventure saying that, never mind the nasty climate, they better get it ready for human colonizing because we are rapidly making this planet unfit. He seemed ready to declare Earth a throwaway planet.
Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book “The Sixth Extinction” says we’ve gotten so big and dominant that we rate for deadliness right up there with the asteroid that knocked off the dinosaurs. The big lummoxes were the victims of extinction; we are the current mass extinction, in the process of devastating the world, including, of course, ourselves.
Alan Weisman wrote wistfully in “The World Without Us” about how long would it take the world to recover from our abusive relationship with it. His new book, “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” argues for a world average of one child per family until we get back to what some scientists see as the ideal of 1.5 billion, which would go a long way to solving climate change and a lot of other problems.
But think of all those unborn, all those prevented babies, a chorus is likely to be raised, don’t they deserve their shot at life? Aren’t we meant to “go forth and multiply”?
Going on a diet of us, reducing our influence, practicing modesty seems to go against our species grain. Some would argue that our species is hardwired for more and bigger.
I’ve just discovered the existence of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Seems a little extreme. Species self-loathing is understandable but not finally very helpful. What we need is to think of getting smaller in a more species-centric way (what species is not species-centric?), like dieting just because it feels better not being obese .
Take pity on the forests and endangered species not—or not only–for their sake but for our own. As McKibben says, it was nice before nature ended. The world would be more enjoyable to live in—and we would probably have longer to live in it—if there were less of us, more of it.
Meanwhile the School of Bigger continues to ride roughshod, led by the greedy minority. But also abetted by lack of a serious alternative on the part of the rest of us.
Is it realistic to continue to imagine a reversal of climate change without reduction of population?