Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Coming Population Crisis

On Monday, the Movies and Meaning Group I'm a part of went to the Hollywood theater to view a free hour long documentary called Mother: Caring For 7 Billion, about the population crisis. This is an issue that I have long thought about, since sometime in the 1980s. Not sure what prompted me to think about it, but it might've been when the population reached 5 billion sometime in the 1980s. It reached 6 billion when I was in college, in 1998 or 1999. Now it has recently reached 7 billion. This is especially troublesome when you consider the idea that it would take 6 planet earths for all 7 billion people to live the average American lifestyle. Now that is truly scary to contemplate.

In the beginning of the documentary is an interesting computerized illustration of the population from the first appearance of humans through the centuries to the current moment. It's simply a line moving in a three dimension space (empty warehouse), staying consistent in its gradual rise until it spikes in the 20th century. It's an alarming graphic to watch. The documentary discusses our consumption patterns, our economic system (which depends on never-ending growth), family planning (an especially current issue that exploded into our politics last week with the birth control issue), and education. One thing I learned in watching this documentary is that increasing the educational and economic opportunities among women in the developing world actually reduces the birth rate, as motherhood gets postponed and they have less children.

When I was in college, the radical roommate I had (who was a hardcore Rush Limbaugh Republican) stunned me when he denied that the world's population would have an impact on our planet. To my stunning amazement, he said what I consider to be "the stupidest thing anyone ever told me." He claimed with a straight face and a pure ideological belief that the entire world's population of 6 billion would "fit in Florida and one county of Georgia." Seriously?!? It's amazing that anyone could believe something as preposterous as that. There's no way, unless you stack bodies on top of one another. Population is more than just the actual space that one human takes up when they are standing on the earth. You can't take the square miles of a country and divide it by the population of the people and decide that its not overpopulation. All that mathematical equation does is show you population density.

What this roommate did not take into consideration is that a lot of square miles are undeveloped marshland for wildlife. It's also quite crowded enough and in a hurricane zone. Can you imagine the nightmare of skyscraper apartments all over the state and the morning commute of 7 billion people? And the enormous impact that would cause on the environment? Not to mention the food to feed these people and the waste products that have to processed through our waste treatment facilities. So, population is more than just people living on this planet, because we consume food and resources and we produce waste.

When I shared info about this documentary on the church's Facebook page and mentioned some of the things we can do to slow down growth and limit our impact on the planet (such as having no more than two children per couple, and adopting if you want bigger families; reducing our consumption habits; changing our way of doing business from a growth-model towards a sustainable-model, and educating girls in the developing world and giving them rights to make decisions for their own bodies including the right to a safe abortion), one person commented that the solutions I proposed were "unrealistic." He then incredulously claimed that the best and only real solution to our planetary population crisis is to "colonize another planet"! A few back and forth comments later revealed that he was serious and not joking about it. He can't see how far fetched his solution is. Wow...and people have accused me on there of not being "logical"!!

I had posted on my blog before when I got into a heated debate with an atheist on Facebook regarding the unrealistic goal of colonizing another planet. Basically, I said that we have to be realistic about our technology and economics. We haven't even done a manned mission to Mars (which I actually support, regardless of the expense), so how are we going to be able to transport millions or billions of people off the planet to another planet that is not even in our galaxy that would have a similar atmosphere as our planet, the same temperature range, the same make-up of water, with animal and plant life to sustain us? HOW??? I know that science nerds love to fantasize about colonizing other planets, but let's get real when we tell people to "get real!" Maybe its because I'm a foot-in-the-earth Capricorn, but we are here to stay and we had best put our best minds together to solve the population crisis now. Stop wasting time dreaming of running away to some perfect planet that will save humanity from itself. Oh, and another thing I never hear these science fantasy nerds ever address...haven't any of them seen the miniseries V? The Classic 80s one or the current one, doesn't matter. We who live on this planet would not take too kindly some alien invasion force who are looking for a new planet to colonize because they destroyed their own. Even pacifist me would take a gun and start blasting away at bug-eyed aliens who want to invade our planet! So, even if we did manage to find another planet somewhere that is suitable to sustain human life, why wouldn't such a planet already have life on it, and perhaps even intelligent life?

So, let's save the science fiction for our books, movies, and television shows and really focus on the real world things that we can do on our planet now. The only way to deal with any crisis is to be real and not fantasize about running away from it all. I believe it is possible to slow our population crisis down. We see it happening in Northern European countries and Japan as many couples only have one child each. Everyone should commit to having no more than two biological children and then getting fixed after that. Of course, this is easier said than done, as I know from reading the personals. There are many women who are divorced or never married with two or more children already. Even if she was everything I want in a wife, I still want my own child or two.

After viewing this documentary, though, I don't hold out much hope for our species. Especially since our economy is so tied to unlimited growth. We are at a crashing point and I'm afraid all hell is going to break loose. A Bird flu pandemic might be the only thing that saves humanity from itself, but that would be devastating for everyone. I really wish, though, that our politicians would address the larger issues instead of pandering to the ignorant vote that is still obsessed with sideshow issues like abortion and birth control. We go through the same arguments in election cycle after election cycle and nothing changes. We don't have much time remaining to make the necessary changes. Better voluntary changes in behaviour than forced changes through disasters.

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