The scene: The beginning of the workday at an architect’s studio somewhere along the rural Pacific Coast. The seasoned old architect mentor is greeted by his protégé, a young intern not long removed from architecture school.
I: Today is the fall equinox and “the climate it is a changing.”
A. Bob Dylan?
I. Not quite. Speaking of changing I don’t hear you ever saying much about climate change, but with your concern for the natural landscape – not to mention mountain king snakes – what do you think? Is it real?
A. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s real. Of course the real question is are we contributing to it and if it looks like there is a good chance we are then I think we should be very cautious and pay especially close attention to anything we might be doing to affect it. But before promoting any response, most of which don’t seem very thoughtful, I would consider the bigger picture.
I. You must be concerned then, right?
A. What you are probably sensing is not that I’m not concerned…I am really concerned… I’m concerned about our impact on the earth in numerous other ways. One of my biggest concerns is for the well-being of our fellow passengers on spaceship earth and especially those of them that are being driven out of their ancestral habitat by our continuous expansion. Those are the lucky ones. Some are left with no more viable habitat to retreat to and must inevitably face extinction. Extinction is natural enough, but out impact is greatly accelerating the process. The red wolf, Florida panther, Delta smelt, Loggerhead sea turtle, etcetera, etcetera.
And I’m really concerned about the amount of plastic in the oceans, the incremental loss of individual freedoms and quality of human life, the ubiquitous use of materials that don’t readily breakdown, vinyl for example, animals born into captivity and destined only for the slaughterhouse, the enormous waste going into landfills, just to name a few. Not exactly mankind at his most noble.
I. I heard on the news that hundreds of thousands of Americans are undernourished and that we need to find ways to produce more food from our farmlands in the future. Shouldn’t we get going on trying to resolve this and perhaps these other problems as well?
A. One might think so, but there are potential problems with that approach, most glaring of which is that any single problem is just one of a plethora of growing human insults to Mother Earth. While we are reducing climate change or increasing food production, we are probably ignoring numerous other environmental problems to continue growing. Stopping the bleeding in one place when there is bleeding all over is short sighted at best. Superficial. A more serious solution would address the underlying cause of all the bleeding. So, what is the common denominator of climate change and other issues? Is it not self-evident? Is it not you and me, they and them? All nearly eight billion of us and growing? If global temperature is increasing and global population is increasing do you think there could be a correlation?
Dealing with our environmental problems piece-meal and not holistically can give us the sense that we are doing the right thing, and we can go about our lives feeling good about ourselves, but it allows us to unwittingly take our eye off the real prize – true national and planetary sustainability.
When you look at it from this perspective, we can see the affect population has on numerous humanitarian problems as well. Things like international tensions over land and resources, more rapid spread of disease epidemics, the need for increased food production and water supply…where does it end? Where should it end? Has anyone thought about where it should end?
I. So you think reducing population, at least in part, reduces pressure on a whole host of problems – bleeding all over as you say.
A. Much of the bleeding for sure. A serious response to all of this should be a solution that can last. The use of the word that was superficially tossed around a couple years ago was sustainability. If something is sustainable it must be able to replenish itself at the rate of its depletion. Proposals like the Green New Deal focus on people and not the health of the planet as a whole. There is a lack of compassion for other creatures and the natural landscape. It only attempts to make climate change and a few other things less bad, but that is not good. It totally ignores the notion of overall stability.
I. So, climate change only makes serious sense when coupled with some notion of a stable population? It’s quite a stretch to think more suburbs somehow contribute to world good, improved health, or a better future. So, what is the solution – free vasectomies after you have one and a half kids…? Sounds simple enough.
A. I don’t have the answer, but personal responsibility along with controlling and limiting our overall numbers to a sustainable level would be a good start. Perhaps there could be a varying range of family sizes.
I. Perhaps, but not the most convincing strategy. I can’t imagine thousands, let alone billions, of people with a sense of personal responsibility.
A. Well, depressingly and truthfully, I can’t either. It’s a certainty that the future is unknown and anything could happen, but it seems most probable that some form of caste system – think ant or bee societies – with greatly reduced individual freedoms. And to make things worse, in our present civilization nearly all genetic characteristics, fit and unfit, good and bad, are preserved and continue to contribute to the gene pool. Over time this must result in gradual misalignment with the environment – so either the environment must change to our liking or biological engineering must create humans with the right stuff while deleting the wrong stuff.
I. Not a pleasant thought, but the bottom-line goal of all this has to be survival – to just somehow survive to fight another day.
A. My mother used to tell me to not let oneself become overwhelmed by overwhelming matters and to just focus on one problem at a time. If she was right, I’m pretty sure our focus should be on the sheer numbers of us.