From Venom to Compassion

From Venom to Compassion: Telling the Positive Side of the Overpopulation Issue.

We must take the venom out of the overpopulation issue and inject it with the compassion that truly is at the heart of its story. When some people hear the word OVERPOPULATION, they cringe. The images that are conjured up in their minds are negative. They hear the word “population control” even if you don’t say it. They remember stories of draconian measures in China, when the success of their population policies are ignored.  Did trying to enforce a one child policy create some disturbing problems? Of course it did, but why do we neglect discussing the millions who were saved from the horrors of starvation? We need to tell the side of the story that is positive.  Policies that prevent misery, suffering and early death are worthy of a more positive place in our collective memory of history. They could always be implemented with more compassion and understanding. But it is up to us to understand the time bomb of exponential growth and its darkest ramifications.

The overpopulation isn’t that complicated. When humans numbers rise exponentially resources cannot keep up. In fact our limited resources decrease and result in pollution.  But few want to hear it or allow it to be a part of our public discourse. This is the real doomsday scenario, increasing demand on a limited planet with decreasing resources. Two grandparents having three children and those children having three children for three generations will result in 81 progeny. That kind of success is just not sustainable. Most species are limited by disease, lack of food and habitat.  Humans are great at eliminating those natural controls, so our numbers go out of control. That sets up for long term problems of suffering, misery and early death when we start to demand the very basic resources we need from an earth that cannot keep up.  We started on that downward slide a mere 90 years ago. In that blink of an earth eye we added an unsustainable 5.5 billion to our limited earth . That is like adding over 3 China’s in one person’s lifetime.

All of this reality is so hard for most to swallow because it means changing their story of a limitless earth where everyone has a right to reproduce especially if they are financially well situated. The activists who focus on specific issues rarely even mention overpopulation because they know the risks of associating clean water, saving tigers and whales  etc. with this quicksand-laden issue.

To recalibrate this scenario without a happy ending, we have only one humane choice. Have less children, a lot less. The results from this difficult choice are the possibilities of the continuation of our species and many others who are so innocent in their own demise. We owe our fellow citizens of this planet to tell the positive side of the overpopulation story.

Instead of focusing on the reality of what will happen if we don’t have less children, lets focus on what will happen WHEN we do. We will have more water to go around, less pollution, more minerals, more open space, less traffic, and my personal favorite, more wild spaces for wildlife. Those goals are ONLY possible if we tame and reduce our exponential success. We can reduce our consumption most successfully if we reduce the number of consumers. It is that simple and that complex. I wish celebrities would get it and demonstrate with their own actions how moral it is to stop after one child. Instead they keep having children with each new spouse, clueless as to the very unfortunate example they are setting.

It is so difficult for many to wrap their heads around the concept that less people is a recipe for success, but indeed it is. If you want a more just and peaceful world, we must improve the ratio between our numbers and our resources. Fossil fuels are just that, resources that aren’t coming back once they are gone. We can’t be continuing to contribute to setting up a world where we will be fighting over diminishing resources. Of course there are many other challenging issues but I can tie them all to this one.  Everything gets better with less of us. Everything gets worse as we grow.

Holding hands and wishing for peace is an important gesture but must be coupled with ecological reality, a reality which must include the humane goal of closing the gap between relentless growth on a limited and degraded planet.

 

The Flaw in the Statue of Liberty

The talented and hard working men who replaced our patio door had heavy Russian accents. I soon discovered that they were from the same part of Russia, Belarus actually, where my grandparents were born. One worker had been here for 13 years the other for three. My paternal grandfather got on a ship that sailed for our borders in 1922. I am a second generation American who has always appreciated the sacrifices made by those who immigrated here so that subsequent generations could have a better life in America.

I have intentionally traveled to countries populated with people with different languages because I enjoy learning and absorbing different cultures. I have devoted my professional life as a naturalist to make our nature center accessible to everyone. The doctor title before my name was earned in a degree that was steeped in social justice. I have not wavered from my steadfast belief in the justice for all concept in our constitution, but I am continually stunned by how so many of our policies completely ignore ecological reality.

It is time to have a more nuanced discussion about immigration that includes the environment. In this time, on this planet, in our country we have a reality shaped by how many people are already here. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Is a heartfelt sentiment put on the Statue of Liberty on its 100th anniversary. Though the statue was intended to be about liberty, the addition of the Emma Lazurus poem gave it a new twist. It started to be symbolic of our attitude toward immigrants. It was an amazing gift given by France to the United States in 1886, back when our population was just over 50 million people. By the time this poem was added to this beautiful statue our population had soared to over 240 million. Now that we are over 324 million the message and the meme of being the repository for all who need to escape their lives or join their relatives needs to be revisited. 

The flaw in the sentiment on this iconic statue that stands in the harbor of New York is that it assumes that our country will always be better off with more and more people. It assumes we will have enough resources for them. It assumes we will have enough fresh water, open space, wildlife, wild lands and everything that makes for a quality of life. It assumes we have enough now. When the hushed voice of environmental measurement is allowed a seat at the table, it speaks a shocking story. It turns out that if we are to look at immigration and the US population through the eyes of sustainability then we passed up our sustainable numbers at least 150 million people ago.150 million just might be sustainable but it depends at what level of consumption and how many resources are left at the time this goal is achieved. 

I am in my sixties now.  Our population in the US has doubled in my lifetime. Those additional 163 million consumers have transformed this country. They are responsible for our crowded cities and traffic problems, more pollution and less open land. More people make a wide variety of negative impacts on the environment and it doesn’t matter from this perspective the nationality of those additional people. We are all consumers. We can and should try to consume less but we all need water, energy, food, jobs, open land and none are in a limitless supply. The consumption in the US is so high that those who keep the statistics on this like Global Footprint Network, tell us that it would take five planets to supply the globe with enough resources if everyone were to consume like us. Adding more high level fossil fuel consumers is horrendous for our climate too. I acknowledge that this is a very difficult discussion to have. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. But I know for sure it is a part of the equation that needs to be on the table.

Overpopulation has been ignored, dismissed and trampled upon for far too long. We absolutely cannot allow our overpopulated country to be an excuse for treating immigrants inhumanely. The atrocities happening at our border are indefensible. But it is equally hard to imagine that we can make good decisions about our country’s future regarding immigration policies while ignoring the tragic state of our country’s limited life-giving resources. Is it really fair to welcome people into a place that is already over-pumping its aquifers? We must acknowledge that we all suffer when we exceed our country’s environmentally determined limits, and we have already exceeded them. We must try our best to walk that fine line between loving our fellow human and conserving the resources that support life itself. 

How ironic that even if Emma Lazurus had been a more futuristic poet, and wanted to add the words,  “until it is no longer sustainable to do so, ” to her poem it was too late.  The US was already overpopulated by at least 90 million people in 1986 when her poem was added.

 

 

A Seat At the Table of Justice

At my latest talk on the topic of overpopulation, I said I had one mission. I wanted overpopulation to have a seat at the table. That table is one that insists on creating a more just world. Instead this troubled topic spends its time growing under the bus where it lives in the silenced aftermath of crippled misunderstanding. The most compelling reason it needs to be revisited and resurrected is that left alone it will overwhelm our resources.

Overpopulation will leave any hope of justice extinguished by the realities of ecology. Contrary to all political agendas and corporate sponsored commercials, we do live on a limited planet. Instead of being a narrative that excuses the horrors of genocide, overpopulation must be understood as a truth that when addressed, prevents misery and suffering. Left alone, with no attention paid to its ability to destroy the world as we know it, it will continue to cause misery.

Preventing the annihilation of our planet’s ability to support life is a good thing, a just act. When I say I want overpopulation to have a seat at the table, I mean that we must look at our human numbers in relation to our shrinking water tables and our wildlife populations. We must measure our diminishing mineral resources and the pollution created in their extraction and then make the best, most humane decisions to turn this mess around. This issue is solvable. T

To continue to be blind to the pressure the nearly 8 billion have on our beleaguered planet is to insure a very inhumane future which has already begun. We continue to grow between 81-87 million a year which exacerbates all of our problems. Scarcity, carbon emissions, political strife and endangered species are all a byproduct of the ravages of overpopulation. Of course our consumption is out of control in the developed world, but that issue already has a seat at the table, while the overpopulation issue is rarely mentioned. Limiting family sizes may seem extreme especially when the numbers call for one-child families to slow, stop and decrease our numbers. But we must remember no cause will survive its grip. No issue will succeed without taking a deep look at the much maligned issue of overpopulation. All it takes is an awakening inspired by the desire to really change the world for the better.

What Do You Expect in a Taker World?

In his iconic book, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn has his protagonist gorilla teach us that we made a wrong turn when we invented totalitarian agriculture. As soon as we were no longer responsible for finding our own food, back in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago, they could lock it up and start charging people for it. That turned on a switch from which we are still suffering.

We were once connected to the land in small groups. Quinn called our hunter-gatherer ancestors ‘”leavers.” We once knew we had to leave the soil intact and give the trees room to replenish. We knew about protection, nourishment and renewal. Those values were embedded in our very lifestyles. Leave some berries for the wildlife and they will continue to plant more as they eat and plant them with their very own fertilizer. Leave some fish so that they may spawn. Continue to live well on holy mother earth and she will protect you as long as you don’t get greedy.

Leaving enough for the future is a sustainable philosophy. It is a mother culture. Mother culture nourishes. John Perkins refers to this as a dream. In his book, “The World as We Dream It,” he says that our reality is a reflection of our dream. In the Americas, the so-called New World, Leavers were able to sustain themselves for thousands of post-ice age years before Columbus unleashed the demons of a very different father-culture dream. Quinn calls those who dismantled sustainable culture, Takers.

Takers do just that, they take. They take from Mother Earth and turn it into material goods that have short life spans, which keeps encouraging more taking. Takers do not dream that this is a planet that needs time to rest in between the pillaging. They dream of golden ships and private golf courses. Their dream has no room for limits. If you think in terms of limits, they would tell you to start thinking outside the box. Technology is the god of takers. It brings them new forms of energy with which to produce more gadgets. The only things Takers leave are huge scars on Mother Earth. This dream is the foundation of what Perkins calls predatory capitalism.

The Taker god is always male. Female figurines of the goddess years teach us that females were once worshipped as the givers of life. Father gods dominate females. In the Taker creation story, Eve is created from Adam’s rib and is responsible for the downfall of man. These are the dreams of the Taker. God is male and watches over man and the earth is a temporary vessel, a place to wait until a post death world embraces the forgiven sinner. Takers only give lip service to the dream that Earth is a living breathing nourishing place that gives us air, water and soil. The Taker dream says that we are here doing god’s bidding which is to convert all natural capital into products for human consumption.
 

Leavers could have never survived were they to overpopulate their spaces. This did not fit their dream. They could only find so much food to fill the bellies of their members. Takers see overpopulation as a mandate and just refer to it as GROWTH. Growth is the twin god of the Takers. More is better and that refers to our numbers too. Takers dominate what and who they believe to be weaker than themselves. Mother is female to be dominated by the superior and in-charge male.

While this dream is in place and becoming more rancid each day, we can expect sexual predation to continue. We can expect our already overpopulated world to grow by 87 million more net gain each year. We can expect our resources to become more and more scarce fueling more conflicts. We can expect our climate to falter rendering our fields useless for growing food.

While we can and must work to call out those who carry the torch of the taker dream, we must understand and begin to dismantle the dream itself and replace it with one that honors mother earth, her other creatures and her limits. This time we can be inspired by knowing the price we are paying by living the wrong dream.

 

 

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More Estrogen Please

Calling all caring females, we need your perspective in an issue that is too male dominated. Yes, we must add to the long list of things that about as much as Nascar driving and professional wrestling. I appreciate my male colleagues but I long for more women to join me in my passion, being an overpopulation activist.

Why is this issue male dominated? I am not sure, but I can guess that it is full of math and statistics and lacks the emotional appeal that many women are looking for in an issue.  We can broaden the reach of the message by focusing on the story of overpopulation as an opportunity to prevent suffering. Men tend to love graphs and statistics which show the loss of resources as a result of growing human numbers.  So far that approach has not caught fire. What has more of a chance to work is an emotional appeal to change our story on this planet in order to allow the survival of most species.

We don’t need more number crunching, we need a way to discuss two narratives at a time. We can love immigrants while demanding that we first consider how many people can live in a given aquifer. We need to take advantage of a multi-tasking brain which can exude love while calling for one child families. Women do this naturally and we need that kind of gift.

Overpopulation is a very compassionate issue but has rarely been portrayed that way. What could be more compassionate than to put a tourniquet on the way overpopulation makes us hemorrhage resources and create suffering with the resulting scarcities? Mother nature has a very scary story in store for those who chose to keep ignoring the physics of limits and women need to jump into the ring to help . I promise to keep the numbers simple. There are simply too many of us on this limited planet, but not enough women willing to take the lead on the most important issue of our time.

 

Upstream and Downstream More Deeply Defined

I finally understand why I did not go crazy anticipating this year’s solar eclipse. I observed that many people planned their vacations this year around this momentous event.  But I was not as inspired. It finally dawned on me that the eclipse was an upstream event.

I define “upstream” in my book, “Move Upstream, A Call to Solve Overpopulation”, as a place where problems begin.  Upstream is my metaphor for going to the real source of problems. Conversely ‘downstream’ is where we usually attempt to solve problems, when they are already so entrenched that we have few options left.  

Upstream is also where the earth lives. Our planet operates upstream in a very slow and mathematically predictable way. It obeys universal laws of math and physics and natural cycles. Fossil fuels and minerals take millions of years to form, water takes centuries to fill our aquifers and the landscape can only accommodate small amounts of waste. Wildlife takes millions of years to perfect adaptations and need adequate wild places for continued survival.  Our species operates downstream at a very rapid pace ignoring the upstream edicts of resource limits and the ability of the earth to handle its excesses.  

Our daily lives in the modern world of the 21st century are occupied with concerns over housing, jobs, school, race relations, politics, war,  health, and all things material.. Meanwhile the earth circles the sun and the sun orbits in the Milky Way and the Milky Way orbits in the universe in patterns and under rules that we continue to defy from our downstream position in the world.

If we lived with an upstream perspective, it would be no surprise that our news is now occupied with scenes of people in traffic jams trying to escape unprecedented flooding .We would understand, in the most comprehensive way,  that we are suffering the consequences of living and acting downstream far away from the operational systems of our planet. Even those who claim to be upstream activists by working exclusively on climate change are just working downstream. Climate change just one more disastrous symptom of downstream thinking. Solving it would not be the end game for we will still run out of basic resources like water as we continue to add 83 million people a year to our globe.

Scientists who measure our behavior do work upstream. The analysis from Global Footprint Network ,see www.footprintnetwork.org tells us that we surpassed the carrying capacity of our earth over 80 years and 5.5 billion people ago. This upstream perspective tells the full story of how trying to survive with that many extra passengers is like asking the earth to change its direction around the sun.  Many try to solve upstream problems in a downstream way. It never works. Plastic bags accumulate even when cloth bags are encouraged. Fossil fuels become continually scarce even though fracking is introduced.  

We make policies based on individual dreams and desires and wonder why they are increasingly out of reach. The answer is always that we should focus on the collective, accumulative effect of our individual actions. We are now bearing witness to the results of living and thinking downstream.  We have stressed the earth’s capacity and we are now headed to greater and greater disasters. As the earth continues to fail us, we scratch our heads and grab for flimsy promises that technology will be our savior.

Garbage piles up and green house gases accumulate as we grow by 240,000 new 21st century consumers each day. It’s like having 10,000 additional customers flow in the doors of a large restaurant  each and every hour demanding  to be served. “Downstreamers” will always blame the restaurant for bad service and try to grow more food. Only “Upstreamers” will say that the demand got too high.

So why did I not go crazy in anticipation of the solar eclipse? Because I live and breathe the upstream perspective as an overpopulation activist.  I took this event in stride, because I am constantly thinking about what is happening to our planet. I know that stabilizing and reducing human population in the most humane way possible is our only sane way out of this mess.

I am very happy the solar eclipse caused much of the world to momentarily stop and remember our cosmic place in the world. For a universal minute we stopped looking at our phones and realized  that we owe our lives to these celestial bodies.  It was an upstream moment in a mostly downstream world. I just wish we could have stayed upstream long enough to understand how we cannot solve our deeply entrenched problems unless we move upstream and strive to solve overpopulation.