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 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.