Thursday, January 20, 2011

Overpopulation: where Right and Left agree on denying

The New York Times has a newish online blog called Dot Earth
 It currently is displaying a discussion about how we shouldn't tell "women of color" to have fewer babies, because, dude, it's, like, totally Western Imperialist to say that to them.

My response:

Well, reading this exchange certainly was a relief to me. It turns out the Earth apparently has an infinite supply of potable water, arable land, and seafood. For a while there I was worried.

And talk about political amity! Here's one issue where the Left and Right agree completely: there is no overpopulation problem.

The Left says so because numerically most of that supposed overpopulation is "people of color" (as opposed to us albinos), therefore overpopulation is racist, therefore there is no overpopulation, because ideology trumps reality.

The Right says so because if there's overpopulation abortion would have to be legal. Besides, the Earth doesn't matter in the slightest, since we'll all be spending 99.9999999999999999999999% of eternity in heaven or hell. So all that actually matters is the Bible, which bans abortions (OK it doesn't, but it must anyway).

And besides, everything looks fine. Those porous aquifers collapsing all over the world, never to return? Well, you can't see them so they aren't there. Nearly irreversible desertification around the world (Madagascar has cut down 80% of its trees in the last 40 years; Haiti, 97%)? Hey, desert is beautiful too.

One billion of the world's population going to sleep desperately hungry every night? Just a matter of food distribution. China's one child law? Terrible. China should be like India, where starving families saw off one of each child's limbs to make them more effective beggars. Or Cambodia, where starving families sell their daughters to brothels, where they rarely survive past their 20s. But here in my affluent California suburb there's none of that. Nobody around me has ever gone hungry one day in their life. Therefore there's no problem.

And fish stocks collapsing? Trawling and bomb fishing and mangrove swamp-destroying shrimp farming? I can't see underwater, so that's not happening either.

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

But isn't it nice to see the Right and Left holding hands, singing "Kum ba ya" ?

No it's not. Remember the guy near the top of this thread who said America is underpopulated? I've flown over this country many times, and I've seen the vast empty spaces. I've also driven over them. Guess why they're empty?

No water.

Remember when we dammed the Colorado? That promptly destroyed Mexican agriculture in the Colorado delta. It will never come back, either, because of salt water intrusion into the water table. But Las Vegas has fountains, and today's Phoenix exists solely because of what we did to the Colorado.

But few among even the educated sorts who read New York Times comment threads can face the fact that the world's overpopulation crisis is so extreme that China's one child law should be adopted worldwide across the board. Immediately. Though even if we weren't expanding at the rate of over 140 people a minute--even it we stayed at 7 billion--we're making vastly unsustainable use of the world's resources, borrowing from the future every time we turn on our water pumps and scrape another seafloor into wet desert and chop down every tree from horizon to horizon for firewood.

But the great thing about borrowing is that you can get away with it for a while. You might even be able to sock your kids with the bill if you play your cards right.

But your great-grandchildren will curse your memory. Which is pretty ironic, considering all the self-adoring moralistic preening the Left and the Right do constantly.

It doesn't help that the average American liberal arts BA got that BA without learning how to think analytically--how to compensate for the optimistic skew built into our brains for evolutionary reasons that worked great for 100,000 years and now is killing us on the installment plan (hint: if not for that skew Las Vegas would be a gas station with a Stop-N-Shop beside a two lane highway).

But this is all such a buzz kill. Not to worry, though. I just saw a conference on CSPAN where a guy from the American Heritage Foundation gloated over the "fact" that Malthus had been "proven" totally wrong, along with Paul Erlich and other unAmericans like him.

But then I've only traveled in 17 countries (and scuba dived in half of them), and studied population ecology off and on for half a century. But more importantly, I was raised by dreamers who never let reality stand in their way. They taught me the hard way how reality, ultimately, doesn't care in the slightest whether you face it squarely or not. All of humanity's magical thinking won't save it when the bill comes due.

1 comment:

John Dyer said...

I read your comment in the Times, then clicked on your website. Your response on overpopulation was one of the most articulate I've seen. Hang in there, a lot of us NY Times liberals agree with you!