Notes for a living planet
From population to the stuff we use, when is enough enough?
When is enough enough? Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, has an idea. In his new book, Countdown, Weisman travels the world gauging the individual decisions and social attitudes that influence global population. He analyzes ever-shifting cultural views about the number of children to have and notes, as well, that when it comes to humans’ effect on the planet, high rates of consumption are as damaging as sheer numbers.
I think a lot of us get this. Still, it takes some audacity to bring the almost-taboo topic of population control to the sustainability conversation. Weisman does because, when it comes to slowing individual consumption, he’s just as stumped as the rest of us.
So he focuses on numbers. What’s an ideal number of humans on our planet? One he submits for consideration is 2 billion. Yes, less than a third (and as population grows, closer to a quarter) of the current number.
It sounds far-fetched, but Weisman also offers a map for getting there. The gist is to educate women (because educated women typically choose to have fewer children) and make birth control widely available—free, if possible. Of course, there are cultural hurdles as well, like religious dictates commanding couples to go forth and prosper. But the formula does seem to work where it has been tried, and with time, variants of it would likely reveal themselves. Weisman doesn’t mention it, but another effective form of birth control, the Fertility Awareness Method, requires only a basal thermometer, recording device (paper and pencil will do), and a bit of effort in calculating fertility from day to day.
As for the culture of consumption, there are efforts to break it. Americans have gone beyond carpooling and driving hybrids to assemble a massive movement to slow carbon emissions and stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. People are converting lawns to vegetable gardens, while edible food forests and community gardens pop up across the country. The movement to share both skills and resources is strong, and growing. We’ve turned down the heat, insulated the attic, and are coming together to keep fracking to a minimum. Others have turned their attention toward amending the constitution, doing whatever it takes to stop money from acting as free speech, because corporate control of our government ensures that environmental destruction, wealth inequality, and war won’t stop.
People are showing a strong desire for change, and Weisman’s suggestions seem simple compared to many of the efforts we’ve undertaken. Putting it all together, we might stand a chance of returning to balance on the planet, because enough is enough.