The Fear of Fewer Humans
I listened to a radio show talking about a book just out, called Empty Planet.
Yes, it was about the potential problems of the shrinking population it predicts will happen before the end of the century.
I listened to it, and there was some pushback from a UN demographer saying that it wasn’t going to contract so quickly, and in fact a ballooning population would occur first.
But even if it does happen, if we don’t go to 11 billion – I can’t believe that we are even saying that when we have so many problems already with 7.
What’s the problem?
There are several pundits worried about population shrinking as a disaster. They use the words dire, crisis, timebomb, drastic effects.
People talk about population reduction as if we are going to suddenly disappear from the face of the planet.
We won’t disappear
The world wasn’t empty when there were a billion humans. There were enough for a fucking world war or two. The worst flu epidemic in history killed tens of millions and the world kept going on, with hardly a blip on our population.
The world wasn’t empty in the nineteenth century and we were inventing cars and telephones and all that stuff.
Some of the drastic effects outlined here are about one country losing population while others don’t – a kind of population arms race fear in my opinion.
Our cultures will survive.
No country needs multiple millions of citizens to keep its culture alive. Look at Ireland. It lost half its population in a few decades and still we know what it is to be Irish. There are fewer Irish per square km of Ireland than there are of Spaniards to square Km of Spain, or any other country practically in Europe – 4 million compared to 16 in the same area of the Netherlands.
And within that relatively small population, let’s be honest, how many people do Irish dancing, play the bodhrán or uilleannpipes, or even speak the language very well? (Hint, I do none of these things.)
In our globalised (mostly Americanised) world, most of us watch Netflix, shop in Zara and dance to techno., not to mention eat pizza and curries.
But that’s okay.
It only takes a handful to keep a culture alive.
Many Native American’s have kept their language and customs going despite being nearly wiped out by European invaders.
The highlanders of Scotland kept their Gaelic, kilts and tartan going, despite the crackdown on them in the 1700s.
The Basques were prohibited from speaking, too, yet now my kids speak only Basque in school, and they learn the culture of many villages and towns in the region – carnival means making a different costume every year in my house!
People tend to think that the way the world was when they were young is the way it should be.
That’s why some of us don’t notice that the insects are vanishing, that the seas are empty, that sheep are not supposed to be eating every tree seedling that tries to sprout.
We are used to having billions of people, used to hearing that there are more than a billion people in both China and India.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A billion human beings is quite enough for Planet Earth..
If we want those folks to live in any way approaching the wonderful lives we are (could be if we tried) living in the western world, then we would be better off with even fewer.
A planet emptier of humans would be able to become one full with the other denizens of our ecosystems we have pushed out during our population explosion.
And, for those who only care about seeing the same species, perhaps this lower density will help us appreciate the other humans around us
For our fellow citizens have become mostly background noise to us: moving furniture and to our lives.
We sit on metros and busses surrounded by others without even catching their eye. We go to coffee shops and bars and exchange few words. The supermarket customer now hardly needs to acknowledge the existence of the cashier, if there is one. Our elevator journeys are a gauntlet of greetings, goodbyes and trying not to look at one another in between.
If we were less tightly packed, perhaps we could become more personable (note the word) and talk to one another, chat with our neighbours, smile on the street as we pass, like people did in the past when they lived in villages, like they still do in small communities.
Remember when we all laughed watching Crocodile Dundee deciding New York must be the friendliest place on Earth, with seven million people all wanting to live together?
I see only advantages in such reductions. The only problem is how to get there – and it’ll be most probably abruptly by climate devastation and the loss of biodiversity.
Malthus always gets a bad rap, but as Naomi Klein said, Climate Change changes everything.
The future of nations when the current refugee crisis is only a sample of what is to come.
Europe is in crisis. Again. For a better reason this time than most times. At least this is something serious, with people who really need help (sorry, the Greeks did/do need help, but it seems these guys are more photogenic). But seems like there’s less political will to spend money on helping people fleeing war zones than bankers fleeing bad loans.
After a couple of weeks of wringing hands (and lots of xenophobia, as you do) a few governments are willing to actually accept the idea of accepting “their fair share” of refugees from Syria.
It’s hard to figure out exactly what we should do, though we know what we should not do. We should not leave people in the position they are currently in.
One thing is clear, however; it is time to re-evaluate Europe.
We can see that the idea of Europe, a European Union, as touted to us all those years ago is bullshit. As someone who lives as a European – i.e. out of his own country in a new one with a different language (an “ex-pat,” don’t you know) and a child (and one on the way) who’s got two nationalities, I really think it’s time to do away with the whole idea of nationality, or at least try to. Doing away with religion would also be a big fucking step, of course, but that’s going to take a bit longer.
I am “proud” to be Irish. I mean, I know where I am from. If I could transport myself via google maps to the hills of Wicklow I’d smile and take a nap, knowing I’m home.
But I don’t feel the need for an Irish football jersey or anything of the sort. Never have.
And I certainly don’t feel the need to protect Ireland from infiltration by others (it would be a bit hypocritical if I did, I know). Any man or woman, of any colour or creed can stand on Djouce or Lugnaquilla and say, with the same feelings as I (of the clan O’Brien, don’t you know), “I fucking love this landscape (despite it’s ecological failings and my avocation of complete transformation via rewilding…).”
The above image, posted on the Irish Worker’s Solidarity Movement facebook page, is completely right.
I pondered the future of these nations, our worries that our cultures might disappear under the weight of numbers somewhat facetiously, in my short story, The Bottleneck (soon to be published in my first collection).
The current spate of stupid posters and photos on the internet saying we should look after our own before we look after refugees (well, they don’t call them refugees, but other names like “illegals,”) are an embarrassment to any person of any nationality. Let’s be clear – the fact that our own homeless are not being taken care of is down to the pack of wankers called politicians supposedly running the country (any country, not just Eire. I admit I don’t know the leaders of all nations, but the four I know fairly well – Ireland, Great Britain, America and Spain are all the same; filled with the kind of creeps you wouldn’t let into a career guidance seminar at your kids school. Of the English-speaking countries, Australia seems to be in a league of its own when it comes to being run by dickheads, as far as I can see, but Hungary is around about there) who don’t give a fuck about our (their?) own. They don’t give a fuck about us, you and me, never mind the homeless, and certainly not the refugees. They are the only ones who really stand to gain from this clinging to “our own” and our nationalities.
If the nations of the earth were merged, who would need all these assholes? We’d get by with a hugely reduced set of assholes, like when two companies merge.
Why is this merging of nations, or blurring of nations, or complete rubbing out of nations necessary?
Because this crisis our leaders are wringing their hands about is only one country, one war we are kindasorta responsible for (yes, all of us westerners), and there are so many more.
Let’s skip over the fact for the moment that people have been drowning in the Mediterranean for years (talked a little about that a few months back) and Europe has done fuck all but hand-wring and the citizens weren’t quite as mobilised till a fairly pale-skinned child was washed up (no disrespect to the child or his family, and I know that sometimes we (humans) need an image we can actually get our heads around rather than statistics to really understand how fucked up shit is). The Syrians and Afghans have been able to trek on foot to the “Doors of Europe.” Those who tried our shores instead of doors are still ignored, at least here in Spain, where they were shot at to keep them in the sea just a couple of years ago.
Africans have been making a trek from equally war-torn and dangerous places for years. And most of those wars have to do with drought and famine caused by climate change.
What will our glorious leaders do when faced with actual “hordes” (yes, I used that word, because we need to visualise the reality, not a few thousand people in Calais, but hundreds of thousands and millions of people on the move, with no home to go back to even if these constant wars stop) made homeless by global warming (also caused kindasorta buy us westerners) make their way to our little fake continent?
They will find out that their charade can’t continue. There can be no us and them on a planet sinking into meltdown. The only us and them that actually exists – no the ones propagated in this look after our own before we look after them nonsense – is the us who are poor and the them who control the resources of this planet until we take it back from them.
When the real exodus arrives, we (Europeans) will either spend more money than we spent on the banks trying to close a border that will not be closed, to a mass of humanity that will not be stopped, or we will welcome these fellow humans in to our lands (the part not also swamped by rising sea levels) where they can seek a better life.
Perhaps in the process, our lives will become less rosy and super-eiderdown-duvet comfortable, but there can be no equality without us stepping down off our velvet seats, since the planet can’t sustain our level of bullshit in any case.