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.
Human Kind and Baboons – The Death of the Alpha Male
(photo copyright: babies-dangerous-wild-animals.blogspot.com)
I watched this video a while ago. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs) It’s very interesting. It’s about stress and how it can kill you. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, don’t worry. That’s not really the point of this post.
This article summarises the most interesting part for now…. (http://www.upworthy.com/something-fascinating-happened-after-these-male-baboons-died-men-should-keep-this-in-mind?c=ufb1)
Basically, the dominant baboons in a troop, which was being studied to investigate stress, died of TB. Half of all males died from the disease, which they’d contracted from infected meat in a dump they’d taken to foraging from – the head honchos took more meat than their subordinates.
When they died, the surviving males down the totem pole didn’t become the bastards their predecessors were. They remained chilled, and were nice to the females (who now outnumbered them two to one) and young. And everything was rosy for them from then on.
Seems only a few baboons are assholes (though the guy researching them does describe them as backstabbing Machiavellian bastards that hurt each other) but they control the situation in most troops. This sends their shittiness down the pipeline. As the narrator says in Snow White and the Huntsman said, the queen’s “reign was so poisonous…. that people turned on each other.”
But new males joining this troop learn that being a wanker is not allowed. They chill out and groom instead of harassing others.
I was reminded of the baboons when I read George Monbiot’s recent article about Human Kindness. He points out that we are in general, good folk, who are nice than we assume when we glance about us on the train home from that shit job where your boss sucks the life out of you. In fact, we’re innately good.
But it’s something we usually aren’t aware of, this fellow kindness. All those videos of people ignoring homeless people etc. you see on the Internet doesn’t help with our own image, either (nor the videos of kids beating up one another).
And this other recent article about Twitter becoming just a forum for abuse indicates that we’re all participating in being assholes, or at least letting them rule our conversations.
It points the blame at the fact that our lives are an abuse, where we are put to work by the those holding the reins:
“We have created an abusive society. We have normalized, regularized, and routinized abuse. We are abused at work, by the very rules, norms, and expectations of our jobs, at which we are merely “human resources”, to be utilized, allocated, depleted. We are abused at play, by industries that seek to prey on our innocence and literally “target” our human weaknessses.” (https://medium.com/bad-words/why-twitter-s-dying-and-what-you-can-learn-from-it-9ed233e37974#.68hxb243u)
We are acting like assholes because the assholes are creating the rules. Just like most baboons farther down the hierarchy get abused by those above just because those just above have gotten shit from their own superiors. And they have highly stressed lives, which lead to illness, obesity and earlier deaths.
So how do we get rid of the asshole baboons who are ruining life for the rest of us?
This is the problem. They’re not going to die of a disease we all avoid – they eat and drink only the best of food, taste wise and health wise. They also can afford access to healthcare that most can only dream of. Even their excesses can be solved by buying a heart or a liver when their own break down.
We might need to rely on the old adage – “they got the guns but we got the numbers.”
When I wrote a blog post about us humans allowing our own extinction in the imminent ecological collapse, I had thought to include those instances when people stand around and “let” people get attacked without either trying to stop it, or even calling the cops. They’re not bad folk – they just assume someone else is going to do it. Our current situation is more akin to allowing the assailants to beat us up without raising our hands to protect our face.
For ourselves, our fellow non-assholes, and for the planet, we have to start fighting back. I’m not saying we become as violent as these Alpha males who would continue their abuse. As Russell Brand suggests in his book Revolution, we just band together, walk up to them and take their weapons away (their weapon is money, by the way). Because those asshole baboons have to go.