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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

A Vision for a Better World, Part 2

Abundance is necessary to creativity. In business, we measure abundance in financial capital. Without sufficient capital, we can’t be creative, because we can’t try anything that isn’t certain to work. Similarly, we need surplus capital — food, open space, clean air and water — if we are to help all people live rich, creative lives.

Two variables affect abundance in our world. The first is supply. We depend on the planet’s natural resources, and those resources are limited. The second variable is demand. Demand we can control.Sunset

Two primary variables also influence demand for resources. The efficiency of our usage determines how much of the world’s natural bounty each of us requires. We can improve efficiency, to some extent. The second variable affecting demand is population. No matter how much we improve efficiency, the number of people our planet can support is ultimately finite.

Once I acknowledge that limitation, I find myself thinking, well, why are we always talking about the inevitable growth of human population? Why not envision an ideal population instead?

Because in my vision I’ve already set aside 20 percent of every earthly biome for wilderness, I might set my own ideal human population at 20 percent fewer than our current population of about 7.1 billion people. That would put us at about 5.7 billion people, the world population in the early 1990s.

What the heck? While we’re idealizing, why don’t we allocate a little more room for nature and take us back 30 percent, to a total human population of 5 billion — as it was in 1988. That’s a shocker, isn’t it? Our population was 30 percent smaller when former President George H.W. Bush was elected.

When I suggest something like this in a talk, some wiseguy always asks who I’m going to kill. When I write about it, I get letters from people who ask which of their children they should eliminate. The answer, of course, is none. But if most of us choose to reproduce ourselves only once — if each couple has two children — the total human population will soon begin to decrease. We can simply agree, as a species, that 1) two parents and two children make a great family; 2) untrammeled nature is vital to our quality of life; 3) everyone’s life will be better if we eliminate the ugliness of slums and extreme poverty.

Just think: We could have wild elephants and mountain gorillas in a world of 5 billion people. We could have oceans teeming with fish, and vast grasslands where bison and wildebeest roam free, forever. We could provide clean water for every infant, food for every new mother and a warm, comfortable bed for every elderly person — always.

Why not?

If we commit ourselves to this understanding of abundance, we can halt the irreversible tide of species destruction. We can celebrate the diversity of life on this planet and set a standard of preserving it, by the mutual consent of people around the world. All of our food can be naturally wholesome and nutritious, except when we’d rather have it otherwise. We can live on farms or in cities, as we wish. We can live at the edge of the mountain wilderness or the edge of the ocean. Some of us might choose to live simply and work very little, but we can set some minimum expectations for everyone. Most of us will work hard to achieve something — new discoveries, inventions, works of art or greater personal wealth.

In a stable human population, corporate success will be determined by criteria other than the greatest number of products at the lowest price. The value of scale will be reduced; the value of quality will be enhanced. Companies and products that support our shared values of beauty, abundance and the preservation of nature will earn more. Quality will be defined, in part, by how well a company or product supports those values. Innovative, conscientious companies will succeed. Less innovative companies will try harder. Our possessions will be beautiful and durable.

As our population stabilizes, territorial conflicts will become absurd. With more land, more energy and more food available each year, military conflict will seem more wasteful and stupid than ever. We can decommission most of our armies. Rather than competing via faster jets and more powerful bombs, we’ll race to see who can preserve more natural beauty and attract more tourists. Who can print the most beautiful books? Who can build the most reliable and elegant machines? Who has the best skiing? Who has the best beach?

Is it unrealistic to believe we can agree that clean air and water are essential, limited resources that must be conserved? What’s so crazy about wanting a couple of kids and no more? Why not imagine — and build — a world of beauty and abundance?

That’s what I’m aiming for.

Photo By Bryan Welch: Access to the natural environment ought to be the birthright of every human being on the planet.

For more of Bryan Welch's ideas on a beautiful and abundant future, check out A Vision for a Better World, Part 1.

Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on .

9/19/2013 1:33:19 PM

Olivia. I see what you mean... Anita`s bl0g is impressive... last saturday I bought a new Saab 99 Turbo since getting a cheque for $8003 this last 4 weeks and more than ten thousand last month. it's definitly the most-rewarding Ive ever done. I actually started 9-months ago and almost straight away started making over $84... per-hr. .........>

9/16/2013 6:27:56 PM

Um, I think China has already capitalized on this idea! My opinion is that we should have started with you and your parents, then we wouldn't have had to read this dribble in the first place. Tell me what's suppose to happen when plague, famine and war wipes out the majority of your fantasy world? Shall we let the elephants and lions take over? Oh, that's right, you think we don't belong here or deserve to be on top of the food chain. Yeah, my vote is YOU FIRST!

bryan welch
9/16/2013 3:14:30 PM

Voting is not genetic, so I don't agree that you can breed a society of voters who don't care. And whole societies do change their opinions based on compassion and simple idealism. We are living in the least violent times with the most respect for human rights that have existed in human history. Read Steven Pinker's book, "The Better Angels of Our Natures." The civil rights movement has succeeded, to a very great extent, in changing people's attitudes about racial prejudice, and that change has occurred during my lifetime. I'm optimistic about humanity's capacity to create a better world - because humanity has proven that capacity over the course of its history.

9/16/2013 9:03:31 AM

So Bryan I read your follow up blog. Not sure I get the connection to population increase. The point raised by Graywolf12 however is very relevant. The responsible members of society understand but many especially the third world contries do not understand or even care. So again whether it be financial or family growth or many othere areas the responsible suffer because of those that do not care. This will eventually lead to the majority of voters being in the don't care category and through the elected governments driving the country/world to oblivion. Your EVENTUALLY leads to a stable population comment doesn't cut it.

bryan welch
9/15/2013 7:19:51 AM

Absolutely right, Christopher, if we stick to two children per family it EVENTUALLY leads to a stable population only if we also stabilize human lifespans. I'm glad you pointed that out. See my followup blog, "I Want to Die." ?-)

9/13/2013 8:15:41 PM

Around the world the Caucasian population is declining while the muslim population/babies per mother is growing. Yesterday or today was a day of sex in Russia in an attempt to increase population growth. Birth control is working too well in advanced countries while those living in the 12-16 centuries is the problem.

9/12/2013 7:59:17 AM

Your math is flawed. People are living longer and with your new society with cleaner water more nutritous foood etc this trend is likely to continue. So more great grand parents and with this 2 parents and 2 kids does not lead to a stable population.

9/12/2013 7:58:24 AM

Your math is flawed. People are living longer and with your new society with cleaner water more nutritous foood etc this trend is likely to continue. So more great grand parents and with this 2 parents and 2 kids does not lead to a stable population.