Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I have been privileged to visit most of the planet’s ecosystems: from subtropical deserts to the floor of the ocean; from the grasslands to the tropical rain forest, the temperate rain forest, the temperate deciduous forest, the alpine tundra and the northern boreal forest called the taiga. Each and every one of them was beautiful. I haven’t yet seen the arctic tundra or a polar ice cap in person, but I’m certain they are beautiful and I hope I get the chance.
Every natural environment is beautiful in ways we cannot imagine. We must preserve natural beauty for precisely that reason, because we could not conceive of natural beauty on our own without nature’s inspiration.
People who design modern zoos use a criterion they call “flight distance.” Most animals have a prescribed distance they would run, if frightened, before they turned to look back. If a zoo enclosure is built at least a little larger than the animal’s flight distance, zoo creatures are calmer and healthier. If designers don’t allow for flight distance, the animals are neurotic, combative and less healthy.
Besides beauty, wilderness also provides us with the psychological flight distance. As long as there are empty places on the planet, our minds can flee to those empty places when they have the need.
So in my vision, every unique ecosystem across the globe would be preserved in its natural state. Perhaps we could reserve at least 20 percent of each nation’s landmass for wilderness, allocated to each biome, each ecosystem. In the United States 20 percent of our grasslands, 20 percent of our forests, 20 percent of our swamps and at least 20 percent of our deserts would be permanently preserved as God created them, open to visitors but not vehicles. Whatever natural resources they contain would remain unexploited, by popular consent, forever, as a testament of our commitment to beauty, and to abundance.
Because I want my great-grandchildren to live in a world that is beautiful and…
As I’ve pointed out repeatedly in this blog post series, there are two variables affecting abundance in our world. The first is supply. We depend on the planet’s natural resources. Those resources are, by definition, limited. The second variable is demand. Demand we can control.
Demand for resources is also influenced by two primary variables. 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, there will still be an ultimate limit to how many people we can support.
Once I acknowledge that limitation, I find myself thinking, well, why are we talking about a maximum human population? Why not aim for an ideal population, instead.
Since I’ve already set aside 20 percent of every earthly biome for wilderness, in my mind, I might set my own ideal human population at 20 percent less than our current population of about 6.9 billion people. That would put us at about 5.5 billion people. That was the world population in the early 1990s.
What the heck. While I’m idealizing why don’t I allocate a little more room for solving the world hunger problem and take us back 30 percent, to a total human population of 4.8 billion. Just about like 1984, when I celebrated by 25th birthday. That’s a shocker, isn’t it? Our population was 30 percent smaller when Ronald Reagan was elected to his second term as President of the United States.
When I suggest something like this in public some idiot always asks me whom I’m going to kill. I get letters from people who ask me which of their children should they give up. Let’s kill no one. Let’s keep all our children. But if each of us reproduced ourselves once, if each human couple had two children, from now on, then the total human population would soon begin to decrease. Of course we will not prescribe death or childlessness for anyone. We don’t need to. We can simply agree, as a species, that two parents and two children make a great family.
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 wild, forever. We could provide clean water for every human baby, food for every new mother and a warm, comfortable bed for every old man, always.