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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Three Mountains to Climb

By Bryan Welch 

Tags: Conservation, global warming, climate change, population control, human habitats, economic reform,



I think it’s time for us to start visualizing the future we desire. I’m not pretending it will be easy to get there.

I believe we have three tall mountains to climb.

Conservation is, indeed, the first - if smallest - mountain. We need to forestall the effects of global warming as much as possible while we get our act together. We’re on the lower slopes of the first mountain.

The next climb is longer and steeper. Population control is perfectly unavoidable. Eventually, we must control human population or we’ll make a mess of the habitat and then nature will exert the control we abdicated. I’m not advocating anything draconian, but if the international moral consensus were that each human being should reproduce himself or herself once – two children per couple – populations would begin slowly shrinking. It’s a simplistic solution, but the ultimate solutions are often the simplest.

After conservation, population is the second mountain we have to climb and we’ll have to negotiate some very difficult routes through social and political conflict to reach the top.

I’m optimistic that we’ll reach both these goals. We already have the tools we need to reduce per-capital consumption, and to control our population. That leaves the third, and tallest, mountain.

As our economies are now structured, we depend on population growth to support economic growth. If demand for all goods and services were shrinking, values of all goods and services would also be declining in our current models. Imagine a world in which demand for all the fundamental human necessities – food, shelter, etc. – were shrinking every year. Imagine a world in which, let’s say, 5 percent of all houses on the market had no buyers because fewer people lived in your city. We’ve never seen this and we probably don’t have the means of creating prosperity in a shrinking population. To sustain our population at lower, healthier levels, we’ll have to invent a human economy that creates prosperity without growth. We will need brand new economic tools.

If we are to form the global consensus we will need to support these sea-changes in human attitudes and culture, then we’ll have to visualize – as individuals and as a species – successful outcomes for all concerned. Otherwise, a lot of people just won’t share in the consensus and we won’t be successful. We need new systems in which no one is placed at an unfair disadvantage. I’m not talking about socialism, communism or any other obsolete social system. I think we’re looking for something new that rewards human innovation without requiring human expansion. Simply put, our new economic systems will require unprecedented cooperation across cultural, class and political barriers.

I think we have the tools to halt climate change and reduce the human population. But the economic tools we’ll need to secure our societies during a population reduction have yet to be invented.

Can we create economic tools that distribute the benefits of a healthy planet to all the planet’s human residents? Maybe not, but we’ll need to come pretty close to that if we’re to convince our global neighbors to join us in our effort to create a sustainable, healthy habitat for ourselves.

If we are to cooperate, as a species, in forming a positive vision for our future then the disenfranchised must be enfranchised. It’s a global problem whose solution must be a global consensus, or something very close to it.



kent welton
4/11/2009 5:46:43 PM

Right on.. but how do we tame and shame the dogma that produces the Pope's children and the Ayatollah's progeny? New systems? Gotta get rid of the old first! Kent Welton,

4/11/2009 5:16:34 PM

Bravo, Bryan. Now, as if this isn't challenging enough, let's figure out how to climb all three mountains at once. And not in 10 or 20 or 30 years, but right now! I'm with you. And more are joining the chorus daily. Dave Gardner Producer/Director Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity Join the cause at">

eric rimmer
4/11/2009 4:58:15 PM

From: Eric Rimmer [] Sent: 11 April 2009 22:42 To: 'Val Stevens'; Bill Partridge; David Nicholson-Lord; Dennis Anthony; Hugh Russell;; Martin Desvaux; Ned Davey; Roger Martin; Tim Murray Cc: 'Simon Ross'; 'brian mcgavin'; Brian Czech Subject: FW: Three Mountains to Climb This comes close to a summary of my own beliefs – though I’m less optimistic that we have enough time to get the first two climbed before multiple global emergencies make it much more difficult to get to grips with the third one! By copy of this, I’m asking Brian Czech (CASSE) what he makes of the third mountain? Brian, do we actually know how to climb it? Cheers - Eric Rimmer population activist skype name - ericrimmer

renee meyer
2/17/2009 4:38:05 AM

THANK YOU Mother Earth for publishing such an important article/subject!!! Population control will eventually be the ONLY solution. This issue should be at the forefront of policies and conversation. We cannot afford to be disuaded, bullied, or threatened by those that are selfish and believe that we as humans/society owe anyone the right to have as many children as they want and not think of our precious earth first. The two child per family is a reasonable start. I completely concur with the "Three Mountains To Climb" article and believe that if a person is so offended by freedom of speech in an article and threaten to cancel their subscription to such a wonderful magazine...then it is their (huge)loss. Keep up the GREAT work Mother Earth and I look forward to the next article on this very important issue. RM

robin everett_1
2/3/2009 6:00:59 PM

It amazes me that we cannot even agree that we may have a problem. I got a bit fired up on the population control issue. I may be wrong (it has been know to happen) but i don't believe any one has asked a parent to forfeit a child. I am not sure that i have even heard for measures to be taken in this country to remove the right to have children. i know it can take years but even educating people on a subject has been known to make changes. Knowledge has changed things in the past. Yes, we talk about population control around the kitchen table but would it hurt to discuss that it is an issue at a higher level. I do not know what an answer may be but ignoring it will not make it go away.

2/3/2009 8:58:29 AM

Thanks, Wolfger. Watch the next (April/May) issue of Mother Earth News for a much longer essay on the subject.

2/3/2009 6:45:55 AM

I commend you for the courageous editorial "Three Mountains we Must Climb". Anyone with any sense realizes that a sustainable society requires a stable population matched to the carrying capacity of the land, yet most are hesitant to speak out on this. I encourage all to speak out on this topic whenever appropriate. Also your call for economic reform should be heeded. Our current system depends upon numeric growth forever which clearly is not sustainable in our finite world. For years ecological economists like Herman Daly have been advocating steady state economics. The time for change is now.

9/29/2008 1:29:37 PM

Actually, I think the odds are pretty good if we approach this in the right way. The pedal bicycle, the automobile and the airplane were all invented in the same, brief period around the beginning of the 20th century. What an achievement! A few decades later we made a conscious decision we wanted to put a man on the moon. We formed a consensus, as a society, that it was a worthwhile goal. It took us only nine years. I don't know why a sustainable society is much more difficult than some of the challenges we've already met.

wes hagen
9/29/2008 12:42:34 PM

While it is easy to say what is needed, at no point in history has the human mindset been consistent with achieving such a state. The unpleasant rality is that through history wars, plagues, famine and genocide have functioned for population control, and all in my lifetime. The "let all of us sit down and reason together" is a great idea, if it wasn't for greed and pride [power]. Politics and self interest do not seem to separate like water and oil. "Survival of the fittest" is the prevailing rality in our world, almost like a struggle between GOOD and EVIL. Perhaps we could have very powerful referees, and call them King, Ceasar, Czar, or something. I once heard that "power corrupts, and total power corrupt totally". All we need is zero bias and selflessness. What are the odds?