Problems and Solutions: Over-Population, Pollution and More

Learn about the threats of over-population, pollution and consumerism.

| January/February 1970

Gas Mask

Author Gary Snyder warns people to change their lifestyles now, lest they face a decayed world.


With the Earth in a seemingly steady state of decline, Gary Snyder offers up a few tips for problem-solving. An extended version of this piece was later published in the underground press. 

I. The Problem of Over-Population

The Condition

Position: Man is but a part of the fabric of life — dependent on the whole fabric for his very existence, and also responsible to it. As the most highly developed tool-using animal, he must recognize that the evolutionary destinies (unknown) of other life forms are to be respected, and act as gentle steward of the earth's community of being.

Situation: There are now too many human beings; and the problem is growing rapidly worse. It is potentially disastrous not only for the human race but for most other life forms.

Goal: The goal would be half of the present world population or less.


Social/political: Legalize abortion; encourage vasectomy and sterilization (provided free by clinics), remove income tax deductions for more than two children above a specified income level, and scale it so that lower income families are forced to be careful, too. Take a vigorous stand against the Catholic church and any other institutions that exercise an irresponsible political force in regard to this question; work ceaselessly to make all political problems be seen and solved in the light of this prime problem.

The community: Explore other social structures and marriage forms, such as group marriage and polyandrous marriage that provide family life but produce fewer children. Share the pleasure of raising children widely, so that all need not directly reproduce to enter into this basic human experience. Let no two persons produce more than two children. Adopt children. Let reverence for life and for the feminine mean also a reverence for other species, most of which are threatened.

Our own heads: "I am a child of all life, and all living beings are my brothers and sisters, my children and grandchildren and there is a child within me waiting to be brought to birth, the baby of a new and wiser self." Love, love-making, a male and female together, seen as the vehicle of mutual realization, where the creation of new selves and new worlds of beings is as important as making babies.

II. The Consequences of Pollution

The Condition

Position: Pollution is an excess production of substances which cannot be absorbed or transmuted rapidly enough to offset their introduction, thus causing changes the cycle is not prepared for. All organisms have wastes and by-products, and these are indeed part of the total ecosystem; energy is passed along the line and refracted in various ways, "the rainbow body." This is cycling, not pollution.

Situation: The human race in the last century has allowed its production and dissemination of wastes, by-products and various chemical substances to become excessive. Pollution is directly harming the ecosystem. It is also ruining the environment in very direct ways for humanity itself.

Goal: Clean air, clean clear-running rivers, unmuddied language and good dreams.


Social/political: Waste and by-product quantity must be reduced. Strong legislation controlling DDT and related pesticides with no fooling around. Direct exposure of the collusion of certain scientists, the pesticide industry, and agri-business in trying to block this legislation. Strong penalties for air and water pollution by industry. "Pollution is somebody's profit." Phase out petroleum fuels, explore all possible energy sources of a non-polluting nature: solar power. Tell the truth regarding atomic waste disposal and the threat it represents. Stop all germ and chemical warfare research and experimentation. Laws and sanctions encouraging the use of bio-degradable substances; and sanctions against wasteful use of paper, etc. which adds to the solid waste of cities. Determine methods of recycling solid urban waste; and recycling as a basic principle should inform all waste disposal thinking.

The community: Don't use DDT. Rely less heavily upon cars. Cars pollute the air, and one or two people riding lonely in a huge car is an insult to intelligince and the muse. Share rides, pick up hitchhikers, legalize hitch-hiking and build hitch-hiker waiting stations along the highways. Also — as a step toward the new world — walk more. Look for the best routes through beautiful countryside for long-distance walking trips: San Francisco to Los Angeles down the Coast Range, for one. Learn how to use your own manure as fertilizer if you're in the country as the far East has done for centuries. There's a way, and it's safe if proper precautions are taken.

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