Planning for a Sustainable Future: Resource Conservation, Population Control, and Economy

Resource conservation is important but not the solution by itself. If we want a sustainable future we need to think ahead.

| April/May 2009

A motorcycle accident did it. A motorcycle accident, and its aftermath, led me to a series of realizations about what humanity must do to achieve a sustainable future. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

It was in July of 2007, and I nearly killed myself. Not intentionally; I almost died from a terminal case of poor visualization. That’s right, poor visualization almost ended my life.

On a motorcycle, if you enter a turn with a gentle arc and that arc gradually becomes smaller, then you are in a decreasing-circumference curve — which presents a serious problem when you enter the corner too fast and then discover it closing down on you. It’s your classic rookie-motorcyclist error, and I made it.

There’s only one way out, and slowing down is not an option. To brake a motorcycle in a high-speed corner is disastrous. You’ll lose traction and lay the machine down on its side. So the experienced rider leans deeper into the irrational angle and holds his intent. He visualizes a successful outcome. He experiences the exhilaration of successfully testing his own courage and skill against the laws of nature.

I, on the other hand, lost my nerve. Rather than visualizing myself — and the motorcycle — completing that turn at that speed, I let fear take over. I couldn’t visualize it and, for lack of a clear mental picture, I became trapped in the curve. Instinctively, I tried to slow the motorcycle down. The motorcycle and I went sideways, bounced off a fortuitous guardrail, and I went down in the middle of the road at about 45 mph. It would be a year before I healed completely.

The Destination Fixation

As I considered the lessons I took from the experience — while massaging the deep bruises on my legs, arms, and torso — it dawned on me that the human species is, in a manner of speaking, in the middle of a decreasing-circumference curve. Global climate change has created a worldwide sense that if we don’t do something soon, we may mess up our environment for the long term. We’re moving fast toward some form of environmental reckoning. The path we are on necessitates a change in attitude.

Stephen D. Shenfield_59
1/17/2010 5:04:42 PM

Yes, we have to think, plan, and act together to shape our long-term future as a species. That is the approach we need. Unfortunately, most people lack a strong consciousness of "we as a species." Their main concern remains some narrower "we" -- we as a family, nation, race, gender, religious community, generation, etc. Even when they do think about what should be done to save the species, their thinking is colored by loyalty to narrower identities. They try to pursue species interests and the narrow interests of their group simultaneously, and it is this more than anything else that prevents agreement on any adequate plan of action. How can this barrier be overcome except by reorganizing and uniting society on the basis of common human interests? But this is the basic idea of socialism or communism, which you off-handedly dismiss as "obsolete." Of course, some or all of the systems that have been CALLED socialist or communist may well be regarded as obsolete. In that sense, we do indeed need a new system. In particular, past attempts to unite society have been confined to the national level, preserving or even exacerbating conflict between nations. The new system must be global in scope. It must also be democratic. But it will still be a form of socialism or communism, because any system that functions in the interest of the community as a whole is socialist or communist -- by definition.

Paul Scott_1
9/1/2009 5:32:34 PM

So good to read a well written piece on why population matters. It is clear that all serious problems in the world have overpopulation to blame. Whether it's resource depletion, energy use or wars over water and oil, society cannot handle the massive growth in humans that we've experienced over the past several decades. Sustainability is key. Reduction in growth must start now with the goal to get to that magic number where everyone is educated, gainfully employed and able to live a free life without fear of persecution or discrimination. Anyone who does not consider overpopulation a serious problem is not a "real" environmentalist. I've endowed vasectomy funds with three Planned Parenthood offices (Los Angeles, Eugene, OR and Pasadena, CA). If you want to make a serious effort to reduce the growth of population, not to mention have an effect on unwanted pregnancies that may result in abortions, then contribute to one of these funds Better yet, start one yourself with your local Planned Parenthood office.

7/13/2009 5:05:13 PM

Thank you for addressing and continuing to address this issue. It doesn't matter WHAT we do to reduce carbon emissions or reduce the amount of resources consumed if the population continues to grow at the rate it does. Combine that with other countries wanting to live like the U.S (and its their right!) and you have a global catastrophe going to happen.

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