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.