In my never-ending quest to ease those I know ever so carefully into conversations covering difficult subjects, my father can be a tough nut to crack because we're so much alike. We agree for the most part that today's politicians are useless and that our society simply cannot be run the way it is, today, forever. As much as we're alike, he's sixty and I'm twenty-nine, so perspective plays into just how far he's willing to take some of his points in conversations about the future of our society. He won't be around to see the worst of it, but I (and my children) just may be.
Why is he a challenge for me when it comes to these discussions, even though he agrees? It's because he agrees and yet there's an indifference in his perspective, mostly having to do with the aforementioned age issue - today he admitted "even [he's] part of the problem" when it comes to society's indifference toward politics, let alone overpopulation or the environment. He has his slice of heaven; he figures it shouldn't be a lot more difficult for those of us willing to work hard and put their time in to get theirs - and human ingenuity will magically take care of the rest. Unfortunately, my generation appears to be the first one in decades - maybe even centuries - where life has become more difficult instead of more easy. Technology has ceased being the beacon of hope for all to eat & drink well across the world - we have reached the point where the more we grow in number, the less of us will have the ability to live first world lifestyles.
Exhibit A: urine and feces recycling. This was the headlining story in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe today - 13th July, 2008. That's right, folks; today's big idea is recycling human feces for natural resources instead of breeding below replacement levels for a few generations and getting rid of the real human waste - most humans themselves! Some "green" folks are probably going to say this is the way we need to move as a society - and the image that comes to my mind, which is very appropriate in this case, is a scene from the 1995 movie "Waterworld", which shows Kevin Costner pissing into a contraption, to filter out the water from his urine, so he can survive. Interesting how these ideas only seem to make sense - even in Hollywood, mind you - in dystopic futures where people are living under great hardship. To me, the foreshadowing could not have been more perfect.
Exhibit B: the idea that it doesn't make sense to plan for the future and use natural means to do it. Check out this article. Here's an excerpt:
Consider the case of genetically modified food. Many people fear that "tampering with nature" could produce adverse consequences for our health and for the environment. But others argue that a failure to allow genetic modification might well result in numerous deaths, and a small probability of many more. The reason: Genetic modification holds out the promise of producing food that is both cheaper and healthier - resulting, for example, in products that might have large benefits in developing countries. The point is not that genetic modification will definitely have those benefits, or that the benefits of genetic modification outweigh the risks. The point is that the precautionary principle provides no guidance.
Regulations sometimes give rise to substitute risks. DDT, for example, is often regulated in the interest of protecting birds and human health. In poor nations, though, DDT bans eliminate what appears to be the most effective way of combating malaria - and thus significantly undermine public health.
This (lack of) logic is laughable. Genetically modified crops have been shown - proven - to actually not produce as much food and foil the natural process in the soil where genetically modified crops are planted; they also demand more precious water (hm, go back up to Exhibit A for a solution on that one!) than natural/organic crops, which is a detriment to nature, the human race, and the soil - it's unnatural. This isn't precautionary; genetically modified food has been shown to be a bad idea. And DDT? Do we even have to discuss the blatant idiocy of the second paragraph above?
Isn't anyone paying attention? Most people with whom I gently broach the subject of overpopulation (read: what's really important to the environment vs. buying recycled plastic bags and low wattage light bulbs) arm themselves with arguments like "we produce much more per acre of land than we used to", and "technology is getting better & better; what are you talking about you fascist, we won't have to change the way we live!". What they fail to mention is that an acre of land is still just one acre of land - even if you made every square inch of it produce genetically modified tomatoes that have to grow over & under each other, what happens when there are fifteen billion people on the planet and they all need a place to live; they all want an acre of their own - and start paving over the last farmland? What happens when enough trash builds up that we have to think about sending it into space, polluting the atmosphere in the process and using jet fuel to send it out? What happens if we finally become one big happy family, sharing food & culture across borders freely? This doesn't seem to work so well in the salmon population where the strongest of the salmon used to survive, but now the weaklings in farmed salmon spread disease to the strong salmon, even those out in the ocean. Can't we learn from this - moronic cultures (or ideas) infesting other cultures is only bad for everyone. Take the example of modern-day Eurabia - oops, Europe.
Well, these questions will need to be asked at some point, so why not now; why not today? I asked these questions of my father today. I finally was able to discuss how society should look vs. how it looks today. When he heard my ideas, all he could really say was, "wow, that would take change at a very fundamental level of society". I mentioned how our societies have been built around cars, so today, people are waiting for electric/robotic cars to whisk them away instead of planning for a future with less cars, with people walking & biking more. I mentioned how it doesn't matter what you do to the land to make it magically shit out way more crops than natural design allows. Even if that worked, that would just encourage more people to breed, which would overpopulate our planet further and put further strain on our precious resources. I mentioned how geologists are very open about the fact that we're at the end of the toothpaste tube when it comes to oil and that an intelligent society would have realized long ago that trying to extract oil from rocks stinks badly of the emperor playing the fiddle as Rome burns. Shale oil is our solution, digging in Alaska is our solution, but our solution should be a huge curb on oil usage - economics be damned. Our solution should be smaller, organic communities designed to encourage the outdoors and nature, where cultures don't share borders, food, and culture so easily; where people can say "no" to this one and that one demanding their right to fornicate in public or watch pornography all day while collecting a government welfare check.
Until we act as a strong society - including the strength to realize our own weaknesses and elect leaders who will lead instead of doing what's popular - humans will cease planning for the future and instead look to puppet regimes to tell them everything is going to be okay. They offer us cheap entertainment - the glowing box you're looking into right now, or perhaps the glowing box across the room which doesn't accept input, just output. They offer us cheap, disgusting, Soylent Green-esque food with all kinds of preservatives which we know aren't natural and probably are in part responsible for the spike in cancer rates - along with that microwave you need in order to heat up said food. We roll over and accept it because we don't want to suffer the realities of nature, we don't want to plan for the future and deal with a few decades of harsh economic times. Our modern lives are a trap; a way to close the walls around us further in, denying the inevitable reality that overpopulation (among other catastrophes) will choke and kill most of us off, providing a huge sigh of relief for Mother Nature when she can finally shake us off "like a bad case of fleas."
As my wife noted in a recent discussion - "pay more [money for natural products] today, or pay for cancer later." I can't think of a better slogan for modern times. Unfortunately, most people choose the latter.