Wednesday, May 24, 2017
At Last, An Intelligent Discussion About Overpopulation.
As a keen follower of climate science for the past 15 years or more, the shortcomings in the treatment of this potentially existential threat to human civilization has been the fractured and shallow coverage it has received. This has led some to see climate change as something to do with global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. That has encouraged many to see it as resolvable by measures such as geo-engineering. These are facile responses.
Even many climate scientists treat climate change as some stand alone issue that can be approached in isolation. It's a blinkered outlook that goes a long way to ensuring that answers will elude us.
Many years ago I began to assemble a list of the major problems confronting mankind this century. It was an extensive list. I no longer have it memorized but I'll do my best here:
Climate change and associated, largely anthropogenic or man-made challenges including severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration; a broken hydrological cycle contributing to severe flooding and drought, both cyclical and recurrent; a shift in jet stream circulation carrying warm air into the Arctic and cold polar air deep into southern regions; the heating of the Arctic manifesting in the loss of Arctic sea ice (the albedo), the thawing of Arctic permafrost, the drying out of the tundra leading to uncontrollable wild fires producing black soot; disease and pest migration; species (terrestrial, marine, plant and animal) extinction and migration; the loss of ice caps and glaciers; sea level rise, coastal flooding and the saltwater inundation of coastal freshwater resources; the rapidly spreading freshwater crisis; severe heat events including situations nearing "wet bulb 35" conditions; the collapse of global fisheries from rapacious overfishing; massive deforestation, particularly in South America and Asia Pacific; pollution and contamination of all forms including algae blooms from industrial and agricultural runoff, coastal dead zones; resource exhaustion and depletion; desertification and the rapid loss of arable farmland through soil degradation caused by excessively intensive agriculture; and a host of security challenges including overpopulation and population migration, famine, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, various regional arms races and the onset of resource wars.
I don't claim the list to be exhaustive, merely the best my memory can muster in the moment. I spent a few years looking at this list trying to discern whether and, if so, how these looming calamities were connected. Were there common threads that ran through them?
It turns out they are all, in varying degrees, connected. Each falls into one or more of three basic categories - anthropogenic global warming, overconsumption of resources and overpopulation. Those common threads, all of them, run straight back to us, how we're constituted as societies and a global civilization, and how we're organized politically, socially, economically and industrially. It was then that I realized that Jared Diamond is right - we don't have much chance of solving any of them unless we're willing and able to solve them all.
I was pleased in skimming through the digital version of the latest Foreign Policy to discover a genuinely thoughtful, well-reasoned and in depth discussion of the overpopulation challenge from and center in their climate change edition. The article asks "Is there a case to be made against baby making?" before unpacking the social, cultural and environmental pros and cons that bedevil the issue.
FP editor, David Rothkopf, has an essay dealing with the scourge of denialism, "The Wages of Sin Is the Death of the World; the biggest threat to a fragile world is human frailty." He looks at how the most climate change hostile government, Trump's, came to power thanks to a deviant sexting a minor.
Rothkopf cites Nate Silverman's conclusion that Comey's decision, just days prior to the election, to announce a new investigation into Hillary's emails discovered on Anthony Weiner's laptop while the FBI pursued the sexting crime was enough to swing three states to Trump that gave him the Electoral College win.
The FBI was hunting down a perv. They seized his computer. On the hard drive were Huma Abedin emails. That caused the FBI to re-open the investigation. Comey made his announcement. Trump won the electoral college. Now Trump is dismantling the EPA and threatening to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change accord.
It looks like a good issue. Mine's in the mailbox but you may want to check it out on a newsstand or in your library.