I believe in heaven (with a lowercase ‘h’) heaven on Earth. As a child of a polite Midwest family, I played hide-and-seek, and in porch-light shadows, the mosquito found me; itchy welts are part of this heaven as are also summer’s thunderstorm, autumn’s leaf, winter’s frostbite, spring’s smell, a cat’s nap, and a loving touch. My parents roused us kids from bed to watch sputniks fly, trout rise, and stars fall, lessons of lowercase ‘h’ heaven.
Paul Erhlich wrote The Population Bomb when I was a teenager. Media reported infinite growth was impossible on a finite planet; critics argued technology and economics could snip the fuse. The debate comforted me; wisdom guided our civic lives.
Then at college, I lost sleep; the media reported on Vietnam, dominoes, and bigotry, but said nothing of the root cause of social ills, growth. My English 101 professor asked for a 1,000-word essay on a cure for poverty. I carefully typed two words “Quit birthing” 500 times. The professor said that either I misspelled the word for docking a boat, in which case my solution was nonsense, or I used a gerund that didn’t exist in formal English (this was pre-feminism 1969) in which case half my essay was missing.
Wisdom, I came to accept, was not a guide to our civic lives, and I learned, hadn’t been for at least two centuries. In 1795 Thomas Malthus made two irrefutable claims: (ONE) Starvation, disease, and war will stop human growth unless we voluntarily stop ourselves; and (TWO) if we continue fruitlessly multiplying, a maximum number of people will suffer.
After helping at soup kitchens, I began to bear witness, to ask people: Can you name a social problem that gets better with more people? I’d wonder. Can you name three social problems that get worse as we multiply? People who idle in traffic, look for jobs, or want a home know growth hurts, hurts us all by exacerbating social problems and by excusing untenable choices, like nuclear power, as the only way to meet our future needs.
Oh, economists applaud growth. Growth is good for capitalists who sell bits of Earth’s resources because demands increase, but growth has been, is, and will be bad for us employees and consumers who wait in lines. Economists even blame lower rates of growth for failing national economies; psychologists may rightly blame parents for character flaws in children, but economists in Italy, France, and here go too far when they blame parents for failing economic policies.
Now, I believe in heaven on Earth with a sustainable human family, and I also believe we are well on the way to its opposite.
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