For most of my life, I thought the problem was how to present population facts in a way that could not be denied; the right choice of words, the right graphs, the right pictures. I was sure someone, some leader, would get the message cleverly correct and sanity would reign. Wrong. Yet, despite the lack of leadership by political and scientific leaders, the existential facts are felt; ordinary people know growth hurts. Ordinary people can’t name a social problem that continued growth will ease or make better; oh, a few will claim growth keeps Social Security solvent, but they are simply repeating a distraction tossed out by economists whose job is so much easier in a rapidly growing market of vastly unmet consumer need. Yet, ask someone to name five social problems that will likely get easier as our population voluntarily reduces, and given a free moment for contemplation, that person will name a dozen good reasons why a world with fewer people will be a more pleasant life for all. Maybe facts are less important than leadership. Perhaps a doomsday placard is less effective than a painting of today’s technology serving 1800’s world population of a billion, a photograph of underpopulation.
When I type that last word, my computer spell-check does not recognize it. Underpopulation is not a word. Overpopulation is a word. What happened to underpopulation? A little googling reveals the word exists as a bit of jargon; underpopulation is used by economists to describe a deplorable market force, a birth-dearth, to be scorned and avoided at all cost (and for all profit). In time, the not-yet-a-real-word will gain currency; underpopulation will be defined in dictionaries as a desirable and sustainable social condition characterized by having more than enough to go around, plenty for everyone.
My family’s mealtimes were a metaphor for underpopulation: “Sit down. Relax there’s plenty for everyone. Be patient you’ll get your share. Of course there’s more. Who’s at the door? Oh, come in, have you eaten? Sit, sit. There’s room at the table for you. Now, who wants another helping?” As a child I thought the whole world enjoyed such abundance, later I learned a third of the people on Earth in my childhood 1960s went to bed hungry.
Science sought new ways to grow more food; crop yield increased dramatically, and today only a sixth of the people on Earth go to bed hungry. That sounds like great progress, but look at this information through the eyes of one who is hungry: A third of 3 billion (1960’s population) is no different than a sixth of 6 billion (2000’s population). After unprecedented technological achievement, one billion people are still starving; our continued growth in the last forty years defeated our chance to help the world’s hungry. Worse, today’s agriculture is a science of using sun and dirt to change oil into food, and Earth’s oil is nearing empty while we speed toward a billion new people each decade.
Whatever we run out of first, scarcity will one day stop our growth as Thomas Malthus warned two hundred years ago. The only other option is to stop growing voluntarily. With family planning, vasectomies, and tubal ligations, this option need not involve even a casual acquaintance with celibacy. Imagine today’s technology serving 1960’s world family–twice as much for all. Imagine a day when:
• Underpopulation will be the cause of shorter lines at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
• Underpopulation will be advocated by political leaders as the logical goal of government policy and civil society.
• Underpopulation will be listed as the basic solution by non-profit volunteer groups that really want to solve a problem and thereby become unnecessary.
• Underpopulation will remove long life from the list of serious social problems.
• Underpopulation will be cited by the IRS as the reason small families get a tax break and big families do not.
• Underpopulation will be a reason the military-industrial’s complex financial carpetbagger scheming is finally made illegal.
• Underpopulation will shape a marketplace bullish on quality, not quantity.
• Underpopulation will ease our transition to renewable energy and sustainable technologies.
• Underpopulation will be the long past bedtime for nuclear power and other dangerous technologies.
• Underpopulation will be the sunrise on peaceful coexistence.
• Underpopulation will be the evening dream skies of children flying, soaring, fearless.
Some of us will live to see this day. I believe this and I am thankful. -end
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