Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Elephant in the Global Living Room

Confronting the inevitable: Population reduction, voluntary and otherwise

It is such a difficult topic for so many of us to respond to, but, it must not be ignored.

Dr. Ken Smail (PhD, Yale, 1976), Professor of Anthropology at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, opens his essay with sobering food for thought.

It has become increasingly apparent over the past half-century that there is a growing tension between two seemingly irreconcilable trends. On one hand, moderate to conservative demographic projections indicate that global human numbers will almost certainly reach 8 to 9 billion by mid-21st century, only two generations from the present. On the other, prudent and increasingly reliable scientific estimates suggest that the Earth's long-term sustainable human carrying capacity, at what might be defined as an “adequate” to “moderately comfortable” developed-world standard of living, may not be much greater than 2 to 3 billion. It may in fact be considerably less, perhaps in the 1 to 2 billion range, particularly if the normative life-style (level of consumption) aspired to is anywhere close to that currently characterizing the United States.
Although, as I read his essay, I sense how much he wants to be a positive voice of hope for humanity, he struggles to be optimistic. He concludes that he can only be:
...cautiously optimistic that the human species will be able successfully to confront the complex and interrelated problems we have managed to create for ourselves -- what some have begun to characterize as an ecological, economic, political, sociocultural, and moral “perfect storm.” In fact, when I see how little traction various mitigating (or ameliorative) efforts have gained over the past 30 to 40 years, I have become increasingly pessimistic that humanity -- potentially some 9-plus billion of us within our children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes -- will be successful in staving off some very difficult times over the next several generations (throughout the 21st century and beyond).
Read his full essay. It is sobering.

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