Choosing a planet of life

At the time of writing this article, America's population is 328.5 million and world population is 7.5 billion.

In America, women voluntarily achieved replacement level fertility (2.1 children per woman) in 1972, yet mass immigration is driving Americans population to double within the lifetimes of children born today. That will mean twice as many houses, cars, roads, schools, and prisons. Twice the demand for farmland, water, and forest products. Twice the long-reaching demand for seafood and petroleum. Twice as much overcrowding, twice the demand for open space, and double the overcrowding in our natural parks. At this juncture, we might ask: is this the future we wish to bequeath to our children?

Similarly, world population - that is, the population of all countries combined - is projected to increase by 50 percent to 11.2 billion by 2100. That's an incredulous number of people. Today's immigration pressure from third world countries to developed countries is huge. By 2100 it will be unimaginable. Imagine what will happen after 2100 as population continues to grow.

The world - again, that means all countries combined - can choose an overpopulated future where quality of life of all species, including mankind, is proportionately diminished. But should we? Do we truly desire that future? If so, why, and what will be the ultimate number of people in each country when we finally say enough is enough?

Eileen Christ has written a brilliant essay on the huge ethical decision we face. It's well worth reading:

Afterword: Choosing a Planet of Life, by Eileen Christ
in Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, by Tom Butler, editor, Goff Books, 2015.
The Population Institute, Population Media Center & Foundation for Deep Ecology.

Read Crist's complete essay, accompanied by a commentary ("A Note on Crist's Other Works") by Stuart Hurlbert.
Also available on the web without commentary at

Here are a few pertinent excerpts:

... Environmental analysts have divergent responses to this particular figure (which is the latest United Nations estimate). Some are incredulous that such a number can be approached—let alone sustained—and contend that the consequences of moving in that direction will be disastrous; a catastrophe or combination of catastrophes is bound to derail professional demographers' expectations, and humanity (after enduring much suffering, or perhaps experiencing some kind of wake-up call) will stabilize at lower numbers. But other environmental observers, describing themselves as more optimistic, are endeavoring to figure out strategies that might sustain the expected billions. They hope that with the right developments and innovations in crop genetics, irrigation technologies, fertilizer application ("responsible nutrient management"), efficiency gains (including closing "yield gaps" and curbing food waste), requisite energy transitions, and other advances, the planet might feed, provide water for, house, educate, and medicate—at an acceptable standard of living for all— the coming 10. There is reason to wager, they maintain, that humanity might succeed at the task, since people are resourceful, determined, and apt to get out of a tight spot even in the nick of time.

Thus where some see disaster on the immediate horizon, others submit that with another techno-managerial turn of the screw humanity might avert grim penalties to population growth. Yet despite considerable divergence in outlook, all environmental analysts agree that (even as our global numbers continue to climb) we face grueling challenges, each immense in its own right but dizzying in their unpredictable synergies: biodiversity destruction, climate change, freshwater depletion, ceilings on agricultural productivity, all manner of pollution, topsoil loss, and ocean acidification to mention some prominent examples. Rather than taking sides between the forecast of impending tragedy versus optimism about "feeding the world," there is another way to tell the near future's story. On that telling, the issue is not whether it is possible for 10 billion people to eat industrial food, commune with iPhones, and make a decent living on planet Earth (an outlying scenario, in my view, but perhaps stranger things have happened in the universe). The point to focus on instead is that a world of so many billions does not, in any case, turn out well: Because such a world is only possible by taking a spellbindingly life-abundant planet and turning it into a human food plantation, gridded with industrial infrastructures, webbed densely by networks of high- traffic global trade and travel, in which remnants of natural areas—simulacra or residues of wilderness—are zoned for ecological services and ecotourism....

In such a world corporations are likely to continue reigning supreme, for the coming technological gigantism (not to mention the escalation of mass consumption) will make them indispensable. Corporate expertise and products will be required to keep the biosphere on permanent "dialysis," to borrow a fitting metaphor from James Lovelock. Corporations will continue generating enormous revenues, via tax-based subsidies for their "public works" and by catering their products to huge numbers of people. (Any doubt regarding the relationship between private-sector opulence and consumer population size is dispelled by taking note of the correlation between today's wealthiest companies and their bulging middle-class client base. Indeed, capitalism is quite partial to the twin perks of population growth: cheap labor and mass clientele.)...

In such a world—whatever it augurs for humanity, which seems bleak to say the least—the exuberance of Life will suffer a tremendous blow. This Life is barely hanging on in the present world; it will not survive a world that is a magnified version of the one we live in. I use the word Life, with capital L, to mean something akin to what life scientists call "biodiversity"; unfortunately, though, the latter term is often mistakenly conflated with numbers of species on Earth. While numbers of species are a significant dimension of Life's fecundity, Life is far greater than a total species inventory—as extravagant as that inventory may be. Life is bewildering in its creative expressions, its beauty, strangeness, and unexpectedness, its variety of physical types and kinds of awareness, and its dynamic, burgeoning, and interweaving world-making. ...

And here's the crux of the matter: Humanity can choose to live on a planet of Life instead of haplessly plunging toward a human-colonized planet on dialysis ("wisely managed"). To live on a planet of Life it is necessary to limit ourselves so as to allow the biosphere freedom to express its ecological and evolutionary arts. For that, we in turn need to cultivate the breadth of imagination to give the concept of freedom wider scope—pushing its territory beyond the sheath of human exclusivity. In the name of a higher freedom that encompasses Earth and its entire community of beings, we can choose to let the world be the magnificence and wealth it was and still can be. Borrowing words from nature writer Julia Whitty's Deep Blue Home, this path is about cultivating intimacy with the natural world...

The demographic idea of carrying capacity refers to the maximal population of a species that its environment can support, without that environment becoming too degraded to support the species in the future. If a species, for some reason or other, does exceed its carrying capacity— with numbers mounting beyond what the natural setting can sustain—the consequences are implacable: starvation, disease, and death follow, until the population is brought back within a supportable range. While this natural law of the relationship between population size and sustenance appears broadly applicable in the animal kingdom, here's the key point regarding human exemption: It is widely believed that history has shown that it does not apply to us. ...

I have digressed into the ecological discontents of humanity's current food production in order to submit the following: that the social mission to double or triple it is madness. But the proposal to move deliberately in the direction of more than halving our global population, and simultaneously radically changing our food system, is not. ...

Indeed, what is detaining us from creating a civilization in harmony with wild Earth?