Even those of us who attempt to "Live Simply" in the US, Canada and Western Europe are placing demands on the biosphere such that only a couple billion could potentially live sustainably with our lifestyle (note that the quoted phrase comes from a bumper sticker which I've seen on numerous privately owned cars with internal combustion engines).
So here we are, like frogs in a pot of water, not noticing how it's gradually getting warmer, and soon will be too hot for us to survive. And on top of that, we don't see any easy way out of the pot, and we have no idea what we'd land in if we were able to jump. Sounds like a bad day. Lucky for us, as humans we have a tremendous capacity to solve problems through creativity and imagination. So we can imagine bounding out of the pot and off to a nice cool pond somewhere, and once we notice we're in trouble, we are usually creative enough to find a way out. And let's face it, we're all in this pot together.
So what are we to do? Population control and reduction is one obvious solution, but how do we bring the population down fourfold in time to prevent ecosystem collapse? What about the billions whose religious beliefs are that birth control is a sin?
A draconian imposition of birth rate limits would only be partially successful (witness what happened in China), and is nearly impossible to achieve anyway, particularly in more open democracies. Personally, I think universal mandatory sterilization, with reversal only for those who meet genetic and intelligence qualifications and are given some guidance and support in child-rearing would be a good thing, provided there was some way to verify that the reversals were available without bias or reference to social class, race, religion, income, etc. (therefore, basically unfeasible given the way the world works). Also, I know enough about biology and natural selection to realize that "system cheaters" -- those whose sterilizations are reversed either spontaneously or through nefarious means -- would come to dominate the population in relatively short order, and if their "cheating" had some genetically transmissible component we'd be right back where we started.
But we can come at this problem from a different angle. Population growth is largely about biology, and biology is tricky to change. What about culture?
The following is a draft/proposal for guiding a shift in thinking about population. It is meant to read as "religious text" or "doctrine."
The Great Commitment
As living beings, we are blessed and cursed by sex. The division of male and female makes us mortal. It makes each one of us unique. It unleashes the diversity and passion of life. It drives us with the urge to leave something of ourselves for the future, knowing that we will not live to see the far future with our own eyes.
In most sexual beings, this great drive and passion is for biological reproduction. To have gametes participate in the divine dance of conception is the highest goal of the jellyfish, the oak and the eagle. Humans have been blessed with consciousness, and therefore with alternatives. We understand and think about the future. We may choose not to conceive offspring, but instead to build the future of life in other ways.
As these words are written, life on Earth is facing a grave crisis. This crisis was created by humans who did not look deeply into the future, or humans whose visions of the future were misguided. Now, humans of faith must take responsibility. We must work to correct the errors made by our powerful species. At this time of crisis, we must work to reduce the burdens we have placed on our homeworld.
All those who love life must work to reduce their harm to life. Right now, reducing the burden of human population is crucial to the recovery of Earth. Those of great faith may choose to make a great commitment to life by forsaking their natural desires to conceive children of their own.
The separation of the sexes into male and female means that the demands of this forsaking weigh differently on each sex. Man and woman have different paths to the great commitment.
The male has the potential to fertilize many females and conceive a multitude of offspring. Their desire for the act of love is so strong that they should not be expected to forsake that by will alone. Because of this difficulty, and because conception does not transform the male body, the great commitment of a male must be to accept full sterilization. Once he has done this, he is free in his behavior to do as he believes is right, so long as no harm comes to others by his actions. Only a sterile male has made the sacred pact of great commitment.
The female body may only bear so many children in one life. Because the female must carry the greater burden in producing heirs, her body is not so easily deprived of fertility. But because her conception would result in her pregnancy, she has more potential to control conception by will and action than the male. So the female may make the great commitment not to bear offspring and maintain that commitment by her own will. Because the female body evolved to develop and nourish her children, this desire may be difficult to overcome. But so long as no child is conceived with her gametes, no fetus nurtured in her womb, she may channel her desires to the nourishment and development of all life, working to care for the young of others. Such a woman is free in her behavior to do as she believes is right, so long as no harm comes to others by her actions. A woman's vow that she will bear no young is the sacred pact of great commitment.
By this, both male and female are asked for great sacrifice. Not all can make such sacrifices. But the deeply faithful will feel the calling of their hart to make this great commitment. Once they have made the sacred pact of great commitment, they may wear the mark of their commitment. Their sacrifice in this commitment earns them the honor, respect and support of all in the community of the faithful. Their commitment is made to benefit all life.
Not everyone can make this great commitment. All life is sacred, and a human child is an embodiment of the sacred, blessed with tremendous potential for wisdom, power and love. But just as diamonds are made precious by their rarity, so should it be with human children. When a woman gives birth to only one or two children, the community of the faithful must offer their aid, their care and their love to that woman and her children. Those who chose to have children of their own should not have too many, lest they burden the community of life that sustains them.
See my blog for a little good news on this issue!
last updated 29-Aug-2003
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