ATTITUDES AND RESPONSES.




In a simple framework, there are three attitudes toward our ecological situation. The first is that of the prophets of doom. The second is represented by those who are in a state of denial. The third attitude is the most rational and is represented by people who try to assess the nature and the magnitude of the issues and design an appropriate solution for them.

THE PROPHETS OF DOOM.

In 1833, William Forster Lloyd, an amateur mathematician, published a scenario of human greed. Today, we refer to this scenario as “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Garrett Hardin in an essay with the same title presented the scenario as follows (Population, Evolution, and Birth Control. A collage of controversial ideas. W.H. Freeman and Company, 1969.)

There is a village of herdsmen. The village is surrounded by free pasture known as the commons. Each herdsman will, of course, keep as many animals on the commons as possible. This works fine because tribal wars, poaching and disease keep the number of the animals down, well below the carrying capacity of the commons. One day, however, there is peace and well being. Each herdsman will think that to add one more animal to his herd will benefit him by a value of +1, while the negative aspects of this move on the commons, being distributed over all concerned, will effect him only as a fraction of -1. It is obvious, therefore, that to add one more animal to the herd is the rational thing to do. And another, and so on. And therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked in to a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit - in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination to which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Thomas Robert Malthus, and english economist, anonymously published an essay in 1798 with the title: ”An essay on the Principle of Population” in which he argued that the general improvement of the human condition cannot take place because the power of the population is much greater than the power of the earth to provide subsistence. He maintained that population unchecked by war, disease and famine would increase geometrically while subsistence only arithmetically. Consequently, eliminating war, disease and famine, and so attempting to improve the human condition, would inevitably lead to disaster.

Paul R. Ehrlich, and Anne H. Ehrlich made on many occasions strong and well supported statements on the need to awaken people to the damage our lifestyles do to the earth, our only life support. One of the best examples of systematic presentation of ecological issues is found in their by now classic book on Population, Resources, Environment. Issues in Human Ecology, W.H. Freeman and company, 1970. According to the Ehrlichs, we are in deep trouble. The significant component of this trouble is not that there are no solutions to problems, but that people will not do enough and in time to avert a major disaster.


THE “NO PROBLEM” PEOPLE.

The second attitude toward our vast and disturbing ecological situation is to go into a state of denial. Sometimes this disbelief is reinforced by ideology. I mention here only two examples of such denial.
In a papal encyclical, Mater et Magistra (1961), Pope John XXIII writes that, according to some, the number of people in the world will in a few decades increase a great deal surpassing the needed economic growth to support them. It is evident from statistical records, he says, that the wide diffusion of medical knowledge reduces death rate everywhere in the world by lowering child mortality and extending life expectancy, while birthrate remains high. The result is an increasing imbalance between fast growth in numbers and slow economic growth. But the truth is, he continues, that the predicted dire consequences are based on unreliable statistics and are not experienced at present or will be experienced in the immediate future. He also states that God in His goodness and wisdom has provided nature with almost inexhaustible resources, and endowed us with ingenuity to satisfy our needs. The advances in science and technology give in this regard almost limitless promise for the future.

It is clear from the rest of the presentation that the pope’s major concerns are certain moral values directly involved in any attempt to lower birthrate. Traditional ideology is reflected in his position.

Another example of denial is that of Jacqueline Kasun. In the book The War against Population (Ignatius Press, 1988), She presents all issue in terms of economy and lacks any form of ecological realism. In addition, she does her best in trying to discredit any source of information on ecological data. This kind of thinking is not unfamiliar in the world of economy and business where it is not profitable to consider hidden ecological costs of production. This is an example of denial for profit.

THE SEE AND DO PEOPLE.

There are also those ecologists who, after having established the facts of the problem, attempt to design some workable plans to resolve them. I would like to mention here the members of the Worldwatch Institute in general, and the number 48 of the Worldwach Papers written by Lester R. Brown, and Pamela Shaw (March 1982), Six Steps to a Sustainable Society, in particular.

In this pamphlet, the authors first establish once more the state of deterioration and depletion of the resources in the postwar decades our limited earth provides to sustain human life. They also provided in this paper a short but workable plan in six steps:

1. Stabilize world population.
2. Protect cropland.
3. Reforest the earth.
4. Move beyond the throwaway society.
5. Conserve energy.
6. Develop renewable energy.

Each of these steps are essential to reestablish the balance between the human population and the earth in terms of numbers, resources, and way of life. Human ingenuity is required not only to use the earth’s resources but also to use them in a manner that is sustainable. It is not without good reason that the need to stabilized world population is mentioned as the first step. Without balancing birthrate with death rate there is no hope for recovery. And, of course, without neutralizing the “Tragedy of the Commons” mentality all six steps would falter.

In the section, Stabilize World Population, I shall concentrate on the dimensions and implications of the first step of this agenda.


Sources:
1. Population, Evolution, and Birth Control. A collage of controversial ideas. Assembled by Garrett Hardin. W.H. Freeman and Company. 1969.
2. Population, Resources, Environment. Issues in Human Ecology, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Anne H. Ehrlich. W.H. Freeman and company, 1970.
3. Papal Encyclical by Pope John XXIII. Mater et Magistra. 1961.
4. The War against Population. Jacqueline Kasun. Ignatius Press, 1988.
5. Worldwatch paper 48, March 1982. Six Steps to a Sustainable
Society.
Lester R. Brown and Pamela Shaw.

 

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