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It’s a Small(er) World After All

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In studying history, I find the complex “green” movement of 300 years ago interesting. As most historians now assess that time, one of the major problems with the movement was that in trying to make the word mean something, it wound up meaning nothing at all – it was co-opted by marketers, governments, and do-gooders who broke any ability to trust that the label had any association with sustainability. Climate change – “global warming” – was the great evil that would require all sectors of global society to band together and conquer. However, climate change is not like an asteroid headed for Earth; it is always far-away and is easily left to someone else to either blame it on or deal with it. There were other major problems the world was facing too – a major loss of habitat for many species and as a result ecological destabilization, pollution of water sources around the globe, and major religious and ethnic tensions that found safe harbor in central Asia which forced powerful states to focus their attention on controlling terrorism. Of course, all of those were only the symptoms. The real problems were plain for everyone to see, but since they were so embedded in the human psyche since we first began to bend Nature – and each other – to our will, they were almost never addressed. That is, not until a coalition of several non-governmental organizations, activists, and certain government officials from several countries formed in the late 2010s to publicy declare their intent to steer global efforts towards solving the “crimes of human nature:” overpopulation and overconsumption. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This is what God told the first human beings in Genesis 1:28. Evangelical Christians of the time called it the “cultural mandate,” that it not only justified but demanded humanity to live not as a part of the natural ecosystem, but as its puppetmaster. If we mined the resources of the Earth like a quarry, we should have remembered that quarries get used up. If we cut quickly and fuirously from the Earth’s forests as from a single grove, we should have remembered that groves can be felled before the seeds of what trees remain before the axe can grow into new wood. We should have remembered, anyway, that the Earth isn’t an infinitely vast place. It is only a much larger place than a grove or a quarry. And we became much larger than a town or a village. We became ants crawling over the seeping face of a dropped fruit. When that grouping of advocates and policymakers formed, they stated without hesitation and fear the logical answer to solve the problem of overpupulation: reduce the population and keep it from growing too large. For overconsumption: consume less, and what we do consume, consume in a way that is completely sustainable.  This not only went against most of humanity’s fast-held beliefs on their own privileges in the world, but it clearly went directly against every growth-oriented business and political interest.  For a very long time, growth was the rule to prosperity, growth at all costs.  Even when it caused chronic short-sightedness and deeply shook the global economy several times, dropping the growth-centric model was not even possible to think of to the major stakeholders of the world’s economic and social order.  Even though the entrenched interests arranged for quite a few astroturfing campaigns, riots based on false information, and more than a few assassinations, the coalition of sustainability managed to convince a few key European NATO governments of the need to focus all efforts on developing a way of life that was sustainable for the Earth and the human race’s place in it.  The United States, weary of interventionism, did not muster up the political will to attack its NATO allies and sink the planet into a world war.  Although it did not join the European countries’ development of plans to solve the crises of overconsumption and overpopulation for over a decade, it eventually capitulated after the effects began to coalesce into a perfect storm with food riots in overseas interests severely damaging its economy while floods all over low-lying coastal areas of the world caused tremendous mass migrations, notably from Central America up to the Texas border. The key part of the solution for overpopulation lay in food production.  A global regime of trade control was implemented to either prevent or severely limit food importation and exportation.  It was laid out in stages lasting about a decade or two each.  Every form of food but staple crops was immediately banned from general trade; not even a small quota of luxury foodstuffs could be legally moved across state borders in order to prevent a massive rich-poor health gap from forming.  Of course, illegal production still managed to make it smuggled across, but nations were bound to use  complete trade sanctions on all forms of trade, including energy, raw materials and production goods, if a country was caught not enforcing the food embargo.  After fifteen years of this passed, enough for the effects of family planning to take serious hold due food availability, the amount of staple crop that could be exported or imported was reduced by 50 percent.  This forced each to develop food production methods that could be essentially self-sufficient for its own population.  After fifteen more years of this, all imports and exports of foodstuffs were banned for a full thirty years. There was of course massive economic upheaval, in the form of destructive development.  The old supply lines and order of things was radically shifted as net exporters had to find new ways to fill the economic gap left from the trade restrictions, and net importers were forced to develop a self-sustaining system of cultivation for its own population.  In some areas there was mass starvation, but not orders of magnitude greater than previous starvations caused by chronic poor weather and bad harvests. The general trend was actually one of simply heavily declining birthrates.  Parents had fewer children as there would not be enough food to support them all otherwise, and most people died natural deaths, not from starvation.  Impoverished populations who relied on food aid withered away, a painful consequence of the new order of things – but to this day, billions of lives have been saved compared to the alternative.  Those populations generally did not disappear, but many of them were reduced to small numbers.  By the time food trade was allowed again, every single country on the planet (and some countries had to merge or split in order to effectively manage their sustainable food systems) could feed its own population, many with the ability to set up reserves. As for overconsumption, the principle of “cradle-to-cradle” economics became the law of the land.  For all materials for which it was possible, recycling was mandatory.  Energy had to become completely renewable for 80% of a nation’s energy consumption, and cities and towns were rearranged such that less energy and space was necessary to provide civilization with the goods and services it needed.  Value creation became the rule-of-thumb, replacing growth creation.  Old industries died and new ones were built up in their place.  Families who could produce much of what they needed themselves were greatly rewarded with tax breaks. The  detractors at the time said that these plans amounted to a desire to return to Neolithic living.  Having vacationed on the Moon more than once, I can readily say they overreacted.  We are happy in our world of 2.5 billion people, clean and close-knit communities, pure air and water, and vast open spaces. A sustainable way of life is not one in which we patch up our problems. We must solve the issues that cause our problems in the first place. – Inspired by R. Black and Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael.
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Written by Preston

September 1st, 2009 at 10:00 am

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