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In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation.
I just wonder what it would be like to be reincarnated in an animal whose species had been so reduced in numbers than it was in danger of extinction. What would be its feelings toward the human species whose population explosion had denied it somewhere to exist.... I must confess that I am tempted to ask for reincarnation as a particularly deadly virus.
It is now apparent that the ecological pragmatism of the so-called pagan religions, such as that of the American Indians, the Polynesians, and the Australian Aborigines, was a great deal more realistic in terms of conservation ethics than the more intellectual monotheistic philosophies of the revealed religions.
For example, the World Health Organization Project, designed to eradicate malaria from Sri Lanka in the postwar years, achieved its purpose. But the problem today is that Sri Lanka must feed three times as many mouths, find three times as many jobs, provide three times the housing, energy, schools, hospitals and land for settlement in order to maintain the same standards. Little wonder the natural environment and wildlife in Sri Lanka has suffered. The fact [is] ... that the best-intentioned aid programs are at least partially responsible for the problems.
I don't claim to have any special interest in natural history, but as a boy I was made aware of the annual fluctuations in the number of game animals and the need to adjust the ``cull'' to the size of the surplus population.
The great difficulty about ``life'' is that we humans are part of it, and it is therefore almost impossible to study objectively.... It therefore tends to be anthropocentric and gives scant attention to the welfare of all the other life-forms which share this planet with us.
...|When the Bible says that man shall have ``dominion'' over God's creation, the choice is between understanding dominion as in ``having power over,'' or dominion as ``having responsibility for.''
Once you have interfered with the balance of nature it becomes necessary to maintain the balance by artificial means. This means that some animals have to be killed in the interest of maintaining the health and viability of the species as a whole as well as the benefit of other more vulnerable species. Unfortunately there are many people who object to that sort of thing.
Ecology is not concerned with the fate of individual animals. It accepts the concept of the exploitation of surplus natural resources because that is in the way the natural system works, but it must always be done on the principle of maintaining a sustainable yield.... The inexorable rule of nature is that if you mess up your environment you will have to pay a heavy price sooner or later.... Just look around the globe today and you cannot fail to notice areas which at one time supported highly successful and civilized populations are either deserts or they have reverted to jungle. The reason is quite simple: they over-exploited their natural resources and they paid the price. It is naive to think that we can escape the same fate for very much longer. We are only managing to put off the evil hour by frantically digging up and using mineral resources that can never be renewed. As if that were not enough, we are polluting the atmosphere, the land and the waters with every kind of noxious substance. The ``greenhouse effect'' alone could well have devastating consequences for all life on earth.
This is a reflection of the duality of man's brain. The left brain produces the reasonable answers after objective scientific research, while the right brain prefers the acceptable and the emotionally satisfactory answers. How often do people say, ``That may be so, but I prefer to `believe' or I like to believe ... this, that or the other''?
The duality of the brain has created great problems for modern man.... It is ... significant that successful engineering makes money. This is in stark contrast to the supernatural, whether it is religious or mythological. In the latter cases the truth may be equally certain, but it is not verifiable, and the outcome of following rules is seldom predictable. It is, of course, possible to exploit magic and mythology commercially, but it could hardly be described as a manufacturing industry....
There is an understandable public pressure for schools and colleges to concentrate on utilitarian subjects to the exclusion of cultural and aesthetic development. In other words, the development of the left brain is given a great deal more attention than that of the right brain.... The trouble is that neglect of the development of the right brain leaves it in a state of vacuum.... This means that the right brain is ready to absorb the first plausible ideas it happens across. The occult, obscure religious rites, parapsychology, astrology and similar attractive but irrational notions are sucked into the vacant space without any discrimination or critical faculty.... I also suspect that the use of drugs might be seen as a substitute, or short cut, to filling the vacuum of the right brain....
I mention all this because man's attitude to nature is partly a function of the left brain and partly a function of the right brain. It is easy enough to encourage an emotional concern for nature and the living world.... Everyone can comprehend the idea of cruelty, very few can comprehend the extinction of a species.
The conflict between instinct and reason has reached a critical stage in man's affairs, largely because the explosion of facts has revealed the instincts for what they are and at the same time it has undermined traditional philosophies and ideologies. The explosion of facts has effectively altered mankind's physical and intellectual environment and when any environment changes, the process of natural selection is brutal and merciless. ``Adapt or die'' is as true today as it was in the beginning.
It took about three and a half billion years for life on earth to reach the state of complexity and diversity that our ancestors knew as recently as 200 years ago. It has only taken industrial and scientific man those 200 years to put at risk the whole of the world's natural system. It has been estimated that by the year 2000, some 300,000 species of plants and animals will have become extinct, and that the natural economy, upon which all life depends, will have been seriously disrupted.
The paradox is that this will have been achieved with the best possible intentions. The human population must be properly fed, human life must be preserved and human existence must be made safer and more comfortable. All these things are obviously highly desirable, but if their achievement means putting the survival of future generations at risk, then there is a pressing obligation on present generations to apply some measure of self-restraint.
We talk about over- and underdeveloped countries; I think a more exact division might be between underdeveloped and overpopulated. The more people there are, the more industry and more waste and the more sewage there is, and therefore the more pollution.
If the world pollution situation is not critical at the moment, it is as certain as anything can be that the situation will become increasingly intolerable within a very short time. The situation can be controlled, and even reversed; but it demands cooperation on a scale and intensity beyond anything achieved so far.
I realize that there are vital causes to be fought for, and I sympathize with people who work up a passionate concern about the all too many examples of inhumanity, injustice, and unfairness; but behind all this hangs a deadly cloud. Still largely unnoticed and unrecognized, the process of destroying our natural environment is gathering speed and momentum. If we fail to cope with the challenge, the other problems will pale into insignificance.
What has been described as the ``balance of nature'' is simply nature's system of self-limitation. Fertility and breeding success create the surpluses after allowing for the replacement of the losses. Predation, climatic variation, disease, starvation--and in the case of the inappropriately named Homo sapiens, wars and terrorism--are the principal means by which population numbers are kept under some sort of control.
Viewed dispassionately, it must be obvious that the world's human population has grown to such a size that it is threatening its own habitat; and it has already succeeded in causing the extinction of large numbers of wild plant and animal species. Some have simply been killed off. Others have quietly disappeared, as their habitats have been taken over or disturbed by human activities.
Q: What do you consider the leading threat to the environment?
A: Human population growth is probably the single most serious long-term threat to survival. We're in for a major disaster if it isn't curbed--not just for the natural world, but for the human world. The more people there are, the more resources they'll consume, the more pollution they'll create, the more fighting they will do. We have no option. If it isn't controlled voluntarily, it will be controlled involuntarily by an increase in disease, starvation and war.
I do believe ... that human population pressure--the sheer number of people on this planet--is the single most important cause of the degradation of the natural environment, of the progressive extinction of wild species of plants and animals, and of the destabilization of the world's climatic and atmospheric systems.
The simple fact is that the human population of the world is consuming natural renewable resources faster than it can regenerate, and the process of exploitation is causing even further damage. If this is already happening with a population of 4 billion, I ask you to imagine what things will be like when the population reaches six and then 10 billion.... All this has been made possible by the industrial revolution and the scientific explosion and it is spread around the world by the new economic religion of development.
There may be disagreements about the time scale, but in principle there can be little doubt that the population cannot go on increasing indefinitely. Resources presently being used will not last for ever and pollution in its broadest sense, unless severely checked, is bound to increase with population and industrial activity.
I suspect that the single most important gift of progress to conservation has been the development of human contraception techniques.
Q: Is birth control part of the solution?
A: Yes, but you can't legislate these problems away. You've got to get people to understand the need for it: the more important people, the ones who have responsibilities have got to do it because they're at the receiving end. They've got to accept the measures.
As long ago as 1798, Malthus explained what happens when the factors limiting the increase in any population are removed. One of the factors noticed by Darwin was that all species are capable of producing vastly greater populations than can be sustained by existing resources; populations did not increase at the rate at which they are capable was the basis for his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.
The relevance to natural selection of this capacity for overproduction is that as each individual is slightly different to all the others it is probable that under natural conditions those individuals which happen to be best adapted to the prevailing circumstances have a better chance of survival. Well, so what? Well, take a look at the figures for the human population of this world. One hundred fifty years ago it stood at about 1,000 million or in common parlance today, 1 billion. It then took about a 100 years to double to 2 billion. It took 30 years to add the third billion and 15 years to reach today's total of 4.4 billion. With a present world average rate of growth of 1.8%, the total population by the year 2000 will have increased to an estimated 6 billion and in that and in subsequent years 100 million people will be added to the world population each year. In fact it could be as much as 16 billion by 2045. As a consequence the demand on resources of land alone will mean a third less farm land available and the destruction of half of the present area of productive tropical forest. Bearing in mind the constant reduction of non-renewable resources, there is a strong possibility of growing scarcity and reduction of standards. More people consume more resources. It is as simple as that; and transferring resources and standards from the richer to the poorer countries can only have a marginal effect in the face of this massive increase in the world population.
So long as they [birth control methods] ... remained taboo subjects the chances of making any impression on the human population explosion were that much more remote.
In the introduction to the IUCN Red Data Books which list all animals and plants under threat of extinction, it says that virtually everywhere the major threat to a wild species is loss of habitat to a rapidly increasing human population requiring more space in order to build villages and cities and grow more food. But starvation and poverty cannot be eradicated solely by increased food and resources at the expense of what remains of the natural world. Any increase in the provision of food and resources must be accompanied by a drastic reduction in the rate of increase in the human population.
The industrial revolution sparked the scientific revolution and brought in its wake better public hygiene, better medical care and yet more efficient agriculture. The consequence was a population explosion which still continues today.
The sad fact is that, instead of the same number of people being very much better off, more than twice as many people are just as badly off as they were before. Unfortunately all this well-intentioned development has resulted in an ecological disaster of immense proportions.
The object of the WWF is to ``conserve'' the system as a whole; not to prevent the killing of individual animals. Those who are concerned about their conservation of nature accept that all species are prey to some other species. They accept that most species produce a surplus that is capable of being culled without in any way threatening the survival of the species as a whole.
It is curious how many philosophers from Plato to Keynes' time have believed in and advocated the control of society by ``philosopher kings.'' According to Plato, ``its kings must be those who have shown the greatest ability in philosophy,'' but--realistically--he added, ``and the greatest aptitude for war.'' Such people may exist in the imagination and occasionally someone with the necessary qualities may briefly dominate the stage of history, but it is a naive appreciation of human nature to imagine that such processed paragons can be invested with the necessary powers and not be tempted to take advantage of their situation.
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