Population Matters

Only One Planet

August 12th, 2010

Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist, created a bit of stir this past week when he suggested, in effect, that humankind’s only hope is to abandon Earth.  He fears, as many do, that we are wrecking our planet so swiftly that unless we begin colonizing other planets with 100 or 200 years, humankind will be on the path to rapid extinction.

Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.

With large swaths of Russia in flames, major flooding in Asia, and giant icebergs breaking off of Greenland, this is no time to lose focus on planet Earth.  With all due respect to Hawking, outer space is not an option.  It’s been more than three decades since humans last walked on the moon, and the prospect of humans setting foot on Mars keeps on receding.  Before we head to the interplanetary lifeboats, we had better refocus our attention on saving the mother ship.

In the cosmic scale of things, the investments required to save planet Earth are not large. If we can just set aside the equivalent of what we spend on beer every year (about $300 billion) for things that might actually save the planet–like family planning, child nutrition, re-forestation, energy conservation, and renewable energy–we would have a fighting chance.  Spending another$3-4 billion a year on international family planning assistance, alone, would make a world of difference, but Congress has yet to act on the mere $67 million increase requested by the President for next year.

Reducing carbon emissions will not be easy, but it need not be terribly costly.  The proceeds from a stiff carbon tax could be rebated to taxpayers by a cut in payroll taxes, holding consumers largely harmless, but Congress this year refused to nibble on a far less ambitious cap-and-trade proposal.  So climate change legislation is dead, even though the deleterious effects of climate change are becoming all too real.

If Congress is concerned about the fate of the planet, it’s not evident. Maybe members of Congress think, like Hawking, that we can all book a seat on the first flight to Alpha Centauri. But with nearly 7 billion humans on the planet, most of us will have to stay home and make do with the mess that we are creating. 

Dimitar Sasselov, a top-ranking astronomer, recently announced that the Kepler Telescope, launched last year by NASA, has so far detected 150 Earth-sized planets, and that there may be 100 million Earth-like planets in our galaxy.  If there’s intelligent life out there, let’s hope that it exhibits more intelligence than we do.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

2 Responses to “Only One Planet”

  1. Say What? Says:

    Did he really say that humankind’s only hope is to abandon Earth? Abandon it? Or spread out? Europeans did not abandon Europe to populate America, they spread to it.

  2. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    There is an urgent need to examine the science of human population dynamics. The topic of human population dynamics has not been and is not now being openly discussed.

    Let us imagine for a moment that the growth of the human population today is the “mother” of human-driven global challenges looming before humankind and knowledgeable people willfully refuse to speak about it. How can that behavior be construed as correct? On what authority is silence in response to science condoned? Who has the right to deny the existence of knowledge of something that threatens all of us? Is there no one who has determined that experts have a “duty to warn” humanity in such dire circumstances as exist when the very future of children everywhere could be put at risk soon?

    Before I started the AWAREness Campaign in 2001, I fully anticipated that the publication of peer-reviewed scientific evidence regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth would be rigorously scrutinized, carefully examined and objectively reported by appropriately trained and educated experts. To my astonishment that did not occur. The experts remained mute. The evidence was neither sensibly refuted nor affirmed. There was only a deafening silence. After some months passed, I concluded that experts must not believe the evidence regarding the human population but could not rebutt it either. So the AWAREness Campaign began. Even now, years later, I believe the silence of so many indicates that the research is virtually irrefutable on the one hand and unbelievable on the other. It appears that we are in need of a transformed scientific imagination by means of which scientists with appropriate expertise are freed from inadequate thought and time-honored theory…freed to carefully examine and skillfully report new, unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome scientific research regarding the human population.

    So here we are in 2010. With the rare exception of a handful of pre-eminent scientists who are willing to speak truth-as-he-sees-it to the powerful, elective mutism is effectively vanquishing science with regard to extant evidence of human population numbers.

    If the research to which I have unsuccessfully tried to draw attention for so long is fatally flawed and completely wrong, then I trust the leaders of the Population Institute will accept my invitation to expose me for the fool that I surely am. On the other hand, if the scientific evidence is somehow on the correct track, then there is plenty of work for everyone in the human community to begin doing in earnest. It appears to me that there is just enough space-time for us to transform human consciousness, adopt sustainable lifestyles and right-size business enterprises, but we need to get started now.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
    http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176
    http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/
    http://www.panearth.org/

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