Quite often I am amazed at people’s ability to miss what looks obvious to me. Not only the small things like cleaning up when you spill coffee over the floor, or washing your hands when you get off the toilet, but also bigger things. Like the silly “solutions” to the world’s pollution problem for example.
Looking to solve our pollution problem by changing people’s behavior is one of the things which to me is obvious to fail. Although some behavior may speed up pollution, in the end we all pollute, wether we like it or not.
At the risk of writing a very unpopular blogpost, I’d like to share some thoughts on the ongoing and ever increasing pollution problem. In my eyes, there are 2 real causes of pollution, and ultimately these causes are even self-repairing although you may not like how that works out for you.
If you’ve watched “The Long Way Round” you’ve noticed that farmers in Mongolia have nothing but their animals and the land they live on. To them, there is a natural balance between people and nature. Having more of one thing (regardless which) disturbs the balance of things and renders pretty immediate problems.
In the “modern world” this balance is less obvious, and the urge to “want” something is not naturally stopped. People always to want have more. Bigger house, bigger car, more money, more kids. It is the constant urge for a “better life”. This urge, combined with the unimaginable stupidity of people in large groups have lead to a system which is based on “Growth”. If you don’t believe me, stare at the worldometers web site for a while.
Any rational thinking person must see that endless growth results in an infinitely large system. Since the earth has a fixed size, any system based on “Growth” is bound to hit the limits of what is physically possible.
Every living thing on this planet produces waste. This can be in the form of breathing out co2, or taking a dump behind a tree. Nature has a way to deal with this. Waste is decomposed, and therefore part of the system. In fact, everything on this earth is part of “the system”.
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “pollution” is “the action of polluting especially by environmental contamination with man-made waste”. Oversimplified and on a (very) large scale, we can not produce stuff that’s not here. Everything is synthesized in some way from existing materials. In my mind, “pollution” is just “waste with a longer recycle time”. Even plastic eventually breaks down and re-enters the system.
According to Wikipedia, oils are “classified as mineral oils because they do not have an organic origin on human timescales”. So what it says is that Oil is in fact a natural product, but because it took so freakin’ long to become oil, we don’t recognize it as a natural product. What it says to me is, if we are able to find the balance, we may be able to keep using oil, as long as it’s in the same rate as it is reproduced. Mind you, that’s an incredibly slow rate, to “human timescales”.
If we want to keep the earth as “healthy” as it is now, we can introduce the following rule of thumb:
n x p = r
n = number of people on the planet
p = pollution per person per month
r = Earth’s natural pollution recycle rate, per month (constant)
So, if you want to have twice the people, you need to pollute half as much, on average, because the earth’s natural recycle rate is fixed. I’m sure this formula is nowhere near a realistic model, but it shows that both increasing consumption and increasing the world’s population is not going to work out in the long run. Even if everybody “sees the light”, becomes an environmentalist, stops driving cars, and cuts down on consumption in general, we can’t continue to endlessly grow our population.
In fact, it get’s scarier. Let’s look at the growth rate of the human population on this planet. Several graphs, including this one from wikipedia, will show relatively slow population growth until the 1920’s. Between 1920 and 2000 we see exponential growth. After that, it is expected that the growth will decline into a more “stationary” phase.
Hmmm now where did we see that before? Remember biology class, particularly the lessons about bacterial growth ? In this next graph, you can see the different phases of bacterial growth, resulting in certain death of the complete population, due to the depletion of resources.
Guess what we’re doing? By getting more and more kids, our population “eats” all the natural resources at a rate at which the earth can not match. It can not produce enough new resources to maintain the population, effectively resulting in a petri dish which also doesn’t “replenish” it’s resources.
Again, this painfully demonstrates that any system based on “Growth” is a system doomed to fail. Having kids to support your pension might seem like a good idea, but essentially you’re sacrificing the life of your kids (or theirs) for your comfortable retirement days. In my (unpopular) opinion, the only (and I mean *only*) way to reduce the whole pollution and economic problems is to have less people on this world. Much, much less. In fact, we would see quicker results if particularly modern “western” people shrunk in numbers first.
Unpopular measures are… unpopular
As mentioned before, people are loosing the ability to stop giving in to any urge they get. One of these urges (albeit strongly driven by nature itself) is having kids.
Please understand that I have nothing against kids, in fact I’m a grandfather myself. It’s just that I think it’s funny that we actively encourage having kids, while at the same time recognizing that people are the very cause of all these environmental problems in the world.
We continue to stick our heads in the sand and talk about *cough* “Co2 neutral flying”, *rhrmhhhrrm* “Bio degradable rubber” and last but not least, the hilarious *COUGHcoughcough* “Renewable energy”. What we should really think about is how to at least stop the world population from growing. This may result in imposing all kinds of unpopular/impossible worldwide measures I don’t care to get into right now, but killing is of course not one of them.
Since no politician is going to win voters by saying that he wants the whole country to be celibate (or worse), I realize that this will probably never happen, at least not in my lifetime. The good thing is that our weak minds aren’t forced to make these choices, because the system will make the choice for us. Just like the petri dish does for bacteria.
No, I’m not the most environmental friendly freak you’d encounter, maybe even far from that with my motorcycle, car, computers, and airconditioner. My point is actually that we probably can keep enjoying a lot, if not all of these things, if we just stop putting more and more people on this world.
Maybe I can best put it like this:
“If you love kids, stop having them.”
Please note that nothing in this post is meant to be personal or offensive to anybody in any way. It’s just a silly blogpost in which I think aloud. Use it as food for thought, or discard it, but don’t let it spoil your day. Don’t worry, I don’t have the power to control my kids, or even my cat, let alone the world. I have no intentions to becoming a politician.