These are uncertain times to be sure. The human population is almost 7.3 Billion, and as of this writing, the net population growth on Earth this year is about 602,000; yet it is only January 3rd. I don’t look at these numbers often enough. Perhaps it would do us all well to have a population counter on display in each town center, to provide a little reminder of the incredible success our species has had over the last 10,000 years. “Success” is a relative term, I fear, and future generations may not view our explosive takeover of the planet quite so positively. I think it is safe to say that each generation born will consume more resources than the previous generation, on average. Our massive numbers only represent a portion of the impact we have, as our extractive appetite pushes the planet’s carrying capacity closer to the brink.
(In the time it took me to write this much, 3,700 net human beings were added to the human biota.)
Cause for alarm? Sure. Cause for panic? Panic is never a wise reaction. In my opinion, stockpiling ammunition is a form of panic, and I prefer to steer clear of these nitwits. Yet it is also not wise to ignore these startling numbers as well as the calls for action by the world’s leading scientists regarding fresh water supplies, top soil erosion, fossil fuel depletion, biodiversity loss, and of course anthropogenic climate disruption. There is no simple solution for these ills, only a seemingly insurmountable population wide paradigm shift in the way we metabolize resources to interact with the rest of the biosphere– might avert a fate worse than the famine and population collapse we are blindly sprinting towards.
I can’t tell you what to do about this; all I can suggest is my own plan as of this writing. My plan is to have a good life, rich with experiences and good relationships with people I trust and care for. I’m not a nihilist. I’m not running up the white flag and giving up all hope so I can justify ignoring the truth and flipping the bird to future generations! Quite the opposite, in fact. The truth is, in my 28 uneventful years on this rock, I’ve observed that life is more bearable, and more fruitful as community– rather than as individuals. Surprised? I doubt you are, because most cultures seem to view family and community with high prominence. What changed? Consumption oriented propaganda? An economically competitive culture? Commercialization of relationships? I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Could it be that the hippie commune experiments of the 60’s and 70’s were on the right track? Perhaps they weren’t always well planned or successful, but some survive to this day, advancing permaculture techniques, organic farming, natural building, community projects, shared resources, and fostering an attitude of respect for self, community, and planet. Many, many more communities have sprung up since then, building on what did, and did not work in the past. These are both rural and urban, with the vast majority out in the sticks where permitting and zoning is a bit more lenient.
I’m a fairly pragmatic guy. I like things that serve multiple purposes, are simple, and beautiful. In the last few years I have been highly interested in constructing my own home, and after abundant research, I find that some of the most economical and energy efficient construction techniques are also the most ecologically sensible, long lasting, and beautiful. There are many examples of this in permaculture, which should not be surprising considering the web work of relationships found in natural systems, of which the practitioners of permaculture seek to understand, mimic, and contribute there to.
A society of cheap, abundant energy allows us to live solitary lives which does not necessitate meaningful relationships with the people around us, other than for recreation, but even relationships can be bought nowadays. How do you plan to get by when the cheap energy is gone, the financial, commercial, and political systems have collapsed? I know what I’m doing before it gets much worse. I hope you will join me.
(14,000 people in the time it took to write this piece.)