Aptly on Halloween, Earth welcomed its seven-billionth soul. You’d think that it would be hard to spin this alarming factoid into a positive, what with all the resource wars, class divides and occupation insurgencies raging across our singular planet. But you’d be wrong: Some eggheads have pointed to the benchmark as a triumph of science and industry.
I wasted no time in smacking down that thesis over at AlterNet. I enlisted the help of some of America’s foremost authorities on overpopulation, climate change and population alternatives to analyze Earth’s incredibly shrinking resources and swelling citizenry, and the data wasn’t encouraging. Unless of course, we acknowledge and enforce the relatively simple solutions, often against the wishes of the science and industry that got us here in the first place.
AlterNet came through with a patently visually impressive photo gallery from National Geographic‘s year-long coverage of the evergreen issue. If you read only one thing I’ve written in 2011, and I’ve written a fucking lot, read this.
7 Billion and Counting: Welcome to a Planet With Population Overload and Resources in Crisis [With Photos From National Geographic]
Here’s some freaky news: According to United Nations, Earth’s seventh-billionth person could be born by Halloween, even though “the fire marshal only certified Earth for 6,999,999,” according to a recent tweet from “The Daily Show.” It’s a clever joke hiding a tragicomic dimension of the uncertain achievement: The planet’s increasingly inhospitable climate and depleted resources mean we have little room for more humans, especially the 10 billion or more expected to stress the planet’s already overweight system by 2100.
“Let’s assume the average weight, or mass, of a human is 50 kilograms, or 120 pounds,” University of Washington paleontologist and The Flooded Earth author Peter Ward told AlterNet. “That takes into account all the fat men, and all the kids, so it’s a ballpark figure. That means 350 billion kilograms, or 770 billion pounds, of humanity on the planet. I wonder if this is the highest mass of any chordate on Earth. Only rats might weigh more of all natural populations.”
But even rats have the good sense to abandon a sinking ship. Not so for humanity, whose resource wars have created a hyperreal dragnet that has caught up everything from mass-media distractions like Herman Cain and Mommar Gaddafi to worthy insurgencies like Occupy Wall Street. As those stories, for better or worse, dominated the news cycle, British Petroleum was quietly freed to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after turning it into a marine nightmare since 2010. Exxon Mobil posted a $31 billion profit on the year thanks to billions in groundless government subsidies. American rivers and streams have become hypersaturated with carbon dioxide, and Arctic sea ice has become as thin as the United States is fat in the gut and head. Environmentalists and other concerned parties can be forgiven for not breaking out the bubbly because the planet has managed to spawn seven billion souls with increased life expectancy, thanks to miracles of science and industry. Because in the scariest scenario, that same science and industry could doom most, and perhaps even all, of us.
“Seven billion is not a time for unbridled celebration,” cautioned Bill Ryerson, fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute and president of Population Media Center and The Population Institute. “It must be a catalyst for people, leaders and advocates regarding the steps we need to take to achieve sustainability.”
Sustainability is key, because even rats can tell you that our expansive, singular planet has more than enough actual room to fit the 10 billion and more that humanity is expected to create over the next few centuries. After all, the definition of overpopulation has less to do with raw numbers of people than their relationship with the planet’s sustainable resources. Yet population control remains a controversial topic, for everyone from real-time worriers like the Roman Catholic church and anti-choice Republicans to sci-fi dystopias like Logan’s Run and In Time, which topically opened the Friday before Earth was scheduled to reach its seven-billion benchmark.
“The world is much more interconnected now than any time in history,” Center for Environment & Population director Vicky Markham told AlterNet. “This is not only because of technology, but also because our per-capita energy, water, land, forest and other natural resource use is linked around the globe. America is particularly important: While we represent just five percent of the global population, we contribute 25 percent of the planet’s energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. So our role in global climate change is disproportionately large; so should be our responsibilities for curbing it.”
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We’ve Entered the Age of Mass Extinction
During my AlterNet article on climate change and global security, I had the luck of speaking again with University of Washington paleontologist and The Flooded Earth author Peter Ward. We both play basketball and we’re both scared shitless about global warming. The difference between us is that he’s been working his ass off for the last few decades to warn the world about mass extinction, overpopulation and biodiversity annihilation. The fact that he’s more worried than ever should worry us all.
Alan Moore Takes On the 60s, Superheroes, American Impunity, the Bible and Why Lost Sucked
Me: I recently watched Adam Curtis‘ excellent All Watched Over By the Machines of Loving Grace, and while he’s not the first to talk about the failed dreams of the ’60s, I am particularly fascinated by how that generation, and its technophilic children, have come to create our surveillance state.
Alan Moore: From my perspective, when writing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969, I was having to come up with a simulacrum of a time I actually did remember and have emotional connections with. In 1969, I was, what, 15? That was the age at which I began my short-lived psychedelic career, which also ended my school career in the bargain. So my view of that time was a very formative one. It’s an era for which I have an immense amount of fondness. However, I am not 15 anymore, not by a long shot. [Laughs] Not by about 42 years.
So my perspective upon that era has changed. You can find that in bits of the dialogue, such as when Mina Murray tries a bit too hard to embrace the ’60s. As she, Allan Quatermain and Orlando make their way to the Hyde Park festival, she says that they are all looking to the future and being incredibly progressive. And Orlando, who’s been around a lot longer than Mina, points out that no, they’re not. They’re just nostalgic for their own childhoods. Which, looking back, was a big part of the ’60s. It was reflected in a lot of the haunted nursery rhymes of that period, especially in the music of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett.
So my actual feelings about the ’60s are that, yes, of course we had limitations. We talked a lot of shit, and we didn’t have the muscle to back it up. For the most part, we had good intentions. However, we were not able to implement those intentions. And when the state started to take us seriously and initiated countermeasures, the majority of us folded like bitches.