April 4th, 2007

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The Mother of All Problems

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The Mother of All Problems
By Indi Riverflow

The Millennium has certainly gotten off to a grim, if not downright dystopian, debut. Wars, climate change and stifling advances in the arts of crass consumerism and mass mind control have made our era turn out less like Heinlein fantasies, or even Orwellian nightmares, than the oft-cited prophesies at the rear end of the New Testament.

Of course, Christian theology is hardly the only system containing a vision of doom proceeding redemption; the end times scenario is a staple of creeds the world over, nearly as ubiquitous as the corresponding creation myth. Human beings seem to have as deeply seated a need for a story of the destruction of the world as for its genesis.

Perhaps every generation is undercut with a sensation of impending doom. Certainly history is loaded with footnotes of discredited date-namers who could not resist the ego urge to define their age as the termination point of time.

So the issue is not whether 2012 will be the next Y2K, or whether solar flares or global warming will do us in, or whose book of half-mad prognostications contains the Ultimate Truth. These issues will resolve themselves by and by.

And if the average individual peering over the edge of the twentieth century felt as strongly that our species was placed precariously on a precipice, as many do today, we can be sure of one thing: six times as many humans are available now to poll on the topic.

Now, some of my best friends are human. Nothing against them, really, and individually, they can be wonderful. And I wouldn't want anyone thinkin' I am anti-human, or anything. That's worse than not being patriotic, or failing to root for the local baseball team.

Yet, upon due contemplation, it seems that there is no serious dilemma affecting the human sphere that would not submit to a solution of fewer heads to count. Nothing is quite so odious about our species as our quantity.

Global warming, which has gone overnight from a Hollywood cause célébré to the center of media debate, is quite obviously exacerbated by human activity. Not merely industrial consumption, or animal agriculture, which are surely intensifying the problem, but merely by existing, all of us share some culpability. Each of us is a heat-producing, carbon-dioxide emitting machine, which leaves a wider footprint on the environment than any other species on Earth.

Nor is overpopulation a third-world issue alone, although the sociological impact of economics can make the fate of the crowded more visibly dire in poor countries than wealthy ones. In terms of resources consumed and waste generated, every denizen of the "developed" world costs what several impoverished inhabitants of more rustic regions do.

One response to this is to retreat, ideologically or physically, to a simpler way of life that shuns the costly comforts of technology. While this may serve to soothe the spiritual and moral concerns of those who forsake the wicked ways of the city to take up farming or crafts, reverting to nature is only a partial solution. The Earth could no more tolerate the billions of humans spreading out to take over the remaining arable land for subsistence tilling, than the millions now shoehorned into the various metropolitan colonies.

Conserving energy and resources is certainly laudable and vital to a healthy relationship with the planet. Sloganeers and activists benefit from telling everyone else to scale back. But conservation isn't a real answer. What good will saving do, if consumption is halved while the population doubles?

I might feel good screwing in an LCD bulb (I've never tried it, but I bet it would feel good…if I could make it work), but if every casino on the strip is running full-on neon nightlights and pumping out thirty-five degree AC on an eighty-degree day, the humble efforts of a well-meaning individual don't amount to a meaningful gesture, let alone a brake on the runaway train of industrial waste.

Some people live, quite contentedly, in a world where there is no population crisis. Plenty of wide-open spaces left! Some imagine a glorious future in which the planet is completely covered by human beings and our food. Some believe that we were given dominion over the Earth as well as a command to be fruitful and multiply.

I believe that we are spreading like a cancer, overrunning the natural order in our mad haste to fill the entire world with our kind. Imagine the Earth consulting in the office of a celestial physician. Would She complain most of the lacerations in Her skin, the contamination of Her bloodstream, the decimation of Her lungs? Or would She be most concerned about the possibility of passing the contagion on to Her neighbors?

Some seek a solution to the problem of population expansion in the stars. Certainly the cycle of history leads logically to the colonization of space. But exporting our extras off-planet only expands the problem.

Along with the huge numbers that would have to be regularly resettled would go the resources they would require for survival. Even if a sci-fi space station could be designed to produce a totally sustainable eco-economy (despite requiring heroic measures to supply everyday needs like air, water and suitable soil), the material and energetic demands of the exodus would surely squeeze the last breath of life from the planet of our birth.

So what to do about this intractable dilemma? Many cynics suggest that the balance will soon redress itself through war and natural catastrophe. Others have proposed such unpopular plans as genocide and forced sterilization.

Controlling conception is theoretically a reality, but the greatest irony of birth control is that it is the province of those responsible enough to use it. Better technology will give choices to those who have access to them, while those least able to provide for large families will continue to produce them.

Faced with no other way to address my part in all this, I submitted to surgical sterilization at a local Planned Parenthood. This decision was practical as well as symbolic; an ounce of free prevention can be worth far more than a pound of $600 cure. I decided years ago that my books would be my children, and with a like-minded partner as well as the assistance of a kind physician do-gooding on his lunch hour, I offered up my reproductive potential to the good of the Earth.

Many people find this hard to understand. They don't fathom why I don't want my own little Mini-me, to indoctrinate with my bizarre ideas. Why I don't care to carry on my line and leave behind a gaggle of descendants to say nice things about me at my funeral.

Mind you, I have nothing against parenthood. On the contrary, bringing a child into the world is so important that every single person who embarks on this course should be prepared to be totally devoted to the task. The replication of the nuclear family is so automatic and presumed that the world is full not only of teenagers demanding to know why they had been born, but parents who wonder the same thing.

The cycle of death and rebirth is tied to the karma of breeding and killing. Like all opposites, they are not so different. As we kill, we give rise to other life (usually our own), and as we breed we generate the possibilities that will lead to a lifetime of innocent murder.

Mystics have been hip to this for ages untold, which helps explain why vegetarian celibates have had such spiritual success. Confused individuals may perceive a bit of moralism in this, but not a drop is contained. This is a practical matter. All karma leads to further entanglement with the material realm. A simple example of this is the way parents require a stable income, whereas the childless are free to be financially frivolous and pursue unprofitable ventures like independent online publishing.

For my part I have been able to find no better way to both limit my environmental impact and distractions from the primary goals of my life than voluntarily surrendering my place among the ancestors of the future. May your descendents, should you choose to make any, enjoy the extra elbow room.

-Indi Riverflow

This article is available for reprint.
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