It’s easy to find “experts” on these topics. Everybody has an opinion, and everyone thinks theirs is best. Not only that, but a lot of people think they have the exact answer to saving the Earth from human destruction. People like to think that if they could decide how things were and if governments and big industries would listen to them, that this problem would go away. I love to think that I know the answer or at least a few parts to the answer. I know I’m usually wrong, but at the same time, I’m satisfied knowing I’m terribly wrong in all my ignorance.
I’ve taken a few environmental courses here at Gustavus. Not many, but enough to have talked casually with some friends and classmates about the environmental problem. By “environmental problem,” I mean the whole scale of global problems: pollution and trash, climate change and sea levels rising, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, those natural resources we are running out of but still seem to have, and all the other environmental problems we’ve got.
Sometimes I will ask a friend or a classmate what they think the solution is to this problem. A lot of them say “I don’t know,” or “that’s too complicated.”
And I agree, but I’ve also gotten some interesting answers from some fellow Gusties. While it is widely recognized that any sort of action to save the world will come from many different functions of society, most students or scholars adopt a certain perspective to lead the interdisciplinary discussion.
Some perspectives, however, are much more radical than others. I was talking to another peer I’ve taken some courses with, and I asked him what he truly believed to be the source of all the environmental problems – why all the pollution and trash and climate change and diminishing resources?
He nodded gently, and I knew immediately that he had thought about it before and had an answer. He told me that there were just too many people on the Earth. I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. When I asked if that was all he had to say, he said that it was as simple as that.
But it can’t be as simple as that, can it? When I asked him what the solution was, he gave me an answer as brief as the last.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess get rid of people.”
This entire conversation had started and ended in a manner of a minute, but I’ve thought long and hard about those short statements. Surely he didn’t mean get rid of people, as in kill people off? That is absurd. But I’m curious, what if he did mean what he said, that he wasn’t just saying it to give me an answer and end the conversation. I’ve learned about population control that some nations have programs to support (or force) birth control and ultimately decrease fertility rates, but I have never heard anyone ever say they simply thought it was a manner of removing people from the Earth.
Then I got to thinking — why would an undergraduate student at a liberal arts college residing in the United States take that radical of a stance on population, when the U.S. isn’t anywhere near as crowded as most other nations. In addition, being an American, he consumes considerably more resources than anyone else on the planet. I doubt what he meant when he said get rid of people was getting rid of his friends or family living in the U.S.
So even if this was only an instinctive answer following an exhausting class period what does this answer offer, if anything, to the environmental problems?
I think it at least reminds us that if this global problem is going to be solved, we as Americans have the least right to be selfish.
If we think that too many resources are being consumed because there are too many people on the Earth, we, as Americans, are the “too many people.” The solution can’t and shouldn’t begin with making or forcing changes onto other people.
It has to begin with us, as global citizens, who are having a significantly larger impact on the Earth than the rest of the world. I know that this is only advice, not an answer, on how to act towards a solution.
Even if most of this seems wrong, I think I’m at least a little right.