Part I: Less

There are too many people on Earth.

That’s a frightening sound bite, isn’t it?  Yet, anyone who has discussed biology, science, and ecosystem management has been exposed to the thought.  The implication is that someone has to go if the rest are going to survive, and upon such a realization even the most confident among us are wise to take a look over their shoulder to make sure they aren’t the ‘someone’ being targeted for removal.

Certainly history is full of horrific movements that attempted to rid large groups of human beings from existence, and we tend to put such extreme and unpleasant instances into their own category that is far detached from our more pleasant daily lives.  We, being intelligent, modern, accepting examples of humanity, would never suggest extermination.  Yet the ‘too many people’ argument continues to bubble through the cracks and invade nearly every corner of our existence on a daily basis.  In a world obsessed with a mantra of ‘everyone has a chance,’ the dark undertone of acknowledged overcrowding creates an interesting juxtaposition to our outrage over any form of perceived discrimination, doesn’t it?

By now you probably don’t agree with me.  Nobody with a level head is actually thinking people need to go, right?  I’m not so sure.  Consider, as an example, that we have whole generations who were raised in an age of environmental awareness.  I can remember as a youngster in elementary school listening through biology class about the horrors of pollution and man’s destruction of the world around us.  True, pollution is unacceptable and destructive (I’m not standing up for environmental atrocities), but the discussion of illegal and careless behavior was always accompanied by a mention of the increasing global population.  What’s the underlying message?  More people equal more destruction, period.  High school was similar, though more detailed and in depth: people are increasing in numbers and we don’t know what to do about it (more people are a problem).  I can remember reading on the wall during a trip to the Aviary in Pittsburgh a quote stating directly that ‘there are too many of us’ for the planet to survive.  And college…oh, college.  A person doesn’t even have to try to find a message of impending doom for the planet as a direct result of human existence.

Carrying into adult life is the same unfortunate theme disguised in new packaging.  Look around at advertising: almost everything carries a message about minimizing your personal impact on the world.  The underlying significance is everything needs saving because you’re alive.  Darn it.  I see the rise of activist veganism, blatant disrespect for personal success, favoritism of government oversight instead of personal discernment, and the omnipresent theme of annoyance as direct results of my generation trying too hard to disappear from the surface of the planet.  There are a good number of very well funded environmental organizations supporting the discomfort by adhering strictly to the ‘no human interaction ever’ school of thought.  Their belief implies that we need to cordon off massive tracts of land and get people away from the ecosystem.  That seems like a slippery slope to me; whose land do you take?  Who decides which families are worthy of staying in place and which need rounded up and trucked off to live in the city?

Psychological studies for decades have indicated our subconscious minds cannot tell fact from fiction.  If we think it, our brains will initially react to the thought as reality.  Furthermore, if we hear something frequently enough we will accept it as the undeniable truth.  Today we’re submersed in endless messaging that screams at us to remove ourselves from daily existence.  Result?  People – especially young people – are feeling an undeniable pressure to be a little less of who they are in an attempt to save the whole world.  We’re living through a massive genocide, but it is taking place out of sight, hidden in the minds of millions.

It’s no wonder everyone seems weird.  How the heck are we supposed to get away from being?  On the surface, our choices are to completely stop caring about anything, a mindset made visible by the unprecedented rise in obesity, drug use, suicide, divorce, aggression, and carelessly indulgent lifestyles, or to care so much about everything that we end up spinning frustrating circles trying to figure out which menu item and toothpaste brand and pair of shoes currently adheres to the socially acceptable ‘green’ rulebook.  That’s a tall order.  In fact, it’s impossible; trends change frequently, creating a moving target for acceptable living.  Continual failure short-circuits our do-good attempts and throws us into despair.  I talk to people regularly who are feeling immense pressure as they try to force their families out of existence.

Our mantra absolutely needs to change.  Pollution and environmental destruction are unacceptable, and we need more people to solve the problem.  We need more amazing brains out on the landscape to envision a future and engage the environment to create prosperity.  Individuals have to take responsibility, and responsibility is not a passive engagement.  Society has it twisted: we’re associating responsible living with minimal impact, but blunders from the past cannot be undone by removing ourselves from the future.  It will take a maximum impact of people to set the record straight, a reality that cannot be realized by replacing action with absence.

This is the first of a two-part series concerning our relationship with the environment. Stay tuned for Part II: More.