In the movie, "Dancing With Wolves" the Indian chief asks the soldier, "How many white men are coming?" (my behavior depends on knowing.)
For 15,000 years, almost 500 generations, when the neighbors moved onto the Indian's commons, they shared and accepted a lower quality of life. They improved the efficiency of their supporting activities. They drove off the new comers. They killed them. Or they moved to a new commons.
When the soldier answered, "Like the stars in the night!" the number was too difficult to grasp. It failed to imply that none of these past behaviors, allowed a continuation of the Indian's way of life.
Does the morning paper tell us that those wanting to share the earth with us are like the stars in the sky? Are we behaving like the Indian chief who just didn't get it.
The forces that caused the Indian's disappearance have remained unchanged. Our competitors want to share the commons. Our vision of their arrival and what it means to our future is just as blurred.
The Indians thought if they moved on to greener pastures, they could shed their problem. We think if we just push technology a little farther we can shed ours.
Neither we nor the Indian understand the rules that govern organic growth.
Expansion of a group's footprint takes space and food from competitors. Winners live well. Losers disappear. Life continues until the group's footprint crashes into the constraints of the global environment. Then conflicts reduce all to subsistence.
Subsistence lasts until, either the support system collapses, or some other group enters the commons and takes it from its holders.
There are two ways to prevent this scenario, escape this planet or develop thinking that stops the genetically driven behavior which drives organic growth.
We can choose the number of people on earth so it balances with the support provided by the commons.
This is not a static number. For each person's increase in footprint, collected with all the footprint increments of all the other people sharing the commons, requires a subsequent decrease in the total population.
We have not been maintaining this balance. We have grown a population that is already way too big to be supported at the levels each person desires.
While some think that this balance could be restored by advances in technology, past advances seem to increase collective footprint rather than reduce it.
Limiting a person's footprint, telling him or her to stop striving to improve his or her life, seems unthinkable.
This leaves the alternative solution of rapidly decreasing population. One child per family allows increases in each person's footprint while decreasing the collective footprint.
Can we see what comes with this behavior?
If not, can we see where we are going with our present behaviors?
The Indians did not see their destination either.
Jack Alpert (Bio) mail to: Alpert@skil.org www.skil.org other position papers