This is a piece I did for my newspaper column:
ELEVEN, my new book about the future of civilization, explains that the growth of the human population to 11 billion—the UN projection for 2100—poses an unparalleled threat to civilization. It’s not just our growing numbers, but the growing per capita demand on resources and the corresponding pollution, including climate pollution, that threatens our future.
Even so, the book is fundamentally optimistic. Why do I believe humanity will survive the threat? Here are 11 reasons to be hopeful:
1. It’s not how many but what kind of people – An 11-billion world peopled by rampant consumers has no future. Fortunately, a worldwide movement of people involved in creative, restorative ventures, large and small, is taking root. Population pressure will leave us no choice but to swell the ranks of the altruists and Earth healers.
2. We are waking up – The movement for social and environmental change, which has been described as “the largest movement in the world,” is raising fundamental challenges to the status quo.
3. Change is inevitable – “Panarchy” theory shows that every living system moves through a cycle that includes a traumatic but necessary stage of transformation. Accordingly, our global social-ecological system is due for a major pulse of transformation. During times of change, new ideas and behaviours can emerge and grow rapidly.
4. Ecosystem function first – Looking after ecosystem functions as a first priority produces more real wealth than resource extraction. The wide application of this principle would counteract the ecological deterioration that has spread to an area the size of South America, effectively adding a new continent to the planet.
5. Alternatives work – Evidence is mounting that social equity and ecosystem protection enhances the commonweal. Avoid and shift policies, demand-side management, resource efficiencies, full cost accounting, carbon charges, renewable energy, sustainable farming, urban agriculture, land reclamation, social investing, progressive taxation—all the elements of a fair and sustainable society—reduce costs and increase public goods.
6. Waste wealth can become regenerative wealth – Much of what we do as a society lies on a continuum between unnecessary and destructive. This is an opportunity. Not only would we be happier and healthier if we gave up many anti-social activities, letting go would free up wealth that could help transform the world.
7. Change triggers virtuous cycles - Most things that are good for the ecosphere are pro-social and vice versa; addressing problems effectively triggers virtuous cycles of social-ecological renewal.
8. Human consciousness is a powerful force – Human beings are not automatons entirely controlled by physical laws and selfish genes, as orthodox science suggests. We have free will to causally influence the course of physical events. Human consciousness is a creative force that will allow us to shape a future of our choosing.
9. Human unity can change the world – Cynicism about the human race is unfounded. Self-interest is not the fixed expressions of human nature. In fact, most human interactions are cooperative, even altruistic. We are noble beings, super-co-operators, not merely clever animals locked in a struggle for survival. History shows a gradual movement toward the oneness of humanity, as people progressively discard prejudices and move to wider circles of inclusion—even including other species.
10. The meaning deficit – The myth of affluence is being exposed. What was initially alluring turns out to be of limited value when we acquire it. Ultimately, people want something more profound from life, something with more meaning than chasing the chimera “more”. Research is also helping us discover the veritable sources of happiness, which are found mainly within ourselves and in authentic relationships.
11. Progress is evident – Everything that we need to do to make the world work for 11 billion has been done somewhere successfully already. Our knowledge of effective alternatives will provide a basis for action as population pressures mount. There is truth to Buckminster Fuller’s wry comment: “Humans beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked.” Ultimately, we will do the right thing.
ELEVEN by Paul Hanley is available at local bookstores and through multiple online sources. More information at www.elevenbillionpeople.com and www.facebook.com/elevenbillion.