Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Plague of Babies

I just finished reading Collapse by Jared Diamond and The World Without Us by some bloke whose name escapes me. I put down three other books that I was reading at once and plowed through these two. I haven't been so affected by a pair of books in a while.

The initial idea of World Without Us didn't sound interesting to me: it was a cool thought experiment to talk about what would happen to the world if humans totally disappeared. But the book is about a lot more than that; it's a thorough environmental treatise of how we've ****ed the planet and how it might recover.

The most affecting part of World Without Us was about the trash collecting in the North Pacific Gyre, a dead low zone between all the currents circling the coasts of Alaska, Russia, Japan, Hawaii and the western coast of North America. Trash. Trash like crazy. Lots of little plastic bottles and plastic wrap and plastic bags and worst of all, little bits of plastic that have been ground up that little sea creatures are eating that stick in their gut and kill them.

Funny enough, the ending is kind of hopeful—a thought that if people vanished, plastic would end up as just another layer in the Earth’s crust and probably get squished into something else.

Collapse is about various societies, both ancient and modern, that have collapsed and totally stopped working. In almost every circumstance it is because they overestimated how much damage their environment could take. On Easter Island, for example, the island was deforested faster than other Polynesian islands and basically made into desert because the inhabitants didn’t realize how the thin, dry soil wouldn’t regrow trees quickly and how badly it would be affected by erosion. Crops were then affected.

(And they ate people out of lack of food. Common insult during the lean years: “your mother’s flesh sticks between my teeth.” Not kidding.)

Most of these societies were done in by their own prosperity. The Maya collapsed because they started farming the hillsides above the valleys where they were originally farming. The hillsides eroded; the soil washed down into the valley below. The Maya were just too populous; hence the need for higher farms.

Repulsively to us, a lot of societies maintained a better population balance through infanticide and late-term forced abortion, and by that I mean putting hot rocks on a third-trimester pregnant woman's belly. Of course in our world, with birth control a-plenty, there is no reason why people couldn't restrict their baby-making.

Diamond actually lauds a lot of businesses and business conglomerates for practicing an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of cure. He talks about visiting the Chevron plant in New Guinea in which the environment was more pristine than most of Papua New Guinea's national parks because of the many, many cautions taken around drilling. Diamond has no easy solution but one of his theses is that people can use natural resources without raping the land. Mining companies, for example, have a bad environmental record because there is so little responsibility. I don’t know where the metal in this computer came from, but ChevronBP mines the oil and then sells me the gas. The chain of responsibility for Chevron goes all the way back.

I could go on about these books forever, but I think I will hold off except to say that there really are no easy answers.

Overpopulation is still the big factor. All of which lead to some worrisome reading. What kind of world am I giving Adia? It's clear that my grandparents and parents had no idea what they were doing to the environment. As far as my grandparents were concerned, there was tons of room to dump trash in the south end of Provo, and why would there one day be so many people that they would build shopping centers and houses on what used to be landfills there? It works on such a personal level. We want about three kids. My grandparents had eight kids because there was lots of room. Given the way First Worlders consume resources, our three will be equal to six or eight in the Third World, and probably use more resources than the eight kids my grandparents had.

Thing is, one reason I want kids is because "I've been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding." We live in an urban environment, walk almost everywhere, work mostly from home, compost and recycle. These are options that are available to a lot of people.

One possible solution would be adoption. There are lots of kids in orphanages. Why not legislate against big families (I know that will never work; it's a topic for another day) and encourage people who want big families to adopt instead. Our earth is getting overtaxed because of the American ideal of a house in the suburbs with 3.5 kids and an SUV. We could make a very simple change if we all thought about adoption as an equal or better option to home-baking.

In other news, Adia is sleeping in a big-kid bed and wearing underpants now. On paper, this is good. On not-paper (plastic?) this means that when she has a nightmare we no longer go to her. She crawls into bed with us. And kicks me. All night. Also a point against having kids.


  1. Um, you apparently haven't talked to Mom or any other conservative religious people - the collapse of any civilization is due to The Gay. Duh.

  2. Obviously they overbreed versus the Ungay.