In an interview ( Moyers 1989 ) Bill Moyers asked Isaac
What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human
species if this population growth continues at its present rate?
It will be completely destroyed. I like to use what
I call my bathroom metaphor: if two people live in an apartment
and there are two bathrooms, then both have freedom of the bathroom.
You can go to the bathroom anytime you want to stay as long as
you want for whatever you need. And everyone believes in freedom
of the bathroom; it should be right there in the Constitution.
But if you have twenty people in the apartment and
two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom
of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up times
for each person, you have to bang on the door, "Arenít you
through yet?" and so on.
Asimov concluded with the profound observation:
In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation.
Human dignity cannot survive [overpopulation]. Convenience and
decency cannot survive [overpopulation]. As you put more and more
people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it
disappears. It doesnít matter if someone dies, the more people
there are, the less one person matters. [ emphasis added ]
WAR AND PEACE
At the local or state levels, there is an interesting
parallel between the promotion of growth ( unsustainability ) and the
promotion of war, both of which can be very profitable for high level
people but are very expensive for everyone else.
The waging of war is the sole enterprise of large military
establishments. Even the meanest mind knows what has to be done to win
a war; "One has to beat the opponent," after which one can have a large
party to celebrate the victory, pass out the medals, and then start preparing
for the next war. Promoting community growth is quite similar. The promotion
of growth is the sole enterprise of large municipal and state establishments,
both public and private. It does not take much of a mind to know that
victory in the growth war requires that your community beat competing
communities to become the location of new factories. Campaigns and battles
are planned and, when a factory comes, there is a large party to celebrate
the victory and pass out the awards. Then the community warriors start
fighting for even more new factories.
In contrast, winning the peace is quite different. Even
the best minds don't know for sure the best way to "win the peace." Compared
to the groups that promote war, the public agencies that are devoted to
maintaining peace are miniscule. In the effort to maintain peace, there
is no terminal point at which a party is in order where all can celebrate
the fact that, "We won the peace!" Winning the peace takes eternal vigilance.
Protecting the community environment from the ravages of growth is quite
parallel. The best minds don't know for sure the best way to do it. There
are few public establishments whose sole role is to preserve the environment.
One can postpone assaults on the environment, but by and large, it takes
eternal vigilance of concerned citizens, who, at best, can only reduce
the rate of loss of the environment. There is no terminal time at which
one can have a party to celebrate the fact that, "We have saved the environment!"
A HEALTHY ECONOMY
For some time, the economy in the U.S. has been said
to be "healthy." During this time studies shown that the economic
gap between the well-to-do and the poor has been increasing. This allows
us to say that "healthy economy" is one in which people with
large incomes find that their incomes are rising more rapidly than their
costs, while people with low incomes find that their incomes are rising
less rapidly than their costs.
INJUSTICE AND INEQUITY
The series of big city riots of the recent decades are
symptoms of a deep-seated illness ( injustice and inequity ) that we have
ignored too long. The illness is certainly made worse by the rapid population
growth that consumes public and private resources in order to give generous
returns to investors, with minimal benefits going to help the low income
people who are adversely affected by the growth. The public financial
resources that are needed to pay the costs of population growth come at
the expense of all manner of community programs that are essential for
improving education, justice, and equity. Injustice and inequity breed
unrest and discontent. When a condition of instability is reached, things
can happen with surprising speed. We were all stunned by the swiftness
of the fall of the Soviet Union.
As we enter an era of expanded global trade, we need
to know that technology has made it easy to conduct trade over long distances,
and this ease of trade serves to block out our recognition of the concept
of "carrying capacity." Especially if their peoples are unsophisticated,
these other places with which we trade with such ease, are used to provide
an "away" from which we can get the resources we need, and to which we
can later throw our trash. Technology and trade combine to interfere with
our understanding of the concept of limits.