The tragedy occasioned by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean shortly after it departed Kuala Lumpur on March 8th bound for Beijing with 12 Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers from 14 nations aboard has generated endless worldwide attention. For CNN it likely will prove commercially better than another short war. Or keep it from talking about other subjects far more important and pressing like human numbers.
While searches in the waters of the Gulf of Thailand, the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, and the Andaman Sea were undertaken, by March 24 it was determined that the plane must have gone down, as the phrase oft repeated, “in the vast stretches of the Indian Ocean” and that is where, as this op ed is being written, the main focus continues.
Finding the flight’s cockpit voice and data recorders are of course considered to be the sine qua nons of what will determine the cause of the crash, but even their recovery may well never determine the exact reason for the flight’s diversion from its intended destination.
These tiny boxes of information may well never be found as the old adage “Looking for a needle in a haystack” comes up short as descriptive of the task the searchers are on.
What does comes forth in this attenuated story ( I feel sorry for CNN’s Cooper and Lemon trying to draw endless speculation from their expert panelists) emerges so often as the seminal message after the past month of stories about the search is the VASTNESS of the area in which plane went down. Not only the vast surface to cover but also the depth of the Indian Ocean there, some 2 miles deep in places.
And now that all of us with iPhones can get almost instant messages from the nearly 400 satellites circling the Earth, we all seem to forget how big those oceans are, covering 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and containing 95% of our water, according to NOAA, our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
However, Folks, in the relative sense, once we look to the solar systems and out farther and farther into the vastness of space, we realize how tiny, let’s be honest, PUNY, we are when compared to those infinite reaches.
And more to the point, as we rapidly consume the non renewable resources of our tiny orb, the sense of being closed in by civilization, if we can use that word to describe the decrease in civility these numbers engender, should give us all cause for increasing apprehension.
Having traveled around the planet several times to more countries than I can recall, my feeling of being closed in far exceeds any sense of vastness. Looking at satellite photos of our planet taken when the Sun is on the opposite side shows that lights predominate from urban areas to an extent the ancients would have found unbelievable. Living in the Eastern US it is hard to find a place at night which doesn’t show light from some metropolitan source.
Those who dismiss the threat of overpopulation often cite the many places on Earth that have no people, or the fact that all the world’s people could be crowded into Texas or even a much smaller area.
My retort to such observations is to suggest those folks go live where life would be unsustainable without constant importation of basic goods and services.
Our supply of fresh water is now under dire pressure from our sheer numbers, now 7 plus billion, projected to be 11 billion by 2100. And the food supplies of many nations are falling short of present needs, let alone those of times to come.
Clearly something has to give and it will be no surprise to anyone when suddenly millions more, including those who think they are in safe places find that they are not.
In short, everyone, not just those who now daily starve to death or those who lack adequate health care or those who live in abominable places ravaged by war, famine and pestilence, will feel the closing in of circumstances, not any sense of vastness!
As many governments focus vast resources on finding out what happened to Flight 370, we should not get caught up in the illusion that we live on a planet which is so vast that it can handle present numbers, because it can not.
I have heard knowledgeable experts argue otherwise, but neither their opinions nor mine have yet to be tested. To date however, the evidence so far shows my view and those who argue for less are correct.
To test statements like “who knows if technology can’t make it possible for the planet to handle the likely 11 billion humans alive by the next century” are counseling behavior that will prove reckless, unnecessary, and facilitative of the trends we can already see emerging on our tiny planet.
Yet we seem destined to test the illusion of vastness and its corollary that more and more growth is sustainable and thus doomed to pay the disastrous price it surely will exact on all of us, not just the poor and less powerful.
Ironically, to initiate a safe, conservative fix, as many advocates of family planning and reproductive health have argued for years, would not require vast sums of money, but simply the will to make such services available. Mere pittances compared to the sums now spent to make war, ravage natural resources, manufacture useless consumer goods or simply keep up with making our daily bread. For example, as the Guttmacher Institute reported recently it would cost only $3.6 billion a year to provide family planning to all the unserved women in developing countries (about 215 million), avoiding every year about 53 million unplanned births and reducing the need for 188 million abortions.
The Crisis of Civilization – based on the book by Nafeez Ahmed, A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save it
Professor Milton Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks to Dr. Stephen Mumford in 1992 to reveal that although there was a consensus that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future, the Vatican successfully fought off the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.
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