I am appalled, daily, at the total lack of consciousness, the total failure to acknowledge the population explosion even as it causes or plays a major part in our most critical problems. I have racked my brain for years over why we are failing as a species to see we are causing ourselves a disaster of unimaginable proportions that could take decades to come about and more decades or centuries for recovery. What are we missing? What can we do to turn this situation around and save at least some of our children and grandchildren from early and horrible deaths?
Research has shown that humans respond much more to threats with faces, and are often caught flat-footed when a threat arises that is faceless. (This research came out since 2007 but I need a reference.) The same is true of the apes – chimpanzees will recognize a face they associate with threat and become extremely agitated, but will fail to become aroused or at least not commit much energy to a threat that is faceless. Given this it is easy to see why the population explosion, pollution, climate change, and similar threats are getting so little attention while economic growth and increased mass consumption are pushed with great energy. Not only is our system set up for an incredible and disastrous failure in 40 to 100 years, but it appears we will ignore these threats until it is too late to avoid catastrophes such as have never been seen in recorded history. I have racked my brain for many years: what can we do to reduce the severity of what appears inevitable?
Putting a face on our problems may be the key to mitigating them. Perhaps the answer is to find a way to give the population explosion a face. Major religions and political movements have developed ideas that replicate and spread like infections, called memes, and these ideas (the successful ones) are almost always associated with a face, whether it is a Jesus or a Hitler. The meme is what spreads and strengthens the ideas while the face provides the emotional anchor around which people can rally. It seems certain that we need a catchy meme and a memorable face for the population explosion.
Anyone could come up with the idea and image we need. It is clear that we need to do everything we can to slow population growth and resource exhaustion. My first image is the grim reaper standing, towering over the surface of the planet as we inhabitants squabble and waste time and resources, oblivious to the situation we are creating. Another good image is the “9 billion ton hamster” that represents the effects of unlimited economic growth. To me that hamster represents garbage as well; the ton of waste each human generates per year on average combined with the projection that the earth will have 9 billion humans by 2045. My first images of the population explosion are of the grim reaper towering over a bunch of people squabbling among themselves as the scythe swings inexorably down. Another image I have is that of humanity standing on a train track in front of a hurtling train and deciding to sit down on the tracks because it would be less comfortable or convenient to get off of them. We need even better and more effective concepts and images, however.
Anyone can help and anyone could create the ideas and image we need. Start thinking, writing, drawing, etc. and lets come up with it. A single idea and image could save hundreds of millions of lives just a few decades from now, and you could be the (probably unsung and unrecognized) author.
As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments. – Tim
Recognizing Threat: A Simple Geometric Shape Activates Neural Circuitry for Threat Detection, Christine L. Larson, Joel Aronoff, Issidoros C. Sarinopoulos, and David C. Zhu, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Vol. X, Number Y, 2008?
Changing Our Thinking About Growth – The 9 Billion Ton Hamster, Tim Prosser, www.timprosserfuturing.wordpress.com, April 2011