Fight the Population Explosion with Images and Memes

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

Interesting reading:
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,, April 2011





6 responses to “Fight the Population Explosion with Images and Memes

  1. Thanks for the post…another human being that understands the problem. I just wrote a light piece on the issue with 10 images. I think if we show how ridiculous our existence has become due to overpopulation that it could be effective…on the other hand, I haven’t gotten too many comments:) I linked up to follow your blog. Lets keep it going.

    • Thanks, Tincup. The comments have been indeed few and far between, sadly. I keep talking about the simple math: reducing the population by 5 billion over 50 years, as could happen in the latter half of this century, would mean 328,000 LESS people PER DAY not including countering the birthrate. That’s scary enough that people don’t want to hear about it, but my point is that unless we make some radical changes – a real all-out WWII-type effort – our kids have some incredibly tough times ahead of them. I discourage my kids from having kids just based on that, but I don’t know if they understand – my failure as a parent, I have to assume. Thanks for the link, and I’m checking your page next. Tnx agn — Tim
      PS – your blog is very nicely written and attractive to the eye! Nice work.

  2. I wonder if people will care about a future where they might find themselves without toilet paper, for example, (or food). They’ll care when it happens, but that will be way too freakin’ late. I keep asking myself, are we smart enough as a species to control our growth? Or will we self-destruct like the unthinking animals (lemmings?) we really are?

  3. My apologies to the lemmings. A little research will teach you that Lemming populations fluctuate, but nature keeps numbers in check, though not necessarily in ways we would like. Are we throwing ourselves at the mercy of the uncaring forces of nature? Or are we smarter than that? The jury is out.

  4. Hi there Tim
    Just discovered your post. I created for exactly this purpose. Most of the images are also on my flickr stream
    and set to creative commons sharing.
    While I part company with some of the population activists (I’m not interested in preventing immigration or coercing limited fertiility) we might collaborate at some point.
    best wishes
    Liz Throop

    • Thank you, Liz. I will check out your sites shortly. I think immigration will only increase as population-driven global problems get worse, and have long seen better economic wellbeing, and improved education and health care as the answers to reducing the birthrate, rather than coercive methods.
      I saw an internet page the other day that said that $30 billion would eradicate hunger in the world for a year, and that this is the same amount spent for military worldwide in only 8 days. If the truth is anywhere near those numbers it’s a striking comparison that might get some folks’ attention.
      I hope people are increasing their understanding (and quickly). Thanks again — Tim

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