Paradise is here, now, if only we will accept it

Geographical Notes
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The Independent Culture
AWARENESS EXACTS a price. In a world of scarcity, political and ecological triage will inevitably figure. Even with a projected $50 trillion annual economy, the continuing high number of newborns on the planet will not make decisions any easier. Never before have ecological and population considerations played such dramatic roles in analysis and national determinations.

Hence, individual men and women are called upon to become policymakers, to make those determinations, to take their life styles into greater consideration than ever before. By example each individual can inspire surprisingly huge assemblages of people. Ethical solutions, reasonableness, beauty, and inspiration, all have in their favour the force of silent majorities, the equivalent power of chain letters, the quiet seduction of an ideal.

Our species, however has long been engaged in a war against the planet, a pattern that is ecologically insane. We know this to be true by now. Our acknowledgement itself is an act of meditation poised for selfless, even heroic change. Among more and more of the world's religious thinkers, there is a surge of ecologically aware activism. Buddhists in Thailand are fighting to save forests. Jews, Catholics, and Anglicans in the US have sponsored a National Religious Partnership for the Environment. And in late 1997 the leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, finally declared: "To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin." It was the first time that word - "sin"- has ever been officially linked by the Church to human behaviour towards the environment.

The same week Bartholomew made this pronouncement, demographers also made big news. They had gathered in New York to examine the whys and wherefores of a silent revolution under way. In a not altogether unexpected trend, an inexplicable dynamic was shown to be at work, affecting smaller families in at least 45 countries. The demographers predicted that, by the year 2015, 88 "countries and territories will have replacement levels at or below 2.1 children per woman". Granted, few of those countries cited were among the high-population nations, yet the pattern seemed to be spreading.

We must remain optimistic if such new trends and attitudes are to gain fuel; to augur the kind of changes necessary to preserve the planet. Our children need to be informed and inspired, not daunted. Although the planet is held captive by much that defines our personality and behaviour, that aggression and its myriad tragedies need not be destiny.

But, in refashioning global fate beyond simple hope, certain sobering truths must be firmly absorbed and embraced. First among them is the harrowing truth that our species' fertility is out of control, even after half a century of family planning efforts. Based on current global fertility trends, we will number at least 12 billion people late in the 21st century. Second, our consumptive patterns are disastrous. Habitat is vanishing, or burning up, and species are disappearing, or verging on disappearance, at a rate of between 10 and 800 per day. Fertility trends and consumptive patterns can change, and they must. It all hinges upon personal choices.

Throughout human history, hope and dread have always mingled. But never before have the risks been so permanent. Paradise is here, now, if only we will own up to it, accept it, and do our part to keep it true. We must be prepared for a lifetime of service and diligence. The ethical and ecological responsibilities that being human entails will only increase as humanity finally comes of age.

Michael Tobias is the author of `World War III: population & the biosphere at the end of the millennium', published by Continuum Publishers, New York