Why Smallpox isn’t the (ethical) answer to Population Growth

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The Elephant in the Room

Ok. Let’s throw it out there. The real reason we have so many issues with resource security and pollution is the fact that there are so many of us. Exponential population growth. Boom. There it is. The black and white scientific truth and pretty much general logic (read about carrying capacity here or watch a mini lecture here). Kind of like when you try to stuff more clothes into an already overflowing closet, no matter how you stuff them in (or how many techo-advanced space saver bags you use) there is only ever going to be that same, limited, amount of space to store things. It’s something none of us like to hear because quite franky, being told that your species is at ‘plague’ proportions really doesn’t sit well. We all like to think we are good people and most of us know at least one or two other people who we would like to elevate above the idea of being a member of a species that’s ‘getting into everything’ like a rodent infestation. As a thirty-somthing woman I do get asked quite frequently about my child-rearing status and what my plans look like for the future. In fact I was actually asked this twice the other day and didn’t even leave my house… which was a ‘personal-best’ record. I was quite surprised today to find myself (outside my home) in a very non-conventional conversation with an admirably transparent twenty something who was happy to get vocal about population growth and fertility in public. First up, a little disclaimer. It is in my nature to attract in-depth conversations with people I don’t know, and for a long time I though this was the case for everyone. Around five years ago my naive ‘everyone shares their intimate secrets with everyone else at the bus stop or supermarket’ bubble was burst when I was informed that this is not a normal occurrence, and that something about who I am enables sharing. Anyways, disclaimer aside, having worked on-and-with the idea of being a ‘listen lady’ who knows everyones secrets, it was surprising that the convo I was involved in today actually shocked me with it’s level of honesty.

Should People Be Exterminated?

Sparing you the long-and-drawn out version of the story. What started as a conversation about unusual weather patterns resulted in a discussion about viruses and disease as a solution to environmental issues (such as climate change) and resource scarcity. To be totally blunt, the opinion put forth by this brave and unapologetic woman would indeed, on paper, fix many of the issues we are facing. Less people means less completion for finite resources. However, judging by the look on the faces of every other person around us, the solution to our issues is not as black and white as people culling. Humanity and human emotions are complex, rich, and layered like oil paint on a masterpiece. We have developed (I would say evolved but this doesn’t sit with everyones beliefs) into a masterpiece of complexity. An artwork that is shaped by the tangible human experience and the intangible energy that connects us (some identify with this on a spiritual level through gods, others come to their own understanding of their place in this world of vibrating matter). If I were to have done a poll of the people in our vicinity that heard the conversation, there is a good chance that 100% would have disagreed with the idea of introducing deadly diseases to solve environmental crisis. Somewhere in our big complex brains, we all share a love of life and (for most of us) believe in the value of others existence.

Diversity should be celebrated

Being in a conversation like this one, in a public place can be a little confronting. I personally appreciated the justification of logic and the bravery of this woman’s opinion. She was 100% accurate in the fact that less people would indeed solve many of our immediate Global issues. It takes guts to stand up an announce this left-of-centre point of view. Especially when those around her looked ready to get their pitchforks out and start a lynch mob. I can honestly say that while I do agree that this would be an effective way to reduce strain on our resources, it does not fit with my personal values and I won’t be aiding in the development of the human version of myxomatosis. I also hope that her idea’s don’t gain momentum because the mass extermination of human beings have been some of the darkest periods of our collective history. Conversations like this one allow us to practice the one thing that binds us together as a species. Love. The thing we all intuitively feel but don’t necessarily know how to explain. When you find yourself in a situation where you don’t totally or at all agree with the ideas put forth the best thing you can do it approach the other person with love and compassion. While you might not ever agree with their values, putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand why they have come to this conclusion helps you to better appreciate the reasoning behind your personal (and possibly conflicting) values. There is ZERO reason to stand idly by when people are doing things you disagree with (if the situation is urgent by all means take action) but you should come from a place of love not anger because anger and hatred creates the situations that we have now. Terrorism. War. Famine. Poverty. Forced labour. Just to name a few. All of these issues would dissolve if we chose to celebrate diversity with love rather than fear differences and try to protect ourselves from them. If we valued every person as we value ourselves.

So it’s peace, love and hippie-ness then?

Yup. The peace loving folks of the 60 and 70’s were onto something. And not just fab-flares and incredible music. When John Lennon wrote ‘Give Peace A Chance’ in 1969 he had no idea that this song would still be a relevant solution to many of the issues we are facing in 2016. Sadly we are still working as a World divided by geographical, political and economic barriers. While dropping weapons and having a global love-in might not provide the immediate solution to resource scarcity that the human myxomatosis virus would, it would certainly be the long-term step in the right direction. Why? Because killing people is only going to make more panic, fear, and division. The moment we divide and hide we start squirrelling away our resources, acting greedy and selfish to fit our economic system, and producing armies of offspring in case of future ‘attacks’ from ‘others’ (who are just people like us who are as scared as we are). Imagine if the 70’s Peace-slingers had successfully created a global love-fest? We probably wouldn’t be in the place we are in now. What place is that? It’s the place where Leo has to use his  Oscars speech to talk about climate change  instead of movies. Hello World leaders… shouldn’t we be acting with urgency towards this issue if even Jack from Titanic has recognised the importance of it? The rest of us (who aren’t movie stars with a conscious and a Global stage) are in a place where we have to hike to the ends of the Earth (or it seems that way) just to find groceries that aren’t wrapped in non-biodegradable-here-forever packaging.

What can you do to have a positive impact?

While you might be somewhat agreeable or totally repulsed by the idea of the extermination of the human species the key message of this post is to be a loving person regardless of your opinion or values. You will never agree with everyone. If you did then life would be kind of dull. Disagreeing in your mind with an idea put forth by someone else allows for growth and understanding. So when you find yourself in a position (which is not a life-or-death scenario or one where you stand by and watch others get abused… in these situations your gut instinct will guide you) where you don’t necessarily agree with what someone else is saying take a step back and treat it as a learning experience.

  • Assess your emotional reaction about what they are saying.
  • If you don’t have an immediate answer ask yourself ‘what emotion does this person or situation make me feel?’
  • Then ask yourself ‘Why do I feel this way?’

More often than not you will find that the way you are feeling about what they are saying is related to your ideals and experiences, not theirs. You don’t actually know, nor will you ever know what their experiences have been. When you can assess your feelings and the reason behind them you can then take one of two approaches.

  • One is to decide that the reasoning behind your feelings is personal, or feel like it would personally offend or hurt the other person to discuss it, and you want to deal with it in private.
  • The second approach is when you feel confident about expressing your reasoning behind your disagreement with their argument and believe that the person might want to discuss the issue with you further (which was the case with my discussion today).

If you feel comfortable and confident ‘airing-your-inner-thoughts-and-feelings’ and feel as though the other person might be open for discussion then share from a loving and personal place. In the event that you have misjudged the situation and the other person isn’t open to discussion without a heavy (and possibly angry) heart then thank them for sharing their point of view even if it differs from yours and move on. Don’t be afraid of taking pauses during a conversation to think about yourself and how you feel (you can pretend you are a JD in Scrubs having a ‘daydream’ moment) and this will make the conversation less heated and more heartfelt. And never feel ashamed of walking away ‘from a fight’ because more often than not the person who is trying to battle with you is actually at war with themselves. It’s kinder to move on than to try argue with them to solve their issues that they haven’t yet identified in themselves.

Have you ever had a slightly awkward environmental-convo in a public place? Perhaps you-too are a listen-lady (or man) and know everyones secrets? Do you agree or disagree with the person who I chatted to today about population growth solutions? Let us know below.

Author: Katie

Katie Roberts is a self confessed 'write-a-holic' Environmental Scientist with a passion for Sustainable Fashion.

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