Let’s dispense with pretense. I am stupid. Stupid is as stupid does; life IS a box of chocolates. Now let’s move on.
There are quite a few of us huddled together on this planet these days. Projections are there will likely be quite a few more in due course. Some people have suggested this is a bad thing. The planet can’t take it. These people are stupid. The planet doesn’t care.
But wait, the fact the planet doesn’t care how many humans there are is insufficient evidence to assert those suggesting doom are stupid. Who does care? Those suggesting there are too many of us. So they’re not stupid, they’re selfish? Perhaps selfish is closer to the truth, but let’s not quit on stupid.
Diversity. Differences. Choices, options, flexibility, resilience. Are these the answers to our ticking population bomb problem? Can life on this crowded planet be sustained without these ingredients? Less stupid minds than mine have wondered. And I sometimes wonder if they’re onto something. I like having choices and options; flexibility has come in handy on more than one occasion. Maybe diversity is the answer. By this reasoning then, a lack of diversity is a bad thing and we should do what we can to prevent losing any. More on this later.
People are different. Even identical twins are not precisely identical. So if people are different and there are more and more people… doesn’t this mean diversity is increasing? If a lack of diversity is bad, and too many people is bad… we have a conundrum. Some folks will suggest all these extra people are eating up the diversity of other things – the things needed to sustain us. Sounds plausible. Diversity is good, but you can have too much. Striking the balance between too little and too much is called for. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some invisible hand, some aggregating mechanism that could help us find this balance of diversity? Something like a market. That would be great… then we could go on being stupid and the world as we know it wouldn’t dive into the abyss.
We have markets. And still we have our difficulties. Some people eat too much and become obese. Some people eat too little and are hungry. Stupid markets! It’s hopeless! We’re doomed!
Excuse me. Sorry. That was stupid of me.
On the matter of some eating too much and others eating too little – the former is a behavioral problem, the latter a distribution problem. And yes, it can’t be that simple. But before we make it more complicated we should turn this simple analysis over to see what we might learn.
Eating too much can be cured a couple ways. Limit the food supply, or help folks appreciate an appropriate amount of food. Having a proper balance of nutrients within a normal caloric intake is important too. There’s that balance idea again. Dietitians can help us on this front. [Full disclosure – I’m married to a dietitian, our daughter and one daughter-in-law are dietitians. Lapses in my dietary choices are solely my own fault. But I’m stupid, so there’s that]
Eating too little can also be a behavioral issue, and the complications here are way beyond my fathoming. To stay on the simpler side for a moment let’s consider eating too little not a deliberate choice but a result of too little immediate (or local) supply. There is enough food to go around, but it isn’t making it around to all. Poverty can be blamed in some instances, but politics might also be blamed. Natural disasters (flood, drought, pestilence) can shock local supplies, but these can be dealt with if the political will exists. If I convinced you earlier that I’m stupid, then it should come as no surprise I’m completely clueless when political will fails to help folks struck by natural disaster. In a crisis stop the bleeding, we can argue about causes and solutions later. Simple enough?
This sufficient food to go around idea can be reassuring. At least for now. What happens as more and more mouths show up needing to be fed? Will there be sufficient resources to keep up? The Earth is finite after all, we can’t grow infinitely. There is good evidence to suggest we’ve begun to slow our growth. A better question considers whether we’ll be able to feed the eventual horde. I believe we will. Food production won’t do us in, but lack of political will might.
Let’s turn back to the diversity issue mentioned above. One way to secure our future food production is through plant and animal breeding. Breeding depends upon genetic diversity. If diversity is lost we cripple our chances for meaningful progress through breeding. So we should be concerned to maintain the diversity we have, measure it and care for it. Recall though – we are still trying to maintain a balance. Too much diversity is not appropriate either. We can go through that market thing again, but let’s not. Suffice to say, diversity is valuable and worth our concern, but let’s not go crazy.
Am I overthinking this? Don’t ask me… I’m stupid.