Imagine for a moment that you are a doctor operating on a patient with multiple ailments - many of them a result of personal lifestyle choices. You successfully complete the operation, providing the patient with sufficient good health to continue their life as they had done before. Unfortunately, the patient returns a year later, this time feeling a great deal worse. In speaking with her, you discover that she has failed to implement all of your recommended lifestyle changes. You continue with the operations, only to find the patient returning year after year in a more dire condition.
Today, our planet is faced with a similar condition. The disease is over-population. We have high profile individuals speaking of climate change (some of them doing it merely à la mode) but few if any mention the root cause of our ailment. In the words of T.H. Huxley: "So long as unlimited multiplication goes on, no social organization which has ever been devised, or is likely to be devised, no fiddle-faddling with the distribution of wealth, will deliver society from the tendency to be destroyed by the reproduction within itself, in its intensest form, of that struggle for existence the limitation of which is the object of society."
Yet much of economic theory is unconsciously at war with such a notion. To speak of population reduction would bring about hysterical fears of economic suicide, as well as going against one of the fundamental instincts which has driven the growth of our species. Throughout the course of history one can always detect the thread of human exceptionalism. Indeed, to call someone an animal has long been an insult in every culture, yet that is precisely what we are, nothing more and nothing less. Under that most important and universal law of all - the law of biology - we are all equals. Violating these laws in our declaration of war against this planet, we continue to draw upon its precious resources, spewing vast quantities of pollutants into our oceans and lands. What other species can proclaim to be so foolish as to poison its own source of sustenance? We are indeed exceptional, but not in the way that we have so presumptuously imagined.
The destructive costs of over-population also reach far beyond the environment. In almost every species of animal, population increases are correlated with a corresponding increase in competition for resources, with increased intra-species aggression and violence. Other animals scratch and peck at one another. We, driven by attachment to an in-group fabricated in the minds of delusional and avaricious men, unleash our ever-sophisticated war machines on one another and slaughter thousands of 'the other'. Calling it 'civilisation', we also herd our growing numbers into cities and become increasingly detached and isolated from one another, going to war against an unconscious which evolved over innumerable millennia in an empathetic communal setting.
What would Dr Huxley make of our world in its present state? He would no doubt be deeply troubled by where we stand, or perhaps kneel today, reminding us that: "so long as the natural man increases and multiplies without restraint, so long will peace and industry not only permit, but they will necessitate, a struggle for existence as sharp as any that ever went on under the regime of war. If Istar is to reign on the one hand, she will demand her human sacrifices on the other."
Viewed from only one perspective, the struggle for existence has been alleviated in many areas, by such brave and selfless souls as those who quietly laboured for vaccines and cures to save millions from death and suffering. They will always be the true heroes, but we do a disservice to their memory when we willingly choose to ignore the worst disease of all, the disease of 'unlimited multiplication'.