by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann

“Will we power down and follow the pathway to sustainability? Or keep on the road of supposedly never-ending growth in numbers of people and amount of stuff consumed. It seems to me that today’s economic cataclysm has already exposed the dead end of that road.


“If we want to live sustainably and peacefully, we have to get serious about confronting the overpopulation problem. We are still adding 80 million people to the planet each year. And millions of people are on the move, the greatest number in history, destabilizing both social and environmental systems.” -- Marilyn Hempel. From her editorial in “Population Press” 2008.


The current economic cataclysm has accentuated the world’s global dilemma with emphasis in China and United States whose economies are already environmentally unsustainable and where, in order to have full employment and economic growth, further unsustainability is not only the heart of the plans of recovery but the soul and history of expedient capitalism.


That is, for capitalism to flourish and profit, it must rape the environment for resources, produce stuff in abundance, pollute the air and dirty the streams in the process and encourage people to procreate in order to have more people to buy the stuff, all of which is a scenario for disaster---because it’s unsustainable. Unsustainability results when the earth can no longer sustain the population. Haiti, Afghanistan and Malawi are examples of it.


An Ecological Footprint is the acreage it takes to sustain an individual’s lifestyle. In the United States its takes 24 acres per capita, the highest in the world. In Europe 12 acres and in Haiti one acre. Humanity’s Ecological Footprints in 2005 exceeded the earth’s capacity to produce the resources by 31%. That is, it takes a year and three months for the earth to regenerate what humans use in a single year.


“Humanity is living off its ecological credit card. While this can be done for a short while, overshoot [ecological debt] ultimately leads to liquidation of the planet’s ecological assets, and the depletion of resources, such as forests, oceans, and agricultural land upon which our economy depends.” It’s estimated that at the present rate of population growth by 2040 it will take two planets to meet humanity’s demands.


China and the U.S. each require 21% of global biocapacity---together almost half of all human demand on nature’s services. The U.S. is obscenely prodigal in its demand on nature and has been and will be apparently until the liquidation of nature itself. This nation’s addiction to stuff and things, to the automobile, mansions, to a hedonism that would have caused Solomon to ache with envy, apparently can be kicked only by a clout on the snout, that is, by the rudest and most grievous sort of awakening to the results of ecological bankruptcy.


The clout on the snout may come as a result of global warming, a phenomenon exacerbated by humanities’ carbon footprints, which are one half of its Ecological Footprints. Greenland’s glaciers are melting. The Illulissat glacier is spawning icebergs at the rate of 20 million tons of ice per day. It is estimated that it is its smallest in 6000 years. It is calculated that Greenland’s glaciers will this year slide about 52.7 cubic miles of ice into the sea, contributing to a rise in sea level worldwide.



The melting glaciers in Greenland are sinking the islands in the Pacific. The islanders of Tuvalu, nine tiny Pacific islands that are a group of tropical atolls and reefs just two meters above sea level, are losing their land to sea water. They are looking for a place to go to resettle their 12,000 islanders.



In Holland ice skating is a mostly a memory. The winters are warmer. The threat of climate change has caused Hollanders to take their fingers from the dikes that have held back the sea for nearly 400 years and allow the sea to have land that is in places 22 feet below sea level. But, now they are working to live on the sea in floating homes and to cultivate floating greenhouses for food. In the Netherlands the handwriting is on the wall: The Sea is coming.



The fierce urgency of now is to recognize that humanity is on the Titanic. The iceberg is the mindless procreation of more people, the prodigal use of earth’s resources, the creation and frenetic consumption of stuff, the mal-distribution of wealth, the daily indignity of dumping tons of trash and the maintenance of an economic system, the implementation of whose dogmas build a bigger iceberg day by day.


Where are the leaders in the world who cry Enough?! Enough population! Enough maniacal consumerism! Enough reinless capitalism! Enough of rank wealth juxtaposed to abject poverty! And enough of the species Homo sapiens---one of 10 million species--- monopolizing the earth to an extent that the others are threatened with extinction!!!



And where are the pro-life religionists who consider every human, alive or conceived, holy and who thus oppose contraception, abortion and euthanasia---while the ship of Humanity, on its present course, is doomed? No god that views what mankind has done with this planet would excuse it or consider providing another. Or a Heaven for that species that is creating a Hell.


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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He was born in Charleston, WV in 1921. For David M. Kinchen's review of "Mann & Nature," a collection of Perry Mann essays, click: