Friday, December 22, 2006

Humanity's Growth & The Wild

While there is much to lament in the rapidly growing human population on our planet, there is much more to be joyful about as the increase in population brings with it an increase in creativity, technology, and human inventiveness that enhances our lives and increases our health and longevity.

We continue to struggle with the problems created by our own human growth and it is good there are many who continue to remind us of them, and of our responsibilities to grow as much in solidarity with all living creatures and habitat as possible.

Jeremy Rifkin: Mushrooming megacities overtaking what's wild
By Jeremy Rifkin -
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, December 22, 2006

The coming year marks a great milestone in the human saga, a development similar in magnitude to the agricultural era and the Industrial Revolution. For the first time in history, a majority of human beings will be living in vast urban areas, many in megacities and suburban extensions with populations of 10 million or more, according to the United Nations. We have become "Homo urbanus."

Two hundred years ago, the average person on Earth might meet 200 to 300 people in a lifetime. Today a resident of New York City can live and work among 220,000 people within a 10-minute radius of his home or office in midtown Manhattan.

Only one city in all of history -- ancient Rome -- boasted a population of more than a million before the 19th century. London became the first modern city with a population over 1 million in 1820. Today 414 cities boast populations of a million or more, and there's no end in sight.

As long as the human race had to rely on solar flow, the winds and currents, and animal and human power to sustain life, the human population remained relatively low to accommodate nature's carrying capacity: the biosphere's ability to recycle waste and replenish resources. The tipping point was the exhuming of large amounts of stored sun, first in the form of coal deposits, then oil and natural gas.

Harnessed by the steam engine and later the internal combustion engine, and converted to electricity and distributed across power lines, fossil fuels allowed humanity to create new technologies that dramatically increased food production and manufactured goods and services. The unprecedented increase in productivity led to runaway population growth and the urbanization of the world.

No one is really sure whether this turning point in human living arrangements ought to be celebrated, lamented or merely acknowledged. That's because our burgeoning population and urban way of life have been purchased at the expense of vast ecosystems and habitats.