Our human population is ever increasing. We are exponential in our growth and impact on our planet. David Attenborough has had something to say about this as a growing threat to our own survival on this planet.

We often blame our ‘human nature’ for our railroad track to destruction. We perceive ourselves to be members of a race that is fundamentally flawed and inherently doomed to suffering and consumption. We perceive wisdom is rare, crime is normal and our unsustainable lives unavoidable based on our ‘human nature’. This would indicate a rail road track to extinction – an inevitability – but should we aim to extend our existence longer, we might consider modifying our self destructive behaviours.

So what is the solution?

Utopian Design or Evolution?

Do we try to imagine a sustainable future then design a utopian society that will save the day?

Historically plans designed based on utopian ideals of an imagined future have failed to be successfully sustained, simply because they don’t work. Perhaps utopian systems don’t work because they are based on everyone having godly qualities of perfection

Evolution, on the other hand, works with what we are – accepts us for being selfish, mean, cruel, greedy, violent, kind, loving, thoughtful, generous etc – evolution doesn’t require some sort of utopian perfect god like human beings for it to be successful - evolution works.

If we look at other species of life – we can see that they don’t seem to plan their evolution based on utopian ideals – they evolve based on a feed back loop between their environment – circumstances and their biological survival needs as a species. The ones that keep up and adapt survive – the ones that don’t die out – become extinct. The ones that survive have evolved a strategy that works.

When we think about living a sustainable life we might think this means we have to give up something that we need. But in fact many species of animals are perfectly happy and have all their needs met – and yet don’t cause as much damage to the world as we humans do. So I would suggest that it’s not about giving up what we need, but in fact it is about being innovative about meeting our needs in sustainable ways.

Our latest and most successful change or evolution is a system that hasn’t been designed, planned or based on utopian ideals – it hasn’t been orchestrated by governments, political movements, or social idealisms – it has evolved over time – about 300 years.

It has been achieved incrementally, by people working off each other’s ideas. It has been lead by no one. It wasn’t the initiative of any political, government or religious body. It has no targeted end point. It proceeded according to no plan. It rewarded those who further the evolution in kind.

The industrial revolution is something that wasn’t organised, it wasn’t designed or a utopian ideal – it was something that evolved over time in all areas based on needs that people had and skills and ideas that people tried. A feedback loop was created where our needs encouraged innovation that was shared, tested and embraced in a process of evolution.

What innovative practices can you share that will contribute to the sustainable survival of life on earth into the next century?

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Replies to This Discussion

we don't disagree about human nature, but I believe that the world can cooperate better than it does, and the man who needs to feed his family would be able to if western society wasn't so greedy and didn't treat 3rd world citizens like slaves. greed is perpetuated by the media, consumerism may make an economy grow but at what cost?


The west is the big bully who stole all the lunch money and won't share. Is having all the lunch money making the bully happy? Depression, crime, social disparity...

Tom - I am basically on your side with this. I would add a couple of things. One thing is that technological advancement is spreading. As it spreads, it creates urbanization. The urban family economy is vastly different from the rural one. In the rural economy, children are an asset because they can be used early to maintain farm production. In an urban setting, children are a deficit because they require more resources to take care of and cannot be set to produce more for the family upkeep. Technology requires longer periods of education, removing children from the work pool. Some right-wing capitalists might like the idea of child labor, but in an urban setting it just will not work. Urbanization thus creates pressures to keep family size down to replacement level, i.e. 2.4 children per couple. Indeed, one sees in much of Europe (Italy, Spain, France, Germany, etc.) the population decreasing and aging. The same is happening in Japan and should soon be seen in South Korea. I imagine that left on their own, emerging South American economic powerhouses Brazil, Argentina, and Chile will start seeing similar trends. The U.S. would have a flat population curve if not for immigration. However, the technology trend is not happening fast enough to prevent overpopulation meltdown.


Another thing affecting this problem is that urbanization has required the movement of women out of the purely domestic setting and into the general labor pool. This has meant the education of women and the political empowerment of women. The result has been the creation of women's reproductive choice. In the techno-urban environment, educated, empowered women are choosing to have children later in life and to have fewer (the two would logically go together). Furthermore, the lower percentage of married couples in the US, and probably other techno-urban countries, is primarily a matter of women's choice not to get married. It would seem to me that if one were to opt for some utopian scheme to reduce the population, education and empowerment of women would produce the faster and more potent result than waiting for the tech curve to reach the non-tech parts of the world.

Intriguing! some very interesting points. thanks


Education is the simplest and most practical solution to so many of the worlds problems, if only it was possible to persuade governments to improve education...

Hi Natalie,


Thanks for your post on the one child policy.  I think that a major part of this discussion is that we blow out all our inhibitions, taboos and cultural fears in order to think about all the possibilities and all their implications.  We need frank and honest discussion that is open to discuss all possibilities.


Re the china one child policy – I find china’s policies to be quite limited or 2D in their application.  The example is the one where they killed all the sparrows, who were eating the crops – only to be followed by 7 years of famine due to plagues of insects that came when the sparrows were all killed.  I therefore am sceptical about their ability to implement a policy thoughtfully and wisely – basically based in science, rather than gut feeling or simplistic reaction.


I disagree totally that we are not subject to the laws of evolution.  the laws of evolution are there, or they are not there.  You can’t separate the human race from the rest of life on earth, just because you somehow believe them to be apart or different to nature.  We are not different to nature, we are a part of nature, and I believe that we are still subjects to the laws of evolution entirely.


In the short term we may have created a large number of more vulnerable humans – who will be more easily effected by changes in circumstances.  Not only due to their physically vulnerabilities to disease due to antibiotics or lack of proper nutrition, but also due to their cultural dependency and lack of basic survival skills such as the ability to find or catch their own food and water.


In the longer term evolution is very much enacting itself on humans.  We are only seeing a snap shot in our own life time, that may gives us the false impression that we are in same way avoiding being subject of the laws of evolution – but we are not, they are real and they will take effect.


In your last comments, I find much in common.  I agree education is the key.  The higher the education of women the less children they have.  Australia has a declining birth rate, which is why we rely on immigration to keep our numbers up.


Muslims as well as christians seem to love having lots of children.  Religion therefore is an issue.  Perhaps their belief in God is what causes them to be blind to our resource and climate crises.

I LOVE frank and honest discussion, as long as it doesn't degenerate into name-calling and insults. Which of course, you didn't! :-)

I wish I could be here 10,000 years from now to see whether you are right about the continuing evolution of humanity (if we survive at all!). My reason for disagreeing is that we have divorced ourselves from nature for the most part. But on the other hand, we may evolve to tolerate the toxins we are producing in our environment. Or we may have a population crash for unforeseen reasons. Who knows? For some reason, I can't find my crystal ball! :-)



LOL re our new evolutionary selection criteria!


Yes, I don’t know why they didn’t do that in China?  Ridiculous, as if teenagers aren’t going to naturally want to have sex – it’s a basic drive.  This is the insane thing about China policies – they don’t take into account human nature.  They say you can’t get pregnant until you’ve got a marriage license and you can’t apply for one of those until you are 21.  I reckon they should just say, you get to have one kid and then, unless you pay X amount you get your tubes tied, men and women.  So even if they have a baby at 16, it’s still counted and doesn’t have to be killed.

The only problem with having tubes tied or a vasectomy is what if the child dies before maturity, or is severely disabled? Shouldn't the parents have the chance to have another child?

It's true that they have a lot of abortions in China. And of course, abortion is controversial, depending on your beliefs (not necessarily tied to religion!). The Chinese apparently don't have the repugnance toward abortion that many Westerners have. And they put a lot of pressure on a woman who gets pregnant a second time to have an abortion. But they don't kill babies. The second baby merely doesn't get the privileges that a one-child baby gets, including top-flight education and child-care. That's not so great either, but it's not killing.



I see what you mean about supporting seniors and I agree.  We need a society that supports us in all our basic needs.  We don’t need a bunch of crap – tv’s, fancy curtains, etc… material stuff…  I think most of our problem with climate destabilisation is due to consumerism.  If we just focused on what mattered, giving support to seniors and giving everyone support in getting their basic needs met and then made it more attractive to only have 1 or 2 children if any, then we would be in a much better position.


Any change will happen slowly.


What I think will happen, is that not much will change, and then an event will happen, either climate or disease, that will render large amounts of the population dead.  Whereas I might be nicer if we could cut down our population, decrease our consumerism and change our cultural practises.


I think in China they fine you for having children – so you need more money if you want more children.  It’s tragic with some, as they kill their babies rather than pay the fines. 


In India they pay men $5 to sterilise them.  I think as in many situations, prevention is better than cure.  So preventing pregnancies is better than abortion or infanticide or adoption.


Regarding radical ideas – I think we need radical ideas right now.  Let’s see how many radical ideas we can come up with, then discuss their implications and workability. : )

Another atheist


I think you have a really good point here.  And what happens when you have too many men?  I wonder if they aren’t going to want to go to war – I think that it might be human nature to have wars to kill off men.  There all bouncing around in there, can’t get enough sex, because they’ve got all these restrictions – not enough women, women all screwed up about getting pregnant – unless they’ve got lots of prostitutes who service more than one man and/or they have taken to homosexuality.  They must have evolved their culture in some way to deal with the problem.


Here in Australia many people choose not to have any children.  I know heaps of couples who don’t have kids and they are in their 50’s, so it’s not likely now!  I don’t know what it is about Australia, but people are happy without them.  it would be a good cultural trait to package and spread about – unfortunately it’s not going onto the next generation, for obvious reasons.



I totally agree.  Education is one of the keys, as well as scientific understanding.  Which is basic logic and reason.  If we can get people to see the logic and reason of things they are more likely to understand and change their behaviour.


What about our natural drive to reproduce though?


I wonder how we can change that?


I think one problem is that we have too much food available and so humans can reproduce all the time.  whereas other species not connected to our food production, have feasts and famines, where their fertility goes up and down according to natural cycles.


This effects the fertility and therefore offspring and maintains the balance with nature.


What if we reduced the amount of food available – stopped producing so much?  Got people to hunt and gather their own food again – so that again the amount of kids you had was based more on your ability to hunt and gather?  But that would mean that we would have to unlock the food again – we couldn’t make it under lock and key and for sale…


I grew up with an atheist parent and he was the violent paranoid poverty stricken drug user.. so it’s not all theists!



Great news about population growth not being exponential.


Wow interesting how AIDS has had an impact.  Of course it would thin out those who are having sex with lots of different people – so would select for faithful monogamy.  I know in India that it is riff in truck drivers who have sex with each other on the road and then go home to their wives and give it to them also.  but the government is totally in denial about the problem.


Africa too has massive problems with AIDS.  Although surprisingly there were women prostitutes in eastern Africa who were found to have immunity to it.


I wonder if there are still lots of people in the world who just don’t know how we have babies – in that they don’t understand that simply not ejaculating inside a women is a good thing to do if you want to avoid having kids?  I know it’s really simple, but I wonder if there are still groups out there who hadn’t thought of that as a simple way of reducing population – or whether it’s more cultural problems that we have with having lots of kids.


I wonder how they’ve estimated that the population will stabilize.  That’s really interesting.  Because it implies that there is a optimal level of humans in the world based on our new agricultural life style, as opposed to our global hunter-gatherer lifestyle of 10,000 years ago.  So it’s taken 10,000 years for us to transition from total hunter-gatherer to 95% agriculturalist and now we are reaching, perhaps, the natural limits of population based on agricultural farming.  What do you think?  Does that sound like a reasonable theory?


If this theory is true, then it means that we are all wasting our time worrying for nothing – we can indeed trust that ‘mother nature’ will take care of herself and that evolution is natural and workable.  I’m feeling brighter and happier already – I hope it’s not just a false sense of security! LOL


Interesting about the world average age going up – in other words less babies being born, and also that Europe is declining in population…  although with all the Muslim immigrants, perhaps that’s going to turn around again?  As Muslim’s seem to have more children.


I appreciate your awareness of the impacts of industrialisation including the sweatshops that are now in the 3rd world.  I suppose I was meaning the way that it occurred, in terms of innovating for ideas about machinery.  I think that the idea of sweat shops is a much older system – dating back 8,000 years ago or so, with slavery in general – when they started to lock away the food and get people to work to get it back – we have that system in place now but it appears like we have more freedom but in fact we don’t.


In today’s society we leave school with zero ability to survive – we are forced to get a job, so we can earn money to get access to food, that has been locked away.  This is the system that leads to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer – not the innovations of the industrial revolution.


When you have a product based economy then you have the products being horded – whether that be money in banks, land titles and house deeds in filling cabinets or possessions such as gold, diamonds, electrical equipment and cars.


The hunter-gatherer currency or economy was based on support – not products.  You help me and I’ll help you.  it’s not something that can be hoarded.  Hunter gatherers didn’t horde food, they shared it with their group / tribe.  It was in their best interests to share their food, because then everyone would be fit to search and hunt for more increasing their chances of finding more for the group.  if they horded it for themselves, then they lost the protection of the group / tribe and they lost their advantages of searching as a group, meaning that they could cover more area and hunt for longer and strategically.  It didn’t make sense and wasn’t successful for hunter-gatherer groups to horde.


That’s why they didn’t have hierarchical systems, with rich and poor – they all got their basic needs met for shelter and food based on being part of the tribe.  Not so with our culture – many starve on the streets unnoticed – because they’ve run out of currency – money to pay for basic social services such as health care, food, shelter and community.


I agree regarding government funding – which is why I suggested that it wouldn’t be initiated by governments or political movements.


Do we need money to live sustainably?


Can we come up with ways that we can live sustainably without money or our initial understanding of economy?  Can we refer back to the hunter-gatherer economy and what worked for them – the economy of support?  I’m not leading you here to answers that I’m thinking about – I’m really looking for answers myself, which is why I asked for innovative ideas – I don’t have the answers, I’m just asking questions and giving ideas to stimulate thinking.  As they say we can get further with more brains working on a problem.


I like your ideas already and am keen to hear more of them.


I agree that innovation is something that occurs naturally in nature – humans and other animals.


I wonder if getting into smaller groups might be a better idea – I think that countries are too big….  Perhaps have a world government, that had many councils.. but the tires do help to organise better – representatives for all areas…  but with such a large system it’s really tough for everyone to get a fare say about their issues….


Apparently regarding wars – they used to be more about maintaining territory – and weren’t about genocide or taking over rulership – they were small gorilla like situations with hunter gatherer groups where they maintained their boarders with other groups through erratic retaliation.


Our modern system since the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, has been about more than just maintaining territory, it’s been about taking over territory and killing those who don’t go along with it – assimilate, reservation or annihilation.


I voted greens in Australia  - they now have the balance of power in a coalition with the government and are sorting out a carbon tax – interesting times…


I agree, we need to have strategies that work, and we don’t know if they are utopian or not perhaps until we give them a go – although to expect humans to be anything that aren’t is silly.  We are greedy, violent, aggressive and so on…  we need systems and strategies that include this…. I also think, that even though we would all love for the world to see the sense if removing god and religion from our minds, it’s just not going to happen that quickly, if at all.  how can we do it considering that humans are going to want something that resembles god and religion?


I suppose though, at the end of the day, it’s about thinking global and acting locally.  What can we do in our own lives to live sustainable, and it’s these sorts of ideas that I’m mostly interested in, because they are things that I can personally implement in my own life.

Thanks for your reply, a lot of issues in this, more worthy of a book than a discussion post! here are a few replies though.


"I think that the idea of sweat shops is a much older system"

I agree, obviously slavery, serfdom and various other ways the rich own the lives of the poor/weak has always existed, some might say that working in call centers and supermarket checkouts is no more mind numbing (if less dangerous) than working in Sweatshops...


"we leave school with zero ability to survive – we are forced to get a job, so we can earn money to get access to food"

true. but then the other option is being self sufficient and growing all your own crops, building your own car etc. Which although it is possible for everyone to do this (with education and a lot of personal expertise!), technology has really made it as far as it has because Humans have specialists. We (in western countries) have transport, communications, food, because people focus on one skill (this has been going on for thousands of years). Although we don't NEED all of the things we have, some are very useful and we wouldn't have them if we focused on everyone being self sufficient.

Living a sustainable lifestyle and being self sufficient are completely different. One is about cooperation, avoiding waste/pollution and greed and maximising tech and human interaction, the other is about removing yourself from a dependence on cooperation.


"Do we need money to live sustainably?"

I don't think so. Money is a convenience, not a necessity. it allows us to trade indirectly (ie. I don't need to exchange furs for food, I can help a team make furs which get exchanged for money and in return the team has that money distributed between us and then I give the money for food and the person selling the food can buy furs... a simplistic model of a complicated system.lol). The problem with money is simply that the system is faulty, its abused at every stage by banks, governments etc. everyone wants their piece of the pie.

Hunter gatherer lifestyle was cooperative, but also highly competitive... the model does not fit a sustainable, modern picture. It applied to small tribes, if another tribe threatened your food supply, values or land ownership tribes would go to war. Does that sound familiar? it sounds a bit like nationalism today. Within the national identity we have competition for resources too, as well as people cooperating (at work) towards common goals, members of the group who don't cooperate with the rules of the group go to prison. if another tribe has resources we need we'll go to war, we believe our nation is the best nation and deserves to destroy other cultures and spread. our values are better than those of other nations and should be enforced on others by force... etc


Its a picture that makes me believe we are still living in the dark ages. technology has changed, but human values haven't and there is a direct conflict between core values and sustainability. Human nature can't be changed (need for food, sex, shelter, survival), but some values/behaviors are a by-product of society (greed, stockpiling, xenophobia, racism). Xenophobia was pretty normal in history, other cultures must have seemed threatening and a natural response would be to hate them or think of them as "lesser humans". Through education and interaction society targeted racism and has made a lot of progress in the last few hundred years, why not target greed next? (because consumerism depends on greed! and western economies currently depend on consumerism)


Technocracy & resource based economy are suggested alternatives to the monetary system, both are very interesting ideals but both require world cooperation to become effective... so need that first, which is going to be a long time coming.


"humans are going to want something that resembles god and religion?"

Are they? no one on Atheist nexus does. humans need education, and at the moment many governments are not advocating education of science over religion. Most people need what they are told they need which is why they buy new bigger TVs every 6 months. People NEED food, survival etc. people WANT tvs, religion (to make them feel better about life and a world of other reasons) etc. Religion came about because we didn't have answers about the universe, now we do, but is everyone listening? no.


"it’s about thinking global and acting locally.  What can we do in our own lives to live sustainable"

yes its down to you and other educated people to just keep taking positive action. Challenge Christians to think about their beliefs. Challenge the government's policies, and talk to other people about it. Social changes can take a long time, they will only happen if people act, discuss and challenge.




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