Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The cost of peace: will our good intentions kill us all?

I love William Stafford's poem "Traveling Through The Dark". As he's standing over the dead doe, he notes that "to swerve might make more dead"--in this case, quite literally. The road is narrow, and if he doesn't push the doe into the ravine, many others run the risk of getting into a fatal accident. And then he feels the fawn inside her.

None of us, or almost none of us, want to kill. That may pertain to people alone, for some, but for others it extends to all sentient beings. But sometimes we're faced with the horrible irony that killing saves more lives. Those of us who cannot over-simplify our experiences, who cannot view things in black and white which present themselves in shades of grey, struggle to fit a peaceful existence within the confines of a reality which demands our death.

A reality which demands our death? Well, we cannot live forever. And even if we had the ability, we do not have the resources. In my previous post I reviewed Dirt! The Movie, in which the filmmakers stress our dependence on an ever-depleting topsoil to produce food. Our dependence on food should be obvious. The French Revolution has its roots in food availability, and recent unrest in places Egypt and Libya are helped along by rising food prices. Add dwindling farm land, fresh water, and rising average temperatures to the equation, and it becomes clear that an increasing population increases the risk that some of those mouths will go without.

War. I don't like it. But as smart as I am, I have to recognize the unfortunate problem that would be created if we woke up one morning and stopped killing each other. If our breeding habits went unchecked, peace would ironically lead to even more war due to it's increasing global population levels in the face of diminishing resources.

Sure, it would likely not happen overnight. In fact, cooperation would likely put more food in more mouths at the offset. But that also means fewer people starving to death, which would further spur on population growth. It's a vicious cycle.

I don't like the tough position this puts me in. While I don't want to support war, and while I would like to put plenty of food in the mouths of every global citizen, I can't in good conscience support anything that reduces the mortality rate unless I also do work to reduce birth rates. Increasing contraceptive use, increasing abortion rates, limiting the number of children a person can have, and increasing education (insofar as education has been linked to lower birth rates) are all options. Some are better than others.

All of this, ultimately, aims to lower the number of children that any given person has, regardless of whether there's an actual limit. And how do you stop a person that is set on having children from having them? Should you stop them? Can you ethically do so?

Perhaps we don't need to do anything. Perhaps as resources dwindle and the prices for said resources rise, people will simply recognize that they can't afford to have children. But will they act on that realization even if they see that it's valid?

Civil unrest will grow if we allow the resources to dictate our actions. The very war we were trying to avoid will result.

I speak as someone who is enamored with the idea of having children, and of raising them to be good stewards of their environment. I know some of my fellow bloggers have had children, and I have no doubts that they will turn into incredible human beings. But I have to wrestle with whether it's responsible to bring another burden on the planet, with whether I will be able to afford the resources to care for any children I bring into the world, and with whether it's a world I want to bring children into.

There are ways to make what we have go further. As is typical for me, I hope to share some of the crazier ones with you. But if all we do is try to stretch what we have, we will only be delaying the inevitable.

That's not to say everything is all doom and gloom. I have lots of faith in our abilities to overcome the adversities that we face. I only question how much we will fill the growing pains later if we take no action today. And if world peace is our goal, are we ensuring that the goodness of our hearts is not ultimately our undoing? Puppies and rainbows are fine and all, but they won't solve our most pressing problems.

We need to act sooner rather than later. "To swerve might make more dead."

Photo by Jayel Aheram

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