June 21, 2014 in Features

Human race has evolved into mediocrity

Donald Clegg
About this column

Three times a month, three community columnists weigh in on matters of faith and values. The Faith and Values column appears Saturday and features artist Donald Clegg, of Spokane; retired Methodist minister Paul Graves, of Sandpoint; and pastor Steve Massey, of Hayden.

Now, onto part two, from Alan Weisman’s newest book, “Countdown.”

Last month I gave several anecdotal accounts of the myriad ways in which population pressures are affecting both humanity and the planetary ecosystem. Since I hadn’t finished reading the book, I made no effort to draw conclusions, and simply looked at all my dog-eared pages and picked out a few for show and tell. Let’s continue our travels.

PAKISTAN: A country of 185 million, packed into a space about the size of Texas, which has a population of 26 million. In Pakistan the forests are devastated, and all the good trees are gone. Texas mesquite, brought in to control erosion, runs amok. Australian eucalyptus, also introduced, has thirsty roots that break up pipes with abandon.

Oh, and speaking of water, Tanveer Arif, a biologist, says, “It happened so fast.” He’s talking about 1995, when the wells went dry in Gadup Town, whose wheat and cornfields were, until recently, among the most productive in the world. Elsewhere, wells that were 25 feet deep 40 years ago, are now only delivering water at 2,000 feet. And Pakistan’s population, if unchecked, will hit almost 400 million by the middle of the century. “A shaky nation with too many people,” as Weisman writes. With nukes.

JAPAN: Where the elderly increase and babies decrease. A model for the rest of the world, in trying to figure out how to deal with a decreasing population? Perhaps. In any case, with a projected drop in numbers – from a high of 128 million in 2006, to perhaps about 86 million in 2060 – Japan will be a laboratory to watch. Is prosperity without growth possible?

UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT: Economist Joshua Farley has a solution to the next financial crisis. Since banks typically keep only about 20 percent of deposits on hand, it can loan out the rest. “Banks virtually loan money into existence – and at interest,” he says. So what to do?

“It’s fairly simple,” Farley says. “It’s a change that’s been proposed by economists for centuries. We deny banks the right to create money.” Instead, money creation is restored to government, which uses it for the public good, rebuilding infrastructure, etc. Loaned out at zero interest, “When it’s paid back, the money’s destroyed. So there’s no continual increase in the money supply.” The glitch? “You’re trying to take the right to create wealth away from some of the wealthiest people on the planet.”

PLANET EARTH: Forget climate change. Forget arguments about whether global warming is real or not and whether it matters. Weisman describes the rising numbers of hermaphrodites in all manner of species, with mixed male and female genitalia. “From animals to us,” Weisman writes, “fertility is dropping not by choice, but by exposure to molecules that never existed before.” Overpopulation will be solved but probably not in any manner that we’ll like.

In conclusion, let me go to another book, Michael Pollan’s “Cooked,” which is a marvelous read. Let’s meet market researcher Harry Balzer, who has studied American eating habits for more than 30 years, and has watched what passes for “cooking” turn to something that would “roll (your) grandmother in her grave.” His research informs his view of human nature: “Face it: We’re basically cheap and lazy.”

I think that, as a species, we’re entirely mediocre. At best. This does not bode well for us. Not our fault, just the way we’ve evolved. Oh, well. Or maybe Mark Twain had it right.

“Man was made at the end of the week, when God was tired.”

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via email at info@donaldclegg.com.

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