What are the choices that we must make if our country and society are to succeed rather than fail? For our society as a whole, the failures and successes of past societies are instructive. Two types of choices have been crucial in their outcomes towards success or failure: long-term planning, and willingness to reconsider core values.
It takes courage to practice long-term thinking, and to make bold, courageous, anticipatory decisions at a time when problems have become perceptible but before they have reached crisis proportions. This type of decision-making is the opposite of the short-term, myopic, reactive decision-making that too often characterizes our elected politicians. Set against the many depressing bad examples of such short-term, myopic decision-making are encouraging examples of courageous long-term thinking in the past, and in the contemporary world.
There are some organizations, businesses and departments of government that promote the long-term environmental policies essential to success. Although some, like the Sierra Club, steer clear of population control, other more forward looking organizations like Planned Parenthood freely provide information and counseling to enable family planning. Strangely enough, Muslim Bangladesh, formerly the eastern part of over-populated Pakistan, has seen the light and has adopted effective family planning. This is unusual for a Muslim country where such matters are often left in the hands of Allah. Pakistan in the West has not taken this necessary step and as a result has become the world’s sixth most populous country. Although the intrinsic rate of population growth (i.e. excluding net immigration) in the U.S. is small compared to that of some of the more populous countries of the world, our population is still expected to double again by the end of this century. This is the result of legal immigrants, illegal aliens, their progeny and their higher fertility rates. To avoid the fate of other failed nations, dramatic changes in immigration policies and border security are needed, as well as effective family planning. This means we must discard ancient and outmoded religious doctrines and dogma that have condemned so many to a life of poverty and suffering. If overpopulated Muslim countries can do this, others should be able to do likewise.
The other crucial choice illuminated by the past involves the courage to make painful decisions about values. Which of the values that formerly served society well can be continue to be maintained under new changed circumstances? We once welcomed immigrants with Emma Lazarus’s poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty. This is a treasured remnant of our past but it now must be jettisoned, figuratively speaking, and replaced with a different approach.
In other societies, people did reach agreement to subordinate their individual rights to group interests. Individuals in this country have a right to promote any sort of immigration reform they see fit but in doing so they should give consideration to the interests of their fellow citizens in maintaining some semblance of the quality of life we have all come to enjoy. By thinking in terms of long-term group interests instead of narrower short-term, myopic individual interests we can manage our shared resources and avoid the common problems and fate that have befallen some other societies.
The government of China restricted the traditional freedom of individual reproductive choice, rather than let population problems spiral out of control. This is an example where the need for a change in values was recognized and implemented. While we may not admire the methods used, we must recognize the huge problem that would have resulted in terms of human suffering if nothing had been done. Similarly, the Brits have had to come to grips with the values and long-held beliefs associated with their vast colonial empire and the one-time dominance of their political, economic and naval power that disappeared after World War II.
A reappraisal of values associated with our immigrant past will be exceedingly difficult. Likewise, we will agonize for a long time before we find the courage to make the most fundamental reappraisal regarding how much of our traditional consumer values and high living standard we can afford to retain? Politicians like to preach about "more" rather than "less" in this regard. Therefore, the seeming political impossibility of inducing citizens, businessmen and politicians to lower their expectations and their impact on the finite resources and environment of our country and of this planet is always foremost in our minds. Yet, the alternative, of continuing our current impact and increasing it by faulty resource management, immigration, tax, and population policies, is even more impossible.
Churchill’s response to criticisms of democracy is often quoted: “It has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In that spirit, a lower-impact society and a stable population constitute the most impossible scenario for our future—except for all other conceivable scenarios.
While it won’t be easy to reduce our impact on the environment, it won’t be impossible either. Remember the impact is the product of two factors: population (which I have been pontificating about for a long time) multiplied times the impact per person. Population growth, except for the impact of immigration has recently declined in all of the First World countries. So, if we could solve the immigration conundrum and properly manage our arable land, minerals, water, forests and fisheries, we might just be able to succeed in preserving our society, our quality of life, our country and the planet itself in all its infinite variety of species.
--Excerpted, supplemented, modified in part from views expressed by Professor Jared Diamond in his book, Collapse