Can-do versus We’re-screwed

So I had an interesting conversation at work today.  The subject of the conversation (as I hijacked it) was The Environment.  Where I came in, one of the participants (I’ll call him The Liberal – by this I mean nothing derogatory to him nor to the term, it’s just accurate) was mentioning the problem with over population.  Recalling a statistic that I read years ago in Reader’s Digest that the entire population of the earth could fit in Jacksonville, FL (or the surrounding county, I forget exactly), I begged to differ.  We then engaged in a lively and civil debate over the issues of world hunger, monoculture farming, human greed, etc.  What really struck me about the conversation wasn’t a sense that I was right and he was wrong or that either of us had convinced the other of anything but rather that there are two ways to view the world’s problems: we can do something about them or we’re all screwed.

Let’s take the issue of world hunger.  The We’re Screwed side says that there are simply too many people to feed without resorting to monoculture farming which is not sustainable in the long term.  7,000,000,000 people sure seems like a lot, especially as populations have urbanized over the past 100 years.  However, I did a little math before writing this and found that if you gave everyone on earth a 10 ft. x 10 ft. (100 sq. ft) plot of land the entire population of the earth could fit in the Mojave Desert (approximately).  The Can-do side looks at numbers like that and concludes that there has to be a way to grow enough food on the earth for everyone.

The We’re Screwed side, having concluded that we cannot provide enough, approaches the problem from a standpoint of demand reduction – how can we stop population growth?  The Can-doer in me has concluded that we can (and already do) provide enough food for everyone so the issue is one of distribution, not demand.  (According to this article just a quarter of what we throw away at home could feed 20,000,000 people and this doesn’t count the amount that grocery stores and restaurants throw out.)  It was at this point in the conversation when the real core difference between these two perspectives became evident:  We’re Screwed because people are inherently greedy and selfish and cannot be trusted to do the right thing OR we Can Do anything because people are capable of doing good.

After that conversation this one thought became crystal clear – the only solutions possible for issues like world hunger start with all of us making a choice to think of others first.  If we don’t, then we’re all screwed.

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