beeHere are my answers to the excellent questions posed by my interviewer, Edmontonian Wendy Tomlinson of Cyrenity.

1.  In an ideal world, how would population control be achieved?

In an ideal world population control wouldn’t be needed. All other species control their own population instinctively, aware that excess numbers damage the whole ecosystem and therefore threaten their own survival, and intuitively adjust their birth rate to keep numbers in balance. We did the same for our first three million years on Earth, until about 30,000 years ago when we started to separate our culture from the rest of life’s, and lost this critical survival instinct.

I don’t know how we can get that instinct back. If we could, in an ideal world, we would voluntarily reduce our current birth rate by about 2/3, which would gradually reduce human numbers by about 1% per year, and we would keep that up for about two centuries until human numbers were back to the 300,000,000 or so that, based on scientists’ estimates, seems to be the ‘natural’ human population level that prevailed for hundreds of millennia. I believe the resultant improvement in quality of life would be so astonishing that no ‘control’ would be needed to keep numbers at that level. Maybe that means I’m an optimist about human nature.

2.  What’s the one non-fiction book that everyone should read?

If I absolutely have to pick just one, it would be Stephen J. Gould’s Full House. It’s aggravating, but worldview changing. It demonstrates scientifically that the appearance and evolution of life on Earth is (after each extinction) principally a random crap shoot, and that humans are not only not the pinnacle of evolution, but that we are not even especially remarkable. And since the likelihood of vertebrates (let alone humans) emerging from the primordial soup was about one in sixty million, and many of the alternatives might have been much more interesting and successful than how the experiment on Earth has turned out, it’s humbling as well.

3.  Are you a vegetarian?  Why/why not?

I’m an aspiring vegetarian, which is difficult when your family is not, and when work-related social occasions often don’t provide a vegetarian alternative. I’m getting a lot closer, and as more meat-alternatives come on the market I think I’ll get there.

My reasons for wanting to do so stem primarily from the way ‘food animals’ are treated, especially in today’s increasingly prevalent factory farms. The idea of keeping animals enslaved in cramped, unnatural, uncomfortable spaces all their lives just to feed humans is absolutely abhorrent to me. I also feel healthier when I eat vegetarian foods.

4.  If you couldn’t live in Canada, where would you move to?

The Netherlands, for reasons I explain here.

5.  Are religious leaders (the Pope, the Dalai Lama) more helpful or harmful?

All leaders (religious, political, business) who preach one set of answers to the exclusion of others are harmful. Good leaders don’t talk, they act. They show a better way to live, as Ghandi did, by personal example. They accept leadership roles humbly, reluctantly, briefly, to prevent power from corrupting them. They embody the consensus of those they lead, rather than trying to convert people.

Once again, here are the rules of this game (which I’m merely passing on — no one seems to know who started it), for any others who want to play. And thanks to the fourteen readers who already agreed to do so:

1. Leave me an email, saying you want to be interviewed.
2. I will respond; Iíll ask you five questions.
3. Youíll update your website with my five questions, and your five answers.
4. Youíll include this explanation, and acknowledge me as the interviewer.
5. Youíll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed.

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  1. Stentor says:

    What’s your basis for saying that people instinctively controlled their population prior to the rise of civilization? For that matter, what’s your basis for saying that about other organisms? Animals often have boom and bust cycles in their populations, constrained by natural factors like starvation rather than deliberate birth regulation.

  2. Stentor says:

    (That comment came off somewhat harsher than I meant it. I’m genuinely curious if, as is quite possible, you have information that I don’t.)

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Stentor: The myth that starvation and other suffering is involved in population control has been largely dispelled by anthopologists and animal biologists. Read The Economists’ economist, Peter Jay’s book The Wealth of Man for the research on human populations. He pretty well trashes the popular salvationists’ credo that early man lived a harsh, brutish life that had to be ‘improved’ with civilization. Animal boom and bust cycles do occur, but not often, and subsequent generations do self-regulate, which works along with the natural increase in predators to restore balance with a minimum of suffering. If you think of the whole planet as a single living system, self-regulation of its ‘component’ species is analagous to the self-regulation of the different ‘components’ of a human body. Just as the human body knows instinctively when it has enough liver cells and stops making more, the Earth organism instinctively knows when it has enough (or too many) of species X and self-regulates. This is, of course, a theory, but it seems to coincide with animal biologists’ observations.

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