Monday, November 2, 2009

The Caterpillar's Tale

I wonder, do you remember Walt Disney's enchanting film, 'Fantasia'? In particular, do you remember his brilliant animation of 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'?
I loved that film. Who could forget the distraught Mickey Mouse with his rapidly multiplying brooms. The more he tried to control events, the more the brooms, and their overflowing pails of water, proliferated and dominated the situation!
That was rather how I felt after listening to the radio last night. Have you a moment for me to share my thoughts with you?
The programme was on the hot topic of population explosion. Not only has the human population of the world trebled in the past fifty years, but here, in the UK, it appears that the current population of sixty million may reach seventy million within two decades.

Two women had been invited to contribute to this radio debate. One was clearly anxious. The other was sanguine in the extreme. It was, insisted the sanguine lady, merely a question of careful planning of housing and facilities. She strongly contested the idea that this entire island would end up 'under concrete'. There would, she told the listeners, be plenty of room for parks and gardens.
"Seventy million . . . ?" she seemed to be saying, "Bring it on!"
Such was her sense of authority that not even the anxious woman dared to point out that this seventy million wasn't necessarily the stopping point . . . that the human population, like Disney's pails of water, would remorselessly increase, not only on account of the expanding birth-rate, but also by all of us living longer.

I was nearly lulled into a sense of false security until, all at once, it hit me. Something was missing . . . in all her careful reasoning, the woman had never mentioned food. As more people take up more space, I thought to myself, so these people need more roads and housing which, in their turn, need more space . . . and this space can only come from a finite source of open land. Following the same argument, more people need more food . . . more food needs more land to grow on . . . and the extra land needed for more food is then in direct competition with the more land needed for more people and more housing!
The only remaining certainty in this argument seems to be that, for all our hubris and ingenuity, we can't produce a larger planet!

It's not so long ago that we looked upon our planet as limitless. Somewhere out there were vast, unexplored tracts and territories. There would, we were convinced, always be vast, unexplored tracts and territories. With this comforting thought in mind, we dumped our rubbish in the soil and our toxic waste in the oceans, we hunted big game as though their numbers were limitless, and fished the seas with no thought of tomorrow.

And where do we find ourselves now? On an over-crowded planet, with man-made rubbish contaminating Mount Everest, with dying seas, and with pollution from our careless way of living extending to the Arctic and the Antarctic.

What is the answer?There would seem to be only one answer . . . to survive, man needs to evolve. We have been self-obsessed caterpillars, consuming all around us, for far too long. Now we need to metamorphose into butterflies.

How . . .?

I'm sorry, forgive me. Because I'm troubled I've been battering you with a succession of unanswerable questions.
But do you think that we've finally arrived at the only question that really matters . . . ?

I think we have.

Twenty Minutes Later

Oh, no . . . this is quite extraordinary . . . so extraordinary that I must return and share it with you!
Shivers of incredulity are running down my spine.

Minutes after finishing this letter, I heard the thump of the morning's post arriving in the letter-box. Sorting through the mail, I found a small package sent to me from from a friend in the United States.

Look what I found inside . . .

Do you think someone is trying to tell us something . . .