13 Human Choices - 13 Human Choices there is no country in...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–2. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
13 Human Choices . . . there is no country in the world in which people are satisfied with having barely enough to eat. —KINGSLEY DAVIS 1991 1 A little boy wanted to know the sum of one plus one. First he asked a physicist, who said, "If one is matter, and the other is antimatter, then the answer is zero. But if one is a critical mass of uranium and the other is a critical mass of uranium, then that's an explosive question." Unenlightened, the little boy asked a biologist. She said, "Are we talking bacteria, mice or whales? And for how long?" In desperation, the boy hired an accountant. The accountant peered closely at the little boy and said, "Hmmm. One plus one? Tell me, little boy, how much do you want one plus one to be?" There were more dimensions to the question than the little boy had considered. In addition to the pure mathematics, there were physical and biological constraints (the laws of matter and antimatter, critical masses, bacteria, mice and whales). And there were choices (for how long? and what do you want from one plus one?). Estimating how many people the Earth can support requires more than demographic arithmetic. Like calculating one plus one, it involves both natural constraints that humans cannot change and do not fully understand, and human choices that are yet to be made by this and by future generations. Therefore the question "How many people can the Earth support?" has no single numerical answer, now or ever. Because the Earth's human carrying capacity is constrained by facts of nature, human choices about the Earth's human carrying capacity are not entirely free, and may have consequences that are not entirely predictable. Because of the important roles of human choices, natural constraints and uncertainty, estimates of human carrying capacity cannot aspire to be more than conditional and probable -261- ble estimates: if future choices are thus-and-so, then the human carrying capacity is likely to be so-and-so.No sharp line separates human choices and natural constraints. For example, technology obeys the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, but humans choose how, and how much, to invest in creating and applying technology. Hence, the technology that people use depends jointly on human choices and natural constraints. In another example, how the human body responds to chemicals is a natural constraint on health, but individual choices (about food, smoking, alcohol and other drugs) and social and economic decisions (about the use of lead in gasoline and paints, about the production and disposal of radioactive wastes) determine the extent to which human bodies are exposed to chemicals.The fuzzy zone between choices and constraints shifts as time passes. Changes in knowledge can reveal constraints that had not been recognized previously, and can also make possible new choices.Further, a choice open to rich people may be a constraint for poor people. People from rich countries who become infected with malaria, tuberculosis or trachoma generally choose to get the infection specifically
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Page1 / 34

13 Human Choices - 13 Human Choices there is no country in...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 2. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online