Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rationing on an Island

I almost never watch television programs other than live sports, and truly never watch 'reality' programs.  However, I made one exception this summer when I tuned in regularly to "The Island".  Over six episodes, the last of which aired this week, a group of men, fourteen initially, were dropped on a hot deserted island with the clothes on their backs, two water canteens, some machetes, and some video camera equipment to record the 28 day experience.  After those 28 days on the island, nine of the men remained, the other five having experienced severe health problems and requiring evacuation.

The first thing that strikes me in a situation like this is just how difficult survival is/was pre-industrialization.  I get that kind of feeling when I go camping, and I 'rough it', you know, with all of my camping equipment and food prepared and packed beforehand.

The enduring thought that stays with me from the show, however, is the idea of limited resources in a group, and the importance of rationing.  The group of men needed to assess their resources and share them fairly amongst them in an amount that would ensure their survival.  Imagine life in a small group on an island where resources are scarce.  If the goal is survival of the group, then rationing water and food is an absolute necessity.

The thing is, mankind as a whole does live on an island - a great big one - the surface of this planet, which trudges along lonely in the solar system.  Our resources are indeed finite, yet we act as though this is not the case.

On an island, if the resources necessary for survival are depleted, the number of inhabitants drops to a point of sustainability.  The same must be true for our planet.

I know that the idea of rationing and imposing quotas reeks of communism.  I can imagine most would say this infringes upon their freedom.  I guess the real question is "What is our goal?"  If we wish for everyone on planet Earth to live comfortably, then what is the appropriate global population?  I would imagine that we are currently in the ballpark.  What I do know is that, eventually, the population growth we see on this planet must taper off - if it is not done by choice, then it will occur because the available food and fresh water available cannot meet the demand.    

The vastness of our biosphere makes attempts to quantify its resources seem pointless.  Still, a satellite image of our planet at a distance hammers home an important point: we live on an island.

No comments: