To save the Earth, stack humans in green cities and leave the wilderness for other animals

Science fiction writer and ecologist Kim Stanley Robinson (previously) writes that we need to "empty half the Earth of its humans" to save the planet -- but not by the Green Left's usual (and potentially genocidal) tactic of reducing our population by 50%.

Rather, Robinson takes a "promethean left" approach: build giant, high-tech, efficient cities that minimize the energy costs of transport, concentrate waste treatment and use vertical farms and other techniques to heal the "metabolic rift" where food is grown in one place and consumed somewhere else, preventing the waste product from returning to the soil.

The world is already urbanizing, so really Robinson is just talking about how to take best advantage of this phenomenon to preserve our world and the other living things we share it with.

So emptying half the Earth of its humans wouldn’t have to be imposed: it’s happening anyway. It would be more a matter of managing how we made the move, and what kind of arrangement we left behind. One important factor here would be to avoid extremes and absolutes of definition and practice, and any sense of idealistic purity. We are mongrel creatures on a mongrel planet, and we have to be flexible to survive. So these emptied landscapes should not be called wilderness. Wilderness is a good idea in certain contexts, but these emptied lands would be working landscapes, commons perhaps, where pasturage and agriculture might still have a place. All those people in cities still need to eat, and food production requires land. Even if we start growing food in vats, the feedstocks for those vats will come from the land. These mostly depopulated landscapes would be given over to new kinds of agriculture and pasturage, kinds that include habitat corridors where our fellow creatures can get around without being stopped by fences or killed by trains.

This vision is one possible format for our survival on this planet. They will have to be green cities, sure. We will have to have decarbonised transport and energy production, white roofs, gardens in every empty lot, full-capture recycling, and all the rest of the technologies of sustainability we are already developing. That includes technologies we call law and justice – the system software, so to speak. Yes, justice: robust women’s rights stabilise families and population. Income adequacy and progressive taxation keep the poorest and richest from damaging the biosphere in the ways that extreme poverty or wealth do. Peace, justice, equality and the rule of law are all necessary survival strategies. Homes in the Palm Springs, where the average daily water usage per person is 201 gallons – more than double the California average.

Meanwhile, cities will always rely on landscapes much vaster than their own footprints. Agriculture will have to be made carbon neutral; indeed, it will be important to create some carbon-negative flows, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and fixing it into the land, either permanently or temporarily; we can’t afford to be too picky about that now, because we will be safest if we can get the CO2 level in the atmosphere back down to 350 parts per million. All these working landscapes should exist alongside that so-called empty land (though really it’s only almost empty – empty of people – most of the time). Those areas will be working for us in their own way, as part of the health-giving context of any sustainable civilisation. And all the land has to be surrounded by oceans that, similarly, are left partly unfished

Empty half the Earth of its humans. It's the only way to save the planet [Kim Stanley Robinson/The Guardian]

(Image: Arcology, Paolo Soleri)

(via Beyond the Beyond)