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rabbits (© Anatolii/Fotolia)

Less more, please

Solutions to the world’s environmental problems may not require more of us, but less.
By Jeffrey A. Lockwood

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Environmental problems are vast and complicated. Shortages of wild land, clean water, and fertile soil have been traced to economic pressures, social structures, and agricultural policies—none of which are simple. And excesses of timber harvesting, invasive species, and toxic waste can be explained by political systems, international commerce, and religious beliefs. It’s complicated.

If the challenges are tangled and messy, the solutions are almost invariably based on a simple concept. The answers to our problems might be varied, but they generally represent some version of the modern panacea: More.

Countries, many say, need more environmental regulations, game wardens, and eco-tourists. Utilities need more solar cells, wind turbines, and smart grids. People need more education, vegetables, and exercise. Cities need more electric cars, rooftop gardens, and ‘green’ condominiums. Species need more wilderness, appreciation, and genes. Scientists need more funding, laboratories, and ideas. Even the solutions to problems of having too much (for example, CO2 and humans) entail having more (Priuses and condoms).

To be fair, the oft-proposed environmental strategies echo the solutions to most social problems around the world. Virtually everything that’s wrong could be fixed if only we had more jobs, doctors, highways, information, voters, schools, freedom, police, food, opportunities, engineers, medicines, and—most of all—more mores.

Stories are one of the few things that nobody is suggesting we need more of to solve any important problem. But here’s a fable anyway.

Once upon a time, deep in the forest, there lived a community of rabbits. And as happens with rabbits, it was not long before they had overpopulated their grassy glade. Just across the stream, however, was a sweeping meadow with patches of wild carrots.

So the rabbits, not being dumb bunnies, decided to cross the stream. Being rather poor swimmers, they decided to build a raft out of fallen trees–which is quite an accomplishment given their furry paws and lack of tools. But an industrious attitude can make up for natural deficiencies.

On the big day, the rabbits shoved the raft into the creek, only to find that the water was too shallow to float their boat. Their ship was grounded, but their cleverness was undefeated. The rabbits put their lop-eared heads together and decided to appeal to Mr. Beaver, who had a dam upstream.

“Please, Mr. Beaver, tear down part of your dam so more water will flow into the creek,” they begged—offering him access to the aspens in “their” meadow once they’d actually made the crossing.

“OK,” sighed Mr. Beaver and he proceeded to remove a few logs.

They watched with delight as the water poured over the dam. Having calculated that the flow of the creek would double (rabbits, being prodigiously fecund creatures, are very good at quantitative thinking), they rushed downstream to launch their raft.

Again the bunnies shoved and pushed, forcing their craft over the cobbles. But alas, the ship was grounded solidly as ever. Looking up from their labors, the rabbits saw the meadow on the other side slowly disappearing beneath the water.

For although the stream had twice as much water, it had doubled in width but had grown no deeper.

Solutions to the world’s environmental problems may not require more of us, but less. We may be required to ask deeper questions rather than to seek wider answers. The world may need fewer humans—a tough idea for those of us who find hope and joy in humanity. There isn’t much, well, more to be said. Except maybe there is more of one thing that could solve many problems—humility.

Photograph (above): Rabbits (© Anatolii/Fotolia).

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