How big is the world?

I’ve had lots of odd conversations with my wife about the way the world is and how it is going. In particular she’s been looking into whether we as a world can continue with a possession based culture or if some sort of responsibility based structure should be implemented instead. In the course of this I came across the concept of the Noble Savage. In the Pagan circles I move in this is especially prevalent. Basically it states that the simple hunter gatherer lived in harmony with the land and all the world’s troubles started with farming. The problem is though, it’s simply not true. I went to an interfaith talk about ecology and religion and the speaker had actually spent time with tribes around the world. It’s more accurate to say that hunter gatherer groups are generally quite small in a large environment so they don’t have to take care of it. As they don’t own land, they can – and do – deplete resources and simply move a few miles further on and continue the cycle. By the time they come back to where they started then nature has repaired the damage. I heard a theory, which I haven’t been able to substantiate, that the Aborignal people in Australia did this and basically over 10,000 years turned the Outback into the dust bowl it is today.

Today I had I thought. In a way, we in the Western world behave in a similar way. Instead of having a huge jungle around us and being unable to comprehend the extent of it, we live in a huge interconnected tribe. I don’t think we can comprehend the numbers involved. I believe that because they sound similar, people really don’t get, on a subconscious level, the difference between millions and billions. If you were given one pound every single minute it would take you just under two years to accumulate a million pounds. But it would take you around 1,900 years to go on to a billion pounds. And likewise, everyone can say “there are sixty five million people in the UK and six billion in the world.” But we can’t comprehend it. And I think that, like the Noble Savage, this leads us to damage the world. I know it’s completely the reverse in some ways, but we really don’t get the sheer size of our population. In China, there is one valley that is full of factories and refineries that produce more pollution than all of England. In the US there are over 700 cities. Seven hundred! I couldn’t name 10% of them! And I think this means that we don’t appreciate how our actions on an individual level affect the world on a global scale through the magic of statistics and multiplication.

Which I guess, brings us back round to responsibility and ownership. Please comment and let me know what you think!


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