BBC Radio Wales - Word for the Week
15th October 1999
In the film Crocodile Dundee, the hero, Mick Dundee, arrives in New York straight from the Australian bush. His guide tells him that here in New York there are six million people all living together. “Wow,” says Mick impressed, “they must really like one another.”
And that must go for all of us, because we’re now sharing our tiny planet with six billion other folk. This week, the United Nations estimated that the world’s population passed this landmark figure and chose a boy born in Sarajevo to be designated the six billionth baby.
But, we’re told that the growth in population everywhere is slowing and that it’s expected to stabilise at around nine Billion by the middle of the next century. So far, prophecies of doom from over-crowding have failed to materialise. Experts now suspect that, perhaps, the earth can handle the weight of so many humans – but only, if we are sensible towards our environment.
This is also the view of Hinduism’s ancient texts and is illustrated in the story of King Prithu. When faced with his citizens suffering from famine, King Prithu challenged Mother Earth that it was her duty to provide for all her inhabitants. She argued that such provision was possible only if the population treated her gifts conscientiously. They must step on her lightly - taking only what they need, using it carefully and returning the end products back to her. This is, probably, the earliest reference to the concept of re-cycling and zero waste.
And the issue of waste is at the crux of all environmental problems. Nature has a wonderful way of closing the circle in all its systems, such as the food or the oxygen cycles. But, we humans keep extracting resources from Mother Earth, processing them and dumping what we don’t want back into the land, sea and sky.
It may be tempting to consider that the growth in population is someone else’s responsibility. “After all, I was here first, and it would be good if everyone else controlled themselves so that they don’t keep increasing the numbers.”
Perhaps, rather than baby Nevic in Sarajevo, it would be better for me to regard myself as the six billionth person on earth and to realise that I have no greater right to the world’s resources than anyone else. The question then becomes, how can I live lightly on Mother Earth, so that her gifts are amply available to my six billion friends?
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Word for the Week” on BBC Radio Wales.