The 14 Photo Essays and accompanying quotations and text in Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot, from Population Media Center, Population Institute and Deep Ecology Institute – the astonishing centerpiece of the Global Population Speak Out website – is a fitting, perhaps unprecedented tribute to the clear and present insanity of Homo sapiens. The concluding remarks, a poignant coda, of sorts, however attenuated in relation to the bulk of this lean and deeply disturbing photographic odyssey, is intended to intimate at least some redemptive qualities of the human spirit. But whether such biological attributes can collectively rise to the challenge of our historic flirtations with global suicide is the dangling modifier underlying this exquisitely depressing and enlightening book.
If this work does not manage to enrage and shatter any and all illusions about what a wonderful species we are, how glorious our history and inventiveness, then you have been taking far too many tranquilizers, or have no heart, or, perhaps, are blind. A Braille version of this book, however, would be difficult to produce.
The conundrum of an inevitable ten billion people at the end of this century is examined with stark, unrelenting clarity. That deep demography may well be inevitable, with all of the graphic fall-out, as pictured in the book presently – at a time of 7.3 billion people. But the heartless slaughter of animals, felling of entire primary canopies, the pollution of every ecosystem, the toying with chemical, biological and nuclear warfare, the collapse of scores of biomes as a direct result of human over-population, over-development and over-shoot (read: over consumption, ecological illiteracy, a devout sense of superiority over all other species and habitat) is a collective assault that is unprecedented.
Not even the extinction of most dinosaurs 65 million years ago is comparable, because the dinosaurs were not stupid, hateful, and suicidal. They were breathtaking and living sustainably. They were also brilliant, as their parrot descendants, and fellow avifauna prove. Dinosaurs went extinct, as during previous extinction events for reasons that bore no blame; they carried no self-inflictive madness to their anonymous gravesites. Their lives and demise were the result of no indignity or greed; neither paranoia nor egomaniacal hoarding marked the finale of their noble time spent browsing through Earth’s paradise.
Whereas we humans are truly clinical and – at present trends – doomed. The authors of this book, and the many collaborating photographers and poet/scientist/activist/philosophers whose words are borrowed throughout, by way of captions and explications, are not clinical, by any means. Nor do they hesitate to invoke some measure of the fatalism this book is likely to excite. But the book is also a clear warning that nihilism, inertia, apathy towards the inevitable are part of the disease that has gone viral, and if we are truthful to discuss it; willing to wake up at the 11th hour and fight it with wisdom (wisdom which we do possess, the Authors suggest) then we might just make it; we might just preserve what’s left.
Indeed, individuals like those who are part of this magnificent and harrowing book are the same types of people – people willing to confront a challenge in a timely and prudent fashion – that represent the salvation of the world, or that is most candidly and generously the message one takes away. It is a solid blueprint presaged by the negatives. Much like the Zen emptiness that can be filled by the imagination, inherent to so much Asiatic aesthetics, these photo-bombs pervasive throughout the book, give substance to positive portrayals, amid ruin; definition within chaos; blueprints within darkness.
We are all the solution, everyone one of us. But to get there we must – we absolutely must – give women their rights; reject the Fundamentalism at every juncture that would try to intercede in family planning; put immediate breaks on our disastrous fertility rates (a net addition to the planet of some 82 million per year and counting); engender an animal rights and habitat rights set of priorities that are nothing less than emergency airlifts to safe mountain gorillas, polar bears and tens-of-thousands of other species on the brink of extinction; to do the same with ecosystem services that provide for the pollination of the world and everything that counts in keeping our own species alive, as well; provide sovereignty to those indigenous peoples who actually live in the most biologically diverse remaining parts of the Earth, and who – for tens-of-thousands of years have been the very same peoples that exercised the most restraint in terms of exploitation of Earth’s finite resources. These are just caveats for starters.
Economic arguments by those with the most to maintain in terms of their own economic status and satisfaction will find themselves shadowed and at great risk in this book, for it is quite clear that the human business models currently invading every corner of the planet represent a pernicious force of unprecedented dementia and schizophrenia. Hence, quotations from the likes of Kenneth Boulding, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Amory Lovins, Wangari Maathai, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry and Henry David Thoreau, each of whom firmly elucidates with terse, take-no-prisoner insights, the serious dangers of human nature. These disease categories are not intimated lightly but in the clear light of day, such as it is. They are the vectors of human woe, unleashed – not as individual aspirations, but collective failures.
But that is not to say that all is lost: quite to the contrary. There is, in the end, hope. Even Shakespeare and Cervantes, at their darkest hours, reminded us that there is also reason to look forward to the Spring; or, as in the case of Mozart, the invention of the final act in his “Marriage of Figaro” – something magical and stellar in its harmonies, in other words.
Every reader who accedes to the power and tragedy of this amazing book must also embrace the challenges recommended, both visually and scientifically, knowing full well that Mozart’s beautiful visions come to us from moments throughout our lives. Even if a child in Africa is pictured starving to death on the barren ground, a vulture waiting impatiently behind him – even so, we must acknowledge hope. Or why bother doing anything.
Clearly, the message inherent to OVER signals the moment that our time has come: That there is no longer a second to spare in reacting wisely, pragmatically and heroically to the mess that we have collectively imposed on Earth.
This is, without doubt, the most distressing collection of images ever captured in one volume. All of us must applaud the heroism that went into this, for it could not have been a particularly appetizing series of all-night edit sessions. But unlike, say, Sabastiao Salgado’s recent Book/Exhibition, Genesis (http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/sebastiao-salgado-genesis), OVER provides only a few reminders of the inherent magnificence of landscape, sublimity of life, miracle of evolution, or potential of humanity, at its best. This book is, to be clear, a focused ramrod of terror, perfectly conceived, astounding in its dire implications. Never have more images declared with any greater authenticity (to paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre) the truly desperate urgencies of humankind’s behavior.
This is a book that should be blown-up and distributed at Time Square, in every subway station, upon whole buildings – all sides of them. Indeed, the images already are. They are perceptible from space, and detectable by every living set of sensory organs of the tens-of-millions of species on Earth; each species of which contains as many as several billion individual members (as in the case of the sub-Saharan red-billed Quelea, considered by most ornithologists to be the Passenger Pigeon, so to speak, of the 21st century).
If we are to save the present and future Passenger Pigeons – and they include the human species – then this will be a book of great importance in helping to determine the cartography of that biological deliverance.
There are many ways to participate! Together, we can raise awareness and bring about change.