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The United Nations estimates that our small planet will soon, within this century, contain three billion more people than it does now, projecting that we will reach 8 billion in 2022, and 11 billion by 2100.
Feeding and housing and managing the resource utilization of all those folks may exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity. Unfortunately, no one knows the outer limits of that biocapacity, because we’ve never taxed them so severely before.
We produce enough food today to feed everyone on the planet – but can we increase crop yields by more than 30% during this century, with the planet getting hotter each year? We can still breathe the air and drink the water and live in most of the places on Earth, but will that be true by 2100? We generate just enough energy (most of the time) to power the planet today, but with increasing demands from developing nations and the massive projected increase in new population, do we have enough for tomorrow?
Mostly, in the last few decades, the experts who study these pressing issues have responded to those three crucial questions with a resounding “No!”
These hard challenges continue to plague scientists, planners, and world leaders. So without any owner’s manual, instructions, or prior experience, how does humanity deal with this issue of overpopulation? Should the whole world, like China has, restrict the number of children families can have? Should we make herculean efforts to increase farmers’ crop yields worldwide so we can feed these new billions? Or should we do nothing and simply accept the exponential growth of the human race, believing that our planet and our human ingenuity can somehow support all those people – and courting the global humanitarian disaster that might evolve if we’re wrong?
Religion and Science Working Together
From a Baha’i perspective, these questions about the Earth’s burgeoning population involve both religion and science — and actually require the two to work together.
The Baha’i teachings maintain that we do have an owner’s manual for our planet and the people on it — the continuing, progressive revelation of the Creator to humanity through the evolving single system of religion.
Baha’is believe that humanity has only one religion, given to us over the course of time by multiple messengers and prophets. Those religions are called by different names, even though they share underlying spiritual principles. Those religions all teach the Golden Rule. Those religions counsel compassion, kindness, and love. Those religions ask us to treat each other respectfully. Those religions give us spiritual guidance designed to advance our personal lives and our civilizations. Those religions ask us to make peace with others and love one another.
Our one universal Faith, the Baha’i writings affirm, has gently and lovingly attempted to transmit to us, throughout human history, the best, most spiritual ways to deal with each other. The Baha’i teachings continue that guidance, including this passage from Abdu’l-Baha’s book The Secret of Divine Civilization asking humanity to act in ways that advance “man’s glory and greatness,” which:
… do not consist in his being avid for blood and sharp of claw, in tearing down cities and spreading havoc, in butchering armed forces and civilians. What would mean a bright future for him would be his reputation for justice, his kindness to the entire population whether high or low, his building up countries and cities, villages and districts, his making life easy, peaceful and happy for his fellow beings, his laying down fundamental principles for progress, his raising the standards and increasing the wealth of the entire population.
Our world’s survival, prosperity and ultimate happiness depend on one thing, the Baha’i teachings say – on our ability to unite. When nations, races, genders, classes, and political perspectives find ways to forge the future together, we have the ability to build a world where peace, justice, and equity reign. Baha’u’llah wrote:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.
Through the power of the words He hath uttered the whole of the human race can be illumined with the light of unity …
In this context, Baha’u’llah’s phrase “the Pen of the Most High” refers to the divine prophets and messengers who have founded the world’s Faiths. As long as we reject their spiritual counsel by continuing to violently make war on each other, separating ourselves according to race and class and nationality, privileging the wealthy over the poor, oppressing women and diminishing their full participation in society, permitting gross injustice to run rampant, and despoiling the world’s ecosystem, then we threaten and ultimately run the risk of destroying humanity’s collective future.
If, on the other hand, we can accept Baha’u’llah’s admonition by learning to love one another, foregoing our differences, transcending our boundaries and gathering together in unity, we can all eagerly anticipate and look forward to a bright future for the human race.
That part of the science-and-religion equation can’t be solved by technology or new laws or more productive ways to grow food. It can only be solved in the human heart, which we know has a deep need for spirituality, for love, for connection to others.