Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the best-known names in a genre known for looking forward. However, not all writers in the genre look to the future for their ideas — plenty are obsessed with moving backwards, from liberty back to tyranny.
Robinson recently penned an op-ed in The Guardian that favors removing humans from most of the world, forcefully herding us all into cities.
“The tendency of people to move to cities, either out of desire or perceived necessity, creates a great opportunity. If we managed urbanisation properly, we could nearly remove ourselves from a considerable percentage of the planet’s surface,” Robinson writes. “That would be good for many of the threatened species we share this planet with, which in turn would be good for us, because we are completely enmeshed in Earth’s web of life.”
Robinson doesn’t claim credit for this idea.
“Here I’m referring to the plan EO Wilson has named Half Earth. His book of the same title is provocative in all the best ways, and I think it has been under-discussed because the central idea seems so extreme,” he notes.
Well, he’s right. It’s extreme.
Robinson tries to pretty it up by masking it as “voluntary.” “At a time when there are far more people alive than ever before, this plan might sound strange, even impossible. But it isn’t. With people already leaving countrysides all over the world to move to the cities, big regions are emptier of humans than they were a century ago, and getting emptier still,” he writes.
In his Malthusian hysteria, he misses something else that’s been happening. You see, while there may be more people alive today than 50 years ago, birth rates have dropped significantly:
The global average fertility rate is just below 2.5 children per woman today. Over the last 50 years the global fertility rate has halved. And over the course of the modernization of societies the number of children per woman decreases very substantially. In the pre-modern era fertility rates of 4.5 to 7 children per woman were common. At that time the very high mortality at a young age kept population growth low.
While Robinson is freaking about the population, people are having fewer children. What Robinson is lamenting, even if he doesn’t realize it, are advancements that have reduced infant mortality and prolong human life.
In a wonderful bit of irony, on the left of Robinson’s article appeared a link to another Guardian piece titled: “The 100 Million City: Is 21st Century Urbanisation Out of Control?”
That article highlights the pitfalls of rapid growth in cities throughout the world. The kind of exodus from the countryside that Robinson is talking about would exacerbate such problems. Further, these problems resulted from organic growth. Imagine if people were being herded into such an arrangement?
Consider also how population density within a city impacts crime.
Robinson’s totalitarian idea has the same flaws as every harebrained utopian scheme since the dawn of Man: utopianism is the fastest way to bring about hell on Earth.