What Is Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

The following is an excerpt from Alan Weisman’s Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? out from Little, Brown and Company on September 23. Weisman’s previous book was The World Without Us.

CHAPTER 1

A Weary Land of Four Questions

i. Battle of the Babies

A cold January afternoon in Jerusalem, late Friday before the Jewish Sabbath. The winter sun, nearing the horizon, turns the gilded Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount to blood-orange. From the east, where the muezzin’s afternoon call to Muslim prayer has just ended on the Mount of Olives, the golden Dome is suffused in a smudged pinkish corona of dust and traffic fumes.

At this hour, the Temple Mount itself, the holiest site in Judaism, is one of the quieter spots in this ancient city, empty but for a few scholars in overcoats, hurrying with their books across a chilly, cypress-shaded plaza. Once, King Solomon’s original tabernacle stood here. It held the Ark of the Covenant, containing stone tablets on which Moses was believed to have incised the Ten Commandments. In 586 BCE, invading Babylonians destroyed it all and took the Jewish people captive. A half-century later, Cyrus the Great, emperor of Persia, liberated them to return and rebuild their temple.

Around 19 CE, the Temple Mount was renovated and fortified with a surrounding wall by King Herod, only to be demolished again by the Romans within ninety years. Although exile from the Holy Land occurred both before and after, this Roman destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple most famously symbolizes the Diaspora that scattered Jews across Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East.

Today, a remaining fragment of the Second Temple’s sixty-foot-high perimeter in Jerusalem’s Old City, known as the Western (or “Wailing”) Wall, is an obligatory pilgrimage for Jews visiting Israel. Yet, lest they inadvertently tread where the Holy of Holies once stood, an official rabbinical decree prohibits Jews from ascending to the Temple Mount itself. Although it is at times defied, and exceptions can be arranged, this explains why the Temple Mount is administered by Muslims, who also hold it sacred. From here, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have journeyed one night upon a winged steed all the way to Seventh Heaven and back. Only Mecca and Medina, Muhammad’s birthplace and burial site, are considered holier. In a rare agreement between Israel and Islam, Muslims alone may pray on this hallowed ground, which they call al-Haram al-Sharif.

But not as many Muslims come here as they once did. Before September 2000, they flocked by the thousands, lining up at a fountain ringed by stone benches to perform purification ablutions before entering the crimson-carpeted, marbled al-Aqsa Mosque across the plaza from the Dome of the Rock. Especially, they came on Friday at noon for the imam’s weekly sermon, a discourse on current events as well as the Qur’an.

One frequent topic back then, recalls Khalil Toufakji, people jokingly called “Yasser Arafat’s biology bomb.” Except it was no joke. As Toufakji, today a Palestinian demographer with Jerusalem’s Arab Studies Society, remembers: “We were taught in the mosque, in school, and at home to have lots of children, for lots of reasons. In America or Europe, if there’s a problem, you can call the police. In a place with no laws to safeguard you, you rely on your family.”

He sighs, stroking his neat gray moustache; his own father was a policeman. “Here, you need a big family to feel protected.” It’s even worse in Gaza, he adds. One Hamas leader there had fourteen children and four wives. “Our mentality goes back to the Bedouins. If you have a big enough tribe, everyone’s afraid of you.”

Another reason for the large families, Toufakji agrees, is definitely no joke to Israelis. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s best weapon, its leader Arafat liked to say, was the Palestinian womb.

During Ramadan, Toufakji and some of his own thirteen siblings would be among the half-million worshippers overflowing al-Aqsa Mosque, spilling onto al-Haram al-Sharif’s stone plaza. That was before the day in September 2000 when former Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon paid a visit to the Temple Mount, escorted by a thousand Israeli riot police. At the time, Sharon was a candidate for prime minister. He had once been found willfully negligent by an Israeli commission for not protecting more than a thousand Palestinian civilian refugees massacred by Christian Phalangists during Lebanon’s 1982 civil war, while his occupying Israeli forces stood by. Sharon’s trip to the Temple Mount, intended to assert Israelis’ historical right to it, ignited demonstrations and rock throwing, which were met by tear gas and rubber bullets. When stones from the Temple Mount were hurled at Jews worshipping at the Western Wall below, the ammunition turned live.

The mayhem soon spiraled into hundreds of deaths in Jerusalem and beyond, in what became known as the Second Intifada. Eventually came suicide bombings—and then, especially after Sharon was elected prime minister, years of mutual retaliation for shootings, massacres, rocket attacks, and more suicide bombs, until Israel began walling itself in.

A barrier of towering concrete and wire more than two hundred kilometers long now nearly encircles the West Bank—except for where it thrusts deeply across the Green Line that delineates captured territories Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War with its surrounding Arab adversaries. In places it zigzags through cities like Bethlehem and Greater Jerusalem, curling back on itself to isolate individual neighborhoods, cutting Palestinians off not just from Israel but from each other and from their fields and orchards, and prompting charges that its purpose is to annex territory and seize wells as much as to guarantee security.

It also stops most Palestinians from reaching the al-Aqsa Mosque, except if they live in Israel or the parts of East Jerusalem within the security barrier. Yet of those, often only Palestinian men over age forty-five are allowed by Israeli police past the metal detectors at Temple Mount gates. Officially, this is to forestall any Arab youths tempted again to stone worshipping Jews—especially foreign Jewish tourists, as they tuck written prayers into crevices between the Western Wall’s massive blocks of pale limestone rising above the adjacent plaza.

That custom is particularly popular as Sabbath begins, but in recent years, getting anywhere near the Western Wall on Friday at sundown has become a challenge even for Jews. Unless you’re a haredi, and a male.

The Hebrew word haredi means, literally, “fear and trembling.” In today’s Israel, it refers to ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose dour dress and fervid quaking before God hearken to bygone centuries and distant lands where their ancestors lived during two millennia of Diaspora. To the alarm of non-haredi Jews, the Western Wall has been effectively usurped and converted into a haredi synagogue. On Shabbat, tens of thousands of bowing, trembling, rejoicing, chanting, praising, praying black-frocked men in broad-rimmed hats and ritual fringes engulf it, save for a small fenced section reserved for women—that is, for women who dare approach it. Females who insist on a Jewish woman’s right to don prayer shawls and phylacteries—or the ultimate haredi horror: to actually touch and read from a Torah scroll—may be spat upon by haredi men, who have flung chairs at the brazen blasphemers, and be called whores by screaming rabbis who try to drown out their Sabbath songs.

Women, extremist haredim believe, should be home readying the Shabbat meal for their pious men and their burgeoning families. Although still a minority, Israel’s haredim are relentlessly bent on changing that status. Their simple tactic: procreation. Haredi families average nearly seven children, and frequently hit double digits. Their multiplying offspring are considered both the solution to modern Jews, who defile their religion, and as the best defense against Palestinians, who threaten to outproliferate Jews in their historic homeland.

The Jerusalem daily Haaretz reports a haredi man who boasts 450 descendents. Their soaring numbers force Israeli politicians to include haredi parties in coalitions that rule Israeli governments. Such clout has won the ultra-Orthodox privileges that elicit howls from other Israelis: exemption from military service (supposedly, they defend Judaism by incessant study of Torah) and a government allowance for each Israeli child brought into the world. Until 2009, this subsidy actually rose for each new birth, until the cost of the escalating demographics shocked even conservative Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who modified it to a flat rate. Any dampening effect on haredi reproduction is not yet evident at the Western Wall, where thousands of young boys with black yarmulkes and bouncing sidelocks swirl around their dancing, bearded fathers.

A waxing moon, yellow as Jerusalem limestone, climbs high above the walled Old City, and haredim begin to stream homeward—on foot; no motorized conveyance allowed onShabbat—to their pregnant wives and their daughters. Most head into Mea She’arim, one of Jerusalem’s biggest neighborhoods, which is visibly deteriorating under the pressure of so many people. Torah scholarship pays little or nothing; haredi wives mostly work at whatever jobs they can sandwich between child-rearing, and more than one-third of the families are below the poverty line. Vestibules and staircases of shabby high-rises are jammed with baby strollers. The air whiffs of overflowing garbage, overstressed sewers, and—surprising for a place where no vehicles can circulate on Shabbat—diesel exhaust. Because many harediminsist that the Israel Electric Corporation’s nonstop coal-fired plants commit a sacrilege by working through Sabbath, before sundown they crank up hundreds of portable generators in Mea She’arim basements to keep the lights on. The traditional z’mirot heard around Sabbath tables are sung over their dull roar.

Four kilometers north of Mea She’arim, the land rises into limestone ridges. A hill just across the Green Line, Ramat Shlomo, is the site of an ancient quarry that provided the nearly thirty-foot foundation slabs Herod used to build the Second Temple’s wall. In 1970, not long after the area was captured, Israel planted a forest there. Unlike the early Jewish National Fund forests—regimental rows of Australian eucalyptus or monocultured Aleppo pines, financed with coins saved by Jewish children worldwide in blue JNF collection tins—this was a mixed woodland that included some native oaks, conifers, and terebinths. The young forest was declared a nature preserve, a designation that Palestinians protested, claiming the real intention was to prevent a nearby Arab village, Shuafat, from growing. Their suspicion was confirmed when, in 1990, the forest was bulldozed to make way for a new haredi Jerusalem neighborhood—or new West Bank settlement, depending on who’s describing it.

“Shaved the whole hill,” admits Ramat Shlomo settler and Hasidic rabbi Dudi Zilbershlag. A founder of Haredim for the Environment, a nonprofit organization whose name also translates as Fear for the Environment, he regrets that. “But then,” he adds, brightening, “we replanted.”

In his living room, Zilbershlag sips rose hip tea, surrounded by glass-fronted hardwood bookshelves that hold rows of leather-bound Kabbalah and Talmudic literature. One case is devoted to silver menorahs, Shabbat candlesticks, andkiddush cups. A robust man in his fifties with a wide smile, thick gray payos curling out from either side of his black skullcap, and a gray beard reaching the black vest he wears over his white shirt and ritual fringes, he is also the founder of Israel’s largest charity: Meir Panim, a soup kitchen network. His ultra-Orthodox environmental group mainly focuses on urban issues: noise, air pollution, congested roads, open burning of trash, and ubiquitous junk food wrappers strewn through packed haredi neighborhoods. But his own interest goes beyond, to the preservation of nature.

“According to Gematria,” he explains—Kabbalist numerology—“the words God and nature are equivalents. So nature is the same as God.”

You don’t need miracles, he says, to know that God exists. “I see God in nature’s details: trees, valleys, sky, and sun.” Yet in a mystery that perhaps only a Kabbalist can resolve, he notes that Jewish survival has depended on miracles involving God’s dominion over, and even suspension of, natural law. “A classic example is when Israel left Egypt, He made the seas part.”

That act was preceded by other unnatural miracles: water turning to blood, swarms of frogs in the desert, night that lasted for three days, hail that selectively battered Egyptian crops, and death that slaughtered only Egyptian livestock and Egyptian firstborn children. All these divine interventions are commemorated in the Passover seder, which begins with Jewish children asking four traditional questions about the evening’s symbolism. The answers, given over the course of the meal, recount Israel’s miraculous deliverance from slavery.

In each corner of Dudi Zilbershlag’s home is a reminder—a stroller, a playpen, a crib—of children who have asked these questions: he and his wife, Rivka, had eleven themselves, and they expect to be grandparents many times over. Yet nothing is ever certain in this mythic land, where tension between two peoples who claim it crackles the atmosphere. As pressures and stakes rise daily—and sheer numbers, with each trying to outpopulate the other—so does a reality that has begun to dawn on Jews and Arabs alike, spanning both sides’ political and religious spectra:

In historic Palestine—that is, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River in the disputed lands of Israel and Palestine, a distance of barely fifty miles—there are now nearly 12 million people.

In the aftermath of World War I, the British, who governed Palestine under an international mandate, believed that this land, much of it desert, could sustain 2.5 million at most. During the 1930s, to persuade a doubtful Crown that it should be a homeland for Jews, Zionist David Ben-Gurion argued that Jewish determination and ingenuity to transform what the British considered a backwater should not be discounted.

“No square inch of land shall we neglect; not one source of water shall we fail to tap; not a swamp that we shall not drain; not a sand dune that we shall not fructify; not a barren hill that we shall not cover with trees; nothing shall we leave untouched,” wrote Israel’s future first prime minister. Ben-Gurion was referring to the carrying capacity of Palestine’s soil and water resources to support human beings—both Jew and Arab, who in early writings he imagined coexisting.

He was convinced that the land could support 6 million people. Later, as prime minister, Ben-Gurion would offer prizes to Israeli “heroines” who had ten or more children (an offer eventually discontinued because so many winners were Arab women). Today, Israel’s haredi population doubles every seventeen years. At the same time, with half of all Palestinians just entering or nearing their reproductive years, the Arab population of historic Palestine—Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip—could surpass that of Israeli Jews by 2016.

At that point, projections of which side will win this demographic derby—or lose, depending on point of view—get hazy. Historically, much of Israel’s growth has depended on immigration of Jews from elsewhere. More than a million Russians arrived after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet the trend of Jews making aliyah to Israel has slowed dramatically. Far more Jews now move from Israel to the United States than vice versa. Nevertheless, as the birthrate of haredim increases exponentially, Jews may retake the majority in the 2020s. At least for a while.

Even more important than who’s leading is something neither Jewish nor Arab demographers deny: If things continue as they’re headed, by the middle of this century the number of humans jammed between the sea and the Jordan will nearly double, to at least 21 million.

Even Jesus’s miracle with loaves and fishes might not come close to slaking their needs. Such relentless arithmetic begs a new set of four questions:

The First Question

How many people can their land really hold? For that matter, since the influence of this Holy Land extends far beyond its disputed borders, how many people can our planet hold?

It is a question that, anywhere on Earth, requires panoramic knowledge, expertise, and imagination to attempt an answer. Which people? What do they eat? How do they shelter themselves, and move about? Where do they get their water—and how much water is there for them to get? And their fuel: how much is available, and how dangerous is its exhaust? And—getting back to food—do they grow it themselves? If so, how much can they harvest, meaning: how much does it rain, how many rivers flow through the land, how good and plentiful are the soils, how much fertilizer and other forms of chemistry are involved, and what’s the downside of using them?

The list continues: What kinds of houses, and how big? And made from what? If of local material, how much is on hand? (Although half of Israel is a desert, it is already worried about running out of construction-grade sand—let alone water to mix cement.) How about suitable building sites—and all the roads, sewer pipes, gas lines, and power lines that must connect to them? And the infrastructure for all the schools, hospitals, and businesses to serve and employ… how many people??

Any complete answers to such questions demand input from ecologists, geographers, hydrologists, and agronomists, not just engineers and economists. But in Israel and Palestine—like everywhere else—most decisions are made by none of them. Politics, which includes military strategy along with business and culture, has been the ultimate arbiter here since civilization began, and still is.

A business-savvy and politically astute nonprofit director, for a Hasidic rabbi Dudi Zilbershlag is also a cultural realist, at least to a point. He accepts that Israel needs secular as well as religious Jews—who else will support all the Talmudists?—and even, he adds, that ultimately his children and Arabs will have to live together. “We must find a common language and let peace prevail.”

What he cannot do, however, is ever imagine restricting the numbers of children his people bring into the world.

“God brings children into the world. He’ll find a place for them,” says haredi environmental educator Rachel Ladani.

If the phrase population control evokes Malthusian shudders or nightmares of Chinese totalitarian rule for some, to Hasidic Jews like Ladani and Dudi Zilbershlag, it’s plain unthinkable. Ladani lives in ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak, Israel’s most densely populated city, just inland from coastal Tel Aviv. She finds no conflict between teaching environmental awareness and being the mother of eight. Her family’s Hasidic lifestyle means walking to stores, school, and the synagogue, rarely venturing beyond their neighborhood. None, including Rachel, has ever been on an airplane. “My two daughters and six sons produce less carbon dioxide in one year,” she enjoys saying, “than someone from America visiting Israel does in one flight.”

Perhaps: But they all eat food and need shelter, which in turn require building materials and all the connecting infrastructure—as will their own myriad offspring. And despite the proximity of services—within two blocks are grocers, kosher butchers, falafel outlets, and many shops selling baby goods and wigs (acceptably modest head covering for Orthodox women; Rachel’s is auburn, cut in a pageboy)—it’s clear that austere haredim aren’t immune to modern, energy-hungry temptations. In Bnei Brak, parked cars are everywhere: on road dividers, wheels halfway up sidewalks. Motorcycles swarm through streets crammed with houses encrusted with satellite dish antennae.

This is the thickest concentration of humans in Israel’s northern, nondesert half, which, at 740 people per square kilometer, has higher population density than any country in the Western world. (Holland, Europe’s densest, has 403 people per square kilometer.) So what does Rachel Ladani think will happen when her country’s population doubles by 2050? Or to our world, which, according to the United Nations, by mid-century may host nearly 10 billion of us?

“I don’t have to think about it. God made the problem, and He will solve it.”

There was once a pine forest nearby, where Rachel’s Russian immigrant mother taught her the names of flowers and birds. When she was only ten, she met a female landscape architect—a double revelation: she had known neither that anything like landscape architecture existed, nor that women worked. When she married at nineteen, she didn’t tell the rebbe who officiated that she was also enrolling in Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. It took her five years to get her degree, as during that time she also had three children.

She and her husband, Eliezer, principal of a school for learning disabilities, managed to have five more even as Rachel worked to keep their bursting city beautiful. When she was forty, she discovered Israel’s premier environmental think tank, the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in Tel Aviv. Like Technion, it wasn’t Orthodox, but it opened her eyes and changed her life without changing her faith.

“The environment is like Torah. It’s a part of you,” she tells the girls she teaches in religious schools. In a country where schoolchildren once sang patriotic songs about Zionists transforming the land by covering it in concrete, she teaches them to open their own eyes by watching seeds sprout, and by gazing at nature until they begin to really see. She quotes an ancient midrash, a rabbinical commentary on the Torah, in which God shows Adam the trees of Eden, saying “See my works, how lovely they are. All I have created I have created for you.”

Yet as Heschel Center founder Jeremy Benstein noted in a 2006 book, The Way Into Judaism and the Environment, in the same midrash God goes on to warn Adam: “Take care not to corrupt and destroy My world, because if you ruin it there is no one to come after you to put it right.”

When he cited that, Benstein was replying to the theological optimism of the deeply devout that somehow God will not let us down if we’re doing the right things in His eyes. “We are bidden,” he reminded in his book, “not to depend on miracles to solve our problems. God makes it clear that there will be no one to clean up after us.”

Benstein grew up in Ohio and attended Harvard before coming to Israel. He earned a doctorate in environmental anthropology from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. With other emigrants from America, he founded Heschel and taught at the Arava Institute, a sustainability research center at a southern Israeli kibbutz. The Intifadas made two things about population clear to him: it had a huge impact on the joint Israeli-Palestinian environment, but discussing it was nearly taboo.

“Because, we’re still recovering from the massacre of a third of the world’s Jews,” he says, straddling a chair in the Heschel Center’s library. The Holocaust, which led the United Nations to cleave Palestine in two to create a Jewish homeland, is eternally fresh here. “The meaning of six billion,” he wrote in his 2006 book, “should rightfully take a backseat to the six million.” Especially, he adds, since a million of the slaughtered Jews were children.

“There are fewer Jews in the world now than in 1939. We see ourselves like any indigenous population decimated by Western culture. We have the right to replenish ourselves.”

Yet Benstein, himself the father of twins, knows it took only twelve years for the world to go from 6 to 7 billion. Researching Torah and biblical tractates for environmental guidance, such as the edict in Exodus 23:11 to let the land lie fallow every seventh year, he has also looked for clues to what exactly God meant when He directed humans to be fruitful and multiply.

“It seems to imply that there is a limit. Because it doesn’t say, be fruitful and multiply ad infinitum, or as much as you can. It says, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill up the Earth.’ ”

Benstein, whose Harvard degree is in linguistics, has probed the nuanced language of Genesis. “If we take that seriously, then there will be a time when we will have fulfilled that commandment, and we can stop. The question becomes: When? Have we gotten there yet? And rabbis can’t answer the question of what does it mean for the Earth to be full. That’s a question for ecologists.”

In Genesis, however, he finds an interesting hint. It occurs after forty chapters of men taking wives and subsequent lists of begats and generations of sons. Old Testament people had no problem obeying the commandment to multiply, which they did with vigor and frequently with lust. But then comes Joseph, one of thirteen offspring of the patriarch Jacob.

Joseph has two sons before he interprets the Egyptian pharaoh’s dream. At that point, Benstein writes: “He stopped procreating before the famine he knew lay ahead. The Talmud uses this example to state: ‘It is forbidden to engage in marital relations in the time of famine.’ ”

A parallel Talmudic passage, he adds, “sees the prohibition as a call to population control, stating bluntly: ‘When you see great deprivation entering the world, keep your wife childless.’ ”

But a mere head count, Benstein says, doesn’t fully explain the hunger and thirst afflicting much of humanity, predicted to worsen gravely during this century. While human population quadrupled over the past hundred years, he calculates that our consumption of resources, as measured by combined gross domestic products worldwide, increased by a factor of seventeen. This gorging at the planetary buffet has been enjoyed by a comparative few, and at the expense of many. An unequal distribution of goods, which caused woes and wars even in biblical times, has never been so skewed as today.

Yet consumption and population are two faces of the same coin, he acknowledges. As it spins ever faster, it raises questions that transcend his divided nation, because the entire world is growing dizzy from forces whirling out of control.

ii. The Water

The Second Question

If, in order to have an ecosystem robust enough to insure human survival, we have to avoid growing past 10 billion—or even reduce our numbers from the 7 billion we’re already at—is there an acceptable, nonviolent way to convince people of all the cultures, religions, nationalities, tribes, and political systems of the world that it’s in their best interest to do so? Is there anything in their liturgies, histories, or belief systems—or any other reason—that potentially embraces the seemingly unnatural idea of limiting what comes most naturally to us, and to all other species: making copies of ourselves?

Ayat Um-Said knows one. “Not religion. Reality.”

With wide eyes lined with blue eye shadow that complements her lavender hijab and purple wool coat, she glances over at her mother. Ruwaidah Um-Said, bundled in a green velvet dress and a black wool head scarf against the January chill, leans on the arm of her white plastic chair and ticks off the ages of her children: “Twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three, twenty-two, twenty, nineteen, sixteen, fourteen, thirteen, and ten.” Six boys, four girls. Her youngest leans against her knee, bundled in a black zip-collared sweatshirt over a turtleneck and a fleece-lined nylon jacket over that. The only heat in their home—three rooms on the ground floor of a five-story concrete box in Al-Amari, a refugee camp that’s now a permanent neighborhood in the West Bank city of Ramallah—emanates from the bodies of the people living here, which are always plenty.

Ruwaidah was born here in 1958, ten years after her family was expelled from Lydda—Lod, in biblical times—when Israel was created. Back there, her father had an orchard of pomegranate, orange, and lemon trees, and also grew onions, radishes, spinach, green beans, wheat, and barley. “He always assumed we would be going back, so he refused to buy property around here.” She looks around at the dank blue walls she’s seen all her life, bare except for darker blue wainscoting. “The United Nations owns this land.” She spits. “We own the house.”

As several thousand Al-Amari refugees gradually realized that they weren’t returning to their villages anytime soon, over a decade concrete and mortar replaced the UN’s tents. After another decade and a Six-Day War, when there were no longer borders because everything had become Israel’s, her father took them to see their land. He still had a deed, but it didn’t matter. He finally gave up when their trees disappeared under a runway of what is now Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Something else gradually changed. “Every Palestinian family had someone in jail, or wounded, or killed. So families that used to have five or six children started having more.” Ruwaidah points at a school photo of her thirteen-year-old, Yassim. “When a relative gets killed, you have another child to bear his name. And we’re going to need a lot more,” she adds, turning to her daughter Ayat, “to liberate the whole land.”

Ayat smiles sweetly but shakes her head. “Just two,” she says.

Ruwaidah shrugs helplessly. All her daughters only want two, hoping for one of each.

“Everyone my age,” says Ayat, “is sick of living six to a room. And who can afford so many kids? Life’s so expensive.”

There’s no place to grow their own food—and even if there were, with water often flowing from West Bank taps just twice a week, they couldn’t irrigate. The UN used to allot them sugar, rice, flour, cooking oil, and milk, but that budget ended. “The only chance to earn a living,” says Ayat, her arms around her son, Zacariah, and her daughter, Rheem, “is education. Which costs money.”

Two of her brothers made it to university. Another, miraculously, gets paid to play football in Norway. For the rest, jobs are rare and usually pay miserably. “And now, with most of Israel closed, finding work is even harder.”

The walls that tower over Ramallah and the interminable waits at ubiquitous Israeli military checkpoints make it all but impossible to go where there might be work—or go anywhere. Women in labor give birth waiting to get through; one even named her baby Checkpoint. Security walls are visible practically everywhere on the West Bank, in many places separating farmers from their olive groves. Like the Israeli settlements—towns, really, with high-rises, shopping malls, industrial parks, and expanding fringes of mobile homes—they crowd Palestinians into ever closer quarters.

With housing so scarce and everyone so cramped, there’s no more preaching in the mosques about babies. “It’s not the imam’s business anyhow,” snaps Ayat.

“That’s exactly what Israelis want you to think,” says a neighbor woman who’s entered, wrapped in a fringed brown hijab.

“So let the politicians liberate Palestine already, not ask us to do it by having a lot of kids. How come Arafat had only one daughter himself?” On TV, Ayat sees that Israeli politicians pay haredim to have more babies. “Here, the more babies you have, the more you pay.”

At least the UN clinic still dispenses free IUDs.

In Bethlehem, Abeer Safar studies a wall map of the kidney-bean-shaped West Bank. Where the bean bends is Jerusalem. Bethlehem, her hometown, is just a few kilometers below.

Abeer trained as a chemical engineer at Jordan’s University of Science and Technology. Here she’s a water specialist with ARIJ, a Palestinian research institute. She wears jeans, a black sweater over a lime turtleneck, a gold pendant chain, and her long brown hair uncovered. She and her husband live in his family’s home, which, like most houses here, is growing taller. With the birthplace of Jesus hemmed in by Israel’s security walls—segregation walls, as Palestinians call them—there’s no choice.

It makes no sense to her. If Israel keeps carving Palestine into shards, no viable Palestinian state can ever form. But if it stays a single state, Jews risk ending up the outnumbered minority. The only way a minority could stay in power would be by apartheid, not democracy. Then again, Abeer, in her late thirties, is only now expecting her first child. Other professional Palestinian women have also deferred their childbearing, and girls today now want schooling and jobs before babies.

Even so, it will take time before the sheer pressure of numbers drops, and meanwhile there are more immediate concerns. “We share the West Bank aquifers with Israel,” says Abeer, “but there’s no basin-wide management.”

Meaning that Israel manages it alone, and Palestine is not allowed to tap new wells. The main recharge areas of the region’s principal Western Mountain Aquifer now fall inside the undulating security wall. Nevertheless, three-fourths of the groundwater originating in the West Bank highlands goes to Israel. “And,” says Abeer, “the settlements take whatever they want”—including for keeping swimming pools full. Per capita, Palestinians claim, Israelis get 280 liters per day while they get just 60. World Health Organization guidelines recommend at least 100.

Israeli environmentalists agree that it’s madness that half their country’s allotment of precious water goes to agriculture, which produces only 1 percent of Israel’s income. Although Israel has pioneered techniques like drip irrigation and recycling wastewater for crops, they argue that to raise thirsty plants like cotton and flowers to sell to Europe, or potatoes for Poland, which can surely grow its own, means exporting its most vital resource. (“The good news,” notes the Jerusalem Post, “is that by 2020, all Israelis will be drinking recycled sewage. The bad news: There may not be enough.”)

The Jordan River is now a fetid ditch trickling from a lake whose very name evokes conflict, because it has three of them: Lake Kinneret to the Jews, Lake Tiberius to the Palestinians, the Sea of Galilee to Christians. Since it forms part of Israel’s international border with a country named for it, the Jordan’s riparian basin is a restricted military area, so Palestine has no access to it. Jordan gets a share, as does Syria, which controls some of its headwaters. (Others are in the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967 and won’t give back. Israeli air attacks on Arab League projects to divert those waters helped spark the Six-Day War.)

Today, all but 2 percent of the Jordan is already allotted by the time it leaves the lake. What dribbles to the Dead Sea is runoff from fields or fish farms, sour with pesticides, fertilizer, hormones, fish wastes, and untreated sewage. Pilgrims trying to bathe at the spot where tradition says Jesus was baptized and Joshua crossed into the Holy Land would contract a rash—or vomit, should they swallow some of the once-pure holy water.

Over 90 percent of wastewater in the West Bank flows untreated into the environment. Until 2013, there was only one sanitary landfill, near Lake Kinneret-Tiberius; another finally opened for Bethlehem and Hebron. Most solid wastes, however, are burned or just left to blow into the desert. But it’s not just Palestinian waste.

“Settlements discharge untreated wastewater freely onto Palestinian farmlands,” says Abeer. “Many have factories that don’t apply Israeli environmental laws.” Her field teams, traveling back roads after main routes were closed to Palestinians after the last intifada, try to track effluent from pesticide and fertilizer plants that moved to the West Bank after they were closed in Israel by court order.

“All this flows into the aquifer that Israel drinks from, too. We argue that they’re poisoning themselves.” But Israel won’t issue the Palestinians permits to build more sewage treatment plants unless they agree to also treat sewage from Jewish settlements. “Which we won’t, because they’re illegal.” She fingers her pendant chain. “It’s a standoff.”

It would also exhaust their beleaguered budget: a third of a million Jews now live in West Bank settlements. Then there’s the Gaza Strip—1.5 million people on a piece of land twenty-five miles long and four to seven miles deep, its population doubling every twelve to fifteen years. It’s suspected that Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2005 because its Coastal Aquifer is now so depleted that 90 percent of Gazan wells are pumping wastes from septic fields, or seawater. Although Israel’s National Water Carrier pipeline passes right by, delivering Lake Kinneret water to the southern Negev desert that it intends to develop next, the portion it sells to the Palestinians covers only 5 percent of Gaza’s needs.

Two peoples, genetically nearly identical, by some accounts locked in enmity since Abraham-Ibrahim’s two jealous wives, Sarah and Hagar, bore, respectively, the Jews and the Arabs, fighting over a parched sliver of land—albeit one with an outsized influence on the world, historically, religiously, and politically.

Yet by one more measure—ecologically—how much does their tiny sandbox on the edge of the sea, and their combined 12 million or so—barely 1/584th of humanity’s current population—mean in a world headed to 10 billion?

Much more than that world realizes, believes Yossi Leshem. Unless, that is, you look up.

iii. The Heavens

The Third Question

How much ecosystem is required to maintain human life? Or, what species or ecological processes are essential to our survival?

Or, at what point does our overwhelming presence displace so many other species that eventually we push something off the planet that we didn’t realize our own existence depended on, until it’s too late? What can’t we absolutely live without?

Yossi Leshem actually started by looking down, from a cliff in the Judean Mountains. He should have been in a Tel Aviv University ornithology lab, correlating the lengths of warbler bills to their diets for his master’s degree in biology. Instead, desperate to be out in nature, he had volunteered to help another scientist observe long-legged buzzards. The first time he rappelled his burly body down to their nest to band three buzzard chicks, he was hooked on raptors.

He switched from warblers to studying Bonelli’s eagle, a large Afro-Asian–southern European bird of prey. In Israel, at least seventy pairs had been recorded, but by 1982, only sixteen remained. Leshem decided to find out why, and to see if anything could save them. It didn’t take long to find the cause.

In the 1960s, Israel had released fifty thousand strychnine-laced chickens to quell a rabies outbreak blamed on a surge in the jackal population—due, it turned out, to a surge in the human population. The jackals were feasting on dead turkeys, hens, calves, and cows in burgeoning garbage dumps of farm wastes. The success of the chicken operation—which also killed countless wildlife, and probably caused the extinction of Galilee leopards—greatly reinforced officials’ belief in the merits of poison. As the numbers of people grew and agriculture intensified, planes spraying DDT and organophosphates increasingly filled Israeli skies. Bonelli’s eagles, feeding on poisoned chukars and pigeons, began dropping. Although DDT is now banned, Israel’s pesticide use per area under cultivation is still the highest in the developed world. In 2011, just eight eagle pairs remained.

Leshem’s biggest discovery, however, came in the early 1980s while researching another endangered raptor for his doctorate: a powerful carrion eater named the lappet-faced vulture. For a better sense of their numbers, he hired a pilot to fly him over Israel’s southern Negev desert during autumn migration. Aloft, what he saw amazed him. Flocks of big birds, tiny birds, and everything in between. Millions of them.

An encounter near Hebron with a honey buzzard, his pilot mentioned, had recently destroyed a five-million-dollar Israeli Air Force jet. Suddenly Yossi Leshem knew what he should be studying. He was soon at IAF headquarters, scouring records of bird strikes with military aircraft. On average, three serious collisions occurred every year. Between 1972 and 1982, he saw that more planes had been lost and more pilots killed in encounters with birds than with enemy sorties.

“Different migrating birds come at different times, at different elevations,” Leshem, a veteran of four wars and a reserve officer, told the IAF. “Wouldn’t you like to know exactly when and where?”

The air force provided him a motorized glider. Over the next two years he spent 272 days following swirling clouds of songbirds, V’s of geese, and flocks of cranes, storks, and pelicans soaring over Negev sands, Galilee farmlands, and JNF pine forests. He reported back to headquarters that this was no mere avian migration route: it was the route. Each year, a billion birds flew through Israeli airspace. Because there are no thermals to ride over open water, many birds that seasonally migrate between Africa and Europe or western Asia avoid the Mediterranean. Some cross at the Strait of Gibraltar or hop from Tunisia to Italy via Sicily, but the most—280 different species—come right over Israel and Palestine, the crossroads between three continents, where there’s always warm air rising off the land.

Per area, Leshem wrote in his PhD thesis, Israel held the world record for migrating birds, and also for military planes aloft at any given moment. To avoid more fatal collisions required two things, he told the air force. The first was a radar station. Fortunately, at that time the dissolving Soviet Union was holding a garage sale of military hardware, and they found a weather tracking station from Moldova, valued at $1.6 million, selling for $20,000. And the Jewish former USSR general who ran it agreed to come along and adapt it for bird research.

The other thing they needed was cooperation with Israel’s neighbors, so that bird-spotters in other countries could warn them when migrations were heading their direction. Leshem convinced the IAF to let him contact the Turkish and Jordanian air forces, and to get Palestinian and Jordanian ornithologists to share data with their Israeli counterparts. He already knew ornithologists in Lebanon, Egypt, and even Iran. Information from Syria he could get indirectly, via a Birdlife International office in Amman.

These relationships, and the camouflaged radar station they installed off the Jerusalem–Tel Aviv Highway, reduced collisions 76 percent and saved an estimated $750 million in lost or damaged aircraft, not to mention pilot lives—and the lives of birds. And perhaps much more. Should anything ever threaten the viability of this narrow air corridor, or the ecosystem below it that feeds and shelters migrating birds as they stop over, it will affect far more than Israel and Palestine. Birds aren’t merely colorful and musical; they’re pollinators, seed spreaders, and insect eaters. The ecosystems of much of Africa and Europe would be unimaginable, and possibly in collapse, without this bottleneck.

Not only fighter jets threaten it. The lappet-faced vultures that Yossi Leshem studied have vanished from the Negev, as have the huge bearded vultures that used to nest above the Dead Sea at Masada. Before more species fall, he has mobilized a national campaign against pesticides, using birds themselves as the alternatives. Realizing that barn owls that once sheltered in wooden farm buildings have no decent roosts in modern metal structures, Leshem, his colleagues, and hundreds of Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian schoolchildren have placed nearly 2,000 nesting boxes in agricultural fields.

“One pair of owls eat about five thousand rodents a year. Multiply that by two thousand,” says Leshem. “So farmers quit using heavy pesticides. Maybe we can’t stop them all, but of 826 pesticides used in Israel, we can reduce the worst ones.” He readjusts the knit yarmulke riding his bushy gray curls. “Our sperm counts are now down 40 percent. Our cancer rates are up that much. All from hormones and pesticides. In the Huleh Valley, they’ve used so many chemicals it’s affected cognitive ability. We know, because they’ve been testing children for twenty years. Now they’re now testing the grandchildren.”

The Huleh Valley, just north of Lake Kinneret, is where common cranes winter. In the 1950s, the Huleh Swamp—the biologically richest spot in the Near East—was drained to convert the land for agriculture. Too late, Israel realized that the wetland had been the lake’s filter. Nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients it once absorbed now flowed unimpeded into Kinneret, along with so much exposed peat that Israel’s most important water source was in danger of turning into oxygen-poor green muck.

Three thousand hectares of the Huleh had to be reflooded to save Lake Kinneret from dying. But that was less than one-tenth of the former wetland that once provided for migrating waterfowl. Farmers were threatening to poison all the cranes raiding their peanut fields, along with seventy thousand pelicans and one hundred thousand white storks plundering carp and tilapia farms, until Leshem and his colleagues found grants to spread thousands of pounds of corn and chickpeas for the cranes, and to raise mosquito fish in Huleh Lake for storks and pelicans.

In what is now a daily winter tourist attraction, thirty thousand screeching cranes are led away from Huleh peanut fields by a tractor expelling corn kernels on the spongy ground, with the snowy Golan Heights as a backdrop. It’s a surreal spectacle in this arid corridor, where so few wet places are left for birds that fly a third of the way around the world to replenish themselves. Were Huleh to vanish entirely, a cascade of ecological disaster from Russia to South Africa could result.

From a rocky hillside banding station he established on the grounds of the Israeli Knesset, Yossi Leshem looks east across Jerusalem toward Jordan and imagines what the prophet Jeremiah must have seen here when he noted, “The stork in the heavens knows her appointed times; and the turtledove and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming.”

“He didn’t need radar. He was looking at a sky filled with at least three times the birds we see today. More.”

Jerusalem’s population then was less than two thousand. The desert below would have been filled with sage, pink sorrel, and thistle flowers. A green overstory of oaks, pistacias, and olive trees buzzed with warblers, tits, chaffinches, bee-eaters, sparrows, and sunbirds. From the Judean Hills would come cheetahs, lions, wolves, and leopards to hunt red deer, gazelles, oryx, wild ass, and ibex. Today, some birds remain. Most of the others are gone.

“Our nature reserves are mere fragments of that ancient ecosystem,” says Leshem. “We’re a country the size of New Jersey, our upper half totally overpopulated. We’re full of roads and security walls that cut gazelle and ibex herds into populations that can’t reach each other. A male gazelle needs to dominate a group of females. Suddenly there’s this wall and he can’t get to them. The same with mongoose and wolves—they roam seventy kilometers in one night to find prey. Birds can fly. But mammals and reptiles: they have a problem.”

He gestures toward the Judean Hills at the city’s edge, where there’s a remnant herd of twenty gazelles. “Feral dogs chase after their calves. Their future is doubtful.”

And people’s, too, he adds. “Palestinians are so fragmented. Like the wildlife.”

iv. The Desert

Deep in the Negev, in the sands of the Arava Rift Valley just above Israel’s southern tip, is a fenced nature preserve for its remaining mammals. Among them is the white oryx, which the Crusaders mistook for unicorns. Extinct save for a few zoo specimens on other continents, they have been bred here in hopes of reintroducing them to their native ecosystems. The Arabian leopards, caracals, wolves, and hyenas here are caged, but the oryx, ibex, and other ungulates roam along a five-kilometer loop that can be driven by tourists. There are even ostrich, though these are Somali stand-ins for the original local subspecies: the Arabian ostrich, last seen wild here in 1966.

Ten minutes away is Ketura, the kibbutz home to the Arava Institute, a graduate environmental studies program for Arabs and Jews. Its faculty members, who teach renewable energy, transboundary water management, and sustainable agriculture, are Israeli and Palestinian; many students are also from Jordan, just a few kilometers to the east. Arava’s guiding creed is that the environment is a shared birthright and a shared crisis, one whose urgency trumps all political, cultural, and economic differences that divide people.

The communal dining hall for students and kibbutzniks serves milk from their own dairy and abundant fresh cucumber, tomatoes, and greens. Eating salad three meals a day, a habit shared by Israelis and Palestinians, dates back to pioneer years when meat was a luxury, and may account for both peoples having among the world’s highest life expectancies—nearly eighty years—despite all the ambient pesticides. Some of those are used even here: Kibbutz Ketura’s income derives mainly from groves of nonnative date palms, a species vulnerable to a beetle whose female lays eggs inside date pits, producing offspring that attack the trees. The chemical vigilance to protect them is work that Israelis don’t want and that Palestinians, their mobility and work permits deeply checked by military occupation, couldn’t get even if they chose. As a result, the Holy Land’s population is further strained by thousands of Thai agricultural guest workers, including a contingent at Kibbutz Ketura to handle such toxic jobs.

The low-wage Thai workers, hunters back home, supplement their diets in Israel with traps and slingshots to take gazelles, badgers, jackals, foxes, rabbits, wild boar—even cows and dogs. Using glue traps, they catch rodents, birds, frogs, salamanders, snakes, and lizards. Because kosher dietary laws permit only the slaughter of domestic animals, few Israelis hunt. But already scarce wildlife, as Arava Institute founder Alon Tal wrote in his book Pollution in a Promised Land, have been critically depleted by thirty thousand Thai trappers. In the Golan Heights alone, he estimates, they’ve exterminated 90 percent of the gazelle population.

A trim man in his early fifties with a gray goatee, Tal is among the few Israeli environmentalists who has dared broach a loaded subject in a nation founded to rescue a culture targeted for annihilation. “Our land is full. Future historians may identify the present deadlock as one of Israel’s greatest tragedies.” The population issue became deadlocked, says Tal, deputy chair of Israel’s Green Party, by subsidies that reward ultra-Orthodox families for having more children. “An average Orthodox Jew who dies leaves a hundred progeny. Think of the diapers alone!”

The pressures that those diapers embody become lethal not just to the environment, but to people, when Jews and Palestinians claim the same piece of real estate. The blessing of their mutual longevity further adds to their competing numbers. As an ecology professor at Ben-Gurion University, Tal has designed many environmental projects with Palestinian counterparts, especially for joint water management. “But population underlies everything. If we don’t deal with it soon, it will be too late. We’ll be ecologically barren and socially untenable. I’d drop everything else to get it on the table. But it’s very hard.”

Alon Tal drives a half-hour south from Ketura to Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat. Across the border, at a Days Inn in Aqaba, Jordan, he’ll address a gathering of Arava Institute alumni: young Jordanians, Jews, and Palestinians, now working for government and nonprofit agencies as environmental planners and scientists. En route, he passes Israeli desalination plants on the Gulf of Aqaba, transmuting salt water into drinking water. A reason why people deny, or defy, the threat of overpopulation, says Tal, is his country’s technological optimism. Faith that Israel could make a desert bloom inspired donations from Jews worldwide, resulting in inventions like drip irrigation. When David Ben-Gurion realized that the Promised Land of milk and honey lacked a critical contemporary Middle Eastern ingredient—oil—his challenge to international Jewish physicists to harness his nation’s one plentiful resource, sunlight, produced the modern rooftop solar collector.

The conviction here that humans can find endless ways to stretch the carrying capacity of this land is not a Jewish exclusive. Tareq Abu Hamed, a Palestinian who runs Arava’s Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation, is filling the campus with photovoltaic panels. His goal is to perfect solar-driven electricity to split water molecules into their components, oxygen and hydrogen, then store the hydrogen in a boron-based medium for release on demand as carbon-free fuel.

“This region has the highest solar radiation in the world. We can reduce pollution and make ourselves energy independent,” he says.

Yet techno-fixes for what limits Israel and Palestine’s existence crash into certain realities. Eilat’s desalination plants are now surrounded by giant mounds of salt. Some gets sold as Red Sea salt for aquariums, some as kosher table salt. But markets can absorb only so much, and dumping the excess back into the Gulf is a hypersaline hazard to marine life. It also takes formidable energy to push seawater through reverse-osmosis filters. In Israel, bereft not only of oil but of rivers to dam for hydroelectric power, energy comes from coal-fired plants that shroud its Mediterranean coast. In 2011, water shortages became so severe that by emergency decree, Israel’s desalination plants began operating around the clock, burning even more coal.

More solar energy would seem an obvious remedy, but the Middle East’s sunlight advantage is compromised by the fact that at 113°F, a temperature reached frequently at Arava, the efficiency of solar panels drops. “We’re working on solving that,” says Tareq Abu Hamed, mopping his shaved head.

Yet temperatures keep rising. If the patriarch Jacob were to return—he passed nearby four thousand years ago, en route to reuniting with his son Joseph, who was warning Egyptians of coming shortages—except for far less wildlife, the landscape would still look familiar. The primary vegetation, now as then, is a drought-resistant acacia tree, the food source for gazelles, ibex, insects, and birds. “All Arava Valley agriculture is based on them,” says Abu Hamed’s Arava colleague, ecologist Elli Groner. “They hold the soil in place, and its water.”

The problem is that the acacias are dying, due to reduced precipitation.

“If they go, there will be a total ecosystem collapse—what ecologists call a stage shift, from one state to a new one. We don’t know what that new one is. Nobody can predict.”

Israel’s Nature Protection Authority has suggested watering them. Groner, who directs long-term ecological research here, removes his wire-rimmed glasses and gestures at the dry valley. “With water from Lake Kinneret? From the desalination plants?”

Israel’s forestry agency, he adds, “did the only thing they know to do. They started planting new acacias. Donors to the Jewish National Fund can now adopt an acacia tree in Israel, to replace a dead one.”

Population ecologists often speak of the Netherlands Fallacy: The fact that so many densely packed Dutch have such a high standard of living is not proof that humans can thrive in essentially an unnatural, artificial environment. Like everyone else, the Dutch need things that only an ecosystem can provide; fortunately, they can afford to purchase those things from elsewhere. Israel likewise survives on the surplus (and largess) of others.

Suppose, though, that the cost of shipping fuel to bring bananas, blueberries, or grain from across oceans becomes prohibitively high—due either to scarcity, or to what burning fuel adds to the atmosphere. Should Israel, Palestine, or any place on Earth ever be forced to depend on its own self-sufficiency, it will have to contend with numerous human dependents—and with the fact that humans depend on other living things, which require sufficient soil and water to flourish.

Not just Israelis and Palestinians: In the Holy Land, they aren’t even the most fecund. Bedouin families, Alon Tal guesses, once may have averaged as many as fourteen children, which would be the world’s highest. Because they’ve always been roving desert nomads, no one was ever sure. But there are a lot of them.

With only the Negev left for more cities and military bases, Israel is claiming lands where Bedouins traditionally have grazed their flocks. With little choice, they’re moving into cities that Israel is building for them, too.

In the new Bedouin city of Rahat, Ahmad Amrani, a schoolteacher and one of Alon Tal’s Green comrades, stands atop the flat roof of the four-story home he now shares with various members of his family. Actually, the Amranis inhabit the entire street. “Every street down there,” he says, indicating his raw city, where thirteen mosques rise amid windblown dust and plastic scraps, “is another family.”

His house, faced in polished Jerusalem limestone, is mostly empty. Behind it is a Bedouin tent where his relatives spend most of their time, seated on carpets and drinking sweetened tea. Unlike his father and grandfather, Ahmad doesn’t dress in a caftan and keffiyeh; he wears jeans and a leather jacket. He also attended university, the first in his family.

“Ten years ago, when I went to Ben-Gurion University, I was one of four Bedouin students. Today there are 400.” He pauses. “And 350 of them are women.”

Making the transition to the confines of urbanity after a life spent on camelback, driving goats across an open desert, has not been easy for Bedouin men, he says. Nobody gets to be a sheik anymore. With most men not working or providing, women are taking on that role. Very quickly, the young women see that the more education they have, the better that goes.

The big question now is who these educated women are going to marry. “It’s sensitive,” Amrani says. “Because they have higher self-esteem, they have a hard time finding suitable mates. More are staying single. And nobody’s having fourteen children anymore.” He heads down to the tent, for tea and almond cookies. His schoolteacher wife and their one child, a son, will be home shortly.

Before leaving Israel and Palestine, one more question remains to be posed. Its answer, however, will emerge more clearly beyond this incandescent Middle Eastern flash point, where human passions, both spiritual and fierce, resist being reduced to mere demography. Still, it bears recalling that, in the time of Genesis, when only a few thousand were here, battles over precious wells were already under way among growing tribes.

The Fourth Question

If a sustainable population for the Earth turns out to be less than the 10+ billion we’re headed to, or even less than the 7 billion we already number, how do we design an economy for a shrinking population, and then for a stable one—meaning, an economy that can prosper without depending on constant growth?

Copyright 2013 by Alan Weisman

Learn more at http://www.countdownbyalanweisman.com and http://www.facebook.com/countdownbyalanweisman.

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