The Monterey List:
Growing toward a sustainable future
for ourselves and for the planet

Now available as a Kindle e-book! Click the cover image at left.

The Monterey List originated as an actual list I made in a Monterey, California hotel room one November night in 1997 (hence the name). The items on the list were all short observations pertaining to sustainable living on this planet, couched as aphorisms, mostly made up on the spot. There were 112 of them. Over the next few years I rearranged the aphorisms into a coherent order, combined a couple of them with others (there are now 110), expanded them into essays, and collected them into a book. I plan to release the book on this web page - one essay at a time, once per week. This will take approximately two years. If you are impatient, you may purchase the whole thing as an e-book by clicking the image at left. Then you will be able to read all of the essays without waiting. Otherwise....well, patience is a virtue, and anticipation can be sweet.

Enjoy! And please let me know what you think. You can enter your comments at the bottom of this page.


25.More is merrier only up to a point.

There is safety in numbers, but there is danger in too many numbers. There's always room for one more, but only as long as the harvest holds out and the water keeps flowing. Go forth and multiply, but know when and how to stop.

Most of our adages about human numbers come down to us from a time when women often died in childbirth and death stalked children in their cradles. Scripture, too, was set down by people still living precariously: the great cities of Old Testament times - Babylon, Jericho, Ur - had populations of perhaps 25,000 each. Humanity was a very small race in a very large world. Promoting population growth was necessary to keep the candle of civilization flickering safely in a dark sea of surrounding uncertainties and unknowns.

We no longer inhabit such a world. Humanity is now rampant throughout the globe: we have inhabited all continents and most islands, and have even placed a permanent settlement at the South Pole. Our species increases at the rate of roughly 170 mouths per minute. "Think of a million lives lost in a famine or war," suggests author Diane Raines Ward. "Those numbers are replaced in four days.*"

Encouragement to expand is no longer necessary. Unfortunately, it has proved exceedingly hard to silence. Cities proudly post their populations at their outskirts like scores in a contest. Committees are formed to help local economies grow. Each dollar of increase in GDP is hailed as a blessing. Even as services break down, crime increases, and individual lives become poorer, we continue to look on growth as a good thing. The drive to procreate is probably hard-wired into us. By that I do not mean the sexual drive; I mean the urge to see the offspring of our species thrive. Think of the fierce protectiveness engendered by the sight of an endangered child. Think of the smiles of strangers over the sight of a baby carriage. These were highly appropriate responses in the world of our ancestors. I don't wish to deny their appropriateness today, but I do want to point out what this portends. Each individual child is a treasure and a blessing. As a whole, they have become a curse.

Our attitudes toward growth were formed in a day when we could not dream about limits. Now we have reached them. The patterns of thought that kept us alive as recently as 200 years ago will kill us today. It is time to recognize that more is merrier only until you reach the right size. After that, less is lovelier.

And though our reactions may be based on innate emotions, our actions need not be. It is not appropriate to wish for children's deaths, but it is surely appropriate to stop encouraging more births. The old adages require revision. The growth of new cells is healthy when it is creating new human bodies or replacing damaged tissues. In most other circumstances, it is called cancer.

*Ward, Diane Raines. Water Wars: drought, flood, folly, and the politics of thirst. New York: Riverhead Books, 2002, p. 3

Next up: Section 26, "If we don't control our numbers, nature will."


Comments? Compliments? Criticisms? Please share your thoughts (your name will not appear unless you add it to your comments).

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Diane, you will see my views on that question developed in this space over the next few weeks - William Ashworth

Dave Forman, in his book, Take Back Conservation, (I have an autographed free copy thanking me for all of my work), says that we need to retain the idea that we value natural places and preserve them for their own sake, not for human-related reasons. I agree with that, while still recognizing that we need to maintain sustainability.We need both views.
Diane Newell Meyer

Looking forward to the next installment.