Maybe this is better?
In China, they do not ask “how many people live in that hut”, they ask “how many mouths live in that hut?”. Hundreds of years of extreme population density have made the Chinese people astutely aware of a problem that, until recently, has largely been ignored here in the West. I call it the Calorie Problem, and it is the single most important challenge that our species has ever faced. If we succeed, our survival is assured, and humanity will enjoy a long and spectacular existence. If we fail, the only future left is one of constant war and perpetual famine.
What is the Calorie Problem? Consider this simple truth: Earth can only feed so many mouths. In other words, there are only so many calories to go around. When you eat, you are taking calories from one animal or plant and making them your own, to the detriment of your meal. As more and more humans are born, we need more and more food, which leaves less and less food for everything else. You exist at the expense of polar bears, acacia trees, and celery. The problem is made worse by the fact that humans are not only a relatively large species, but we require more high-energy food than most animals of equal size. We are the gas-guzzlers of the natural world; our powerful brains require an enormous amount of energy to run properly, so our diet requires fats and complex sugars – rare nutrients that take a lot of calories to make.
For hundreds of thousands of years, we have slowly but surely used up more and more of Earth’s available calories. Because large mammals require more calories than small ones, some of the first species to go extinct were giants – wooly mammoths, cave bears, elephant birds. After these initial extinctions, things slowed down for a time. We invented farming, our population stabilized for the next ten thousand years, and while some species, like the dodo, still died out, we mostly behaved ourselves.
That all changed in the 1930s, when a German scientist discovered a way to create fertilizer by compressing nitrogen directly from our atmosphere. The Haber-Bosch process changed the course of human history. No longer did farming depend on the availability of guano or fertile soil. We could plant what we wanted, wherever we wanted, so long as we had access to a source of fresh water. Earth was ours for the taking, and we took it. In the last fifty years, we have cut down more forests than in the last ten thousand. Just seventy years ago, there were nine healthy subspecies of tiger; today only six barely cling to life, and before you children graduate highschool, all will almost certainly be extinct in the wild. Fifty percent of the world’s arable land is now farmland. We have sucked the Aral Sea, once one of Earth’s largest lakes, bone dry. These facts are part of a larger and alarming pattern. To be blunt, we are on the verge of the utter annihilation of our planet.
The next hundred years will be the most important time in our entire history. If we do not find a solution to the Calorie Problem before century’s end, I fear our world is doomed. Our population will continue to grow even as the ecosystems which sustain us collapse, until there is nothing left but a sea of humanity and rows of grain. It is easy to sit back and watch as we cut down the last tree, shoot the last bear, and poison the last fish, but it is not so easy to explain to our sons and daughters why we thought this was okay, or even sane. Such a future, one of eternal regret for the destruction of our planet, will destroy our souls, or drive us mad. We cannot live in a world filled with nothing but ghosts. If the tiger dies, so do we.
Shall we all then follow in China’s footsteps? Force everyone to have one child, and only one child? Gas the elderly and the feeble? Kill the different and the strange? Was Orwell right; is the future of humanity that of a boot stomping on a human face — forever? God help us all if such a future ever comes to pass!
Still, I have hope for our kind, because I believe in our love for the Earth and I believe in the power of the human imagination. There is a small chance for us to save not only ourselves, but all of the species which we are the caretakers of. We are the only animal on Earth that has ever looked to the stars and yearned to one day reach them. I say that now is the time we do so! Simply being lords of the Earth is no longer enough! The future of our species, of all species, depends on the conquest of space! For every chafe of wheat we grow on Mars a mangrove tree can grow in Bangladesh, for every Venusian hog an Amazonian peccary survives. By moving our industry and our agriculture off-world we can relieve Earth of the burden of humanity. What more need be said? I choose to save our planet! I choose to save ourselves! And I choose to do so without bringing unnecessary harm to ourselves and to our way of life!
I have faith in our species, but in particular, I have faith in the United States of America. We are the sons and daughters of Columbus, the brave and the bold! Our ancestors crossed stormy seas and frozen glaciers, and now we must do the same! It is time for mankind to spread to the stars, and it is up to America to take that first step. Now is the time to plant the stars and stripes on the red soil of Mars, now is the time to dig in our boots for the long haul on the Moon, now is the time we plant seeds on every world we can reach! We must do this because we alone have the power and the desire to make sustained colonization a reality in this century. Who topples dictators and protects the innocent? We do. Who feeds the hungry and brings medicine to the sick? We do. Whose hands lift the injured from the wreckage? We do. If America wants to be a leader, then we need must lead in this as well!
There are those who question the wisdom of sending men and women into deep space. They say that it is too expensive, that it is too dangerous, that we should fix our problems at home before we go next door, and that there is nothing out there worth visiting. To them I say that a tree which is too afraid to grow new branches will surely die. If humanity is content to remain earthbound forever, then we are a failed species. If the United States abandons spaceflight, then we are a failed nation. This is our final hour. This is our one last chance to beat extinction. We cannot hesitate.