Perhaps the biggest no-no for a civilization, in terms of its survival not to mention progressive evolution, is to use surplus energy to increase taxes on surplus energy.
While wealth and surplus energy are not exactly the same, they can be equated for the sake of a simple analogy to illustrate the danger and folly of employing surplus energy in dead-end practices that increase taxes on it.
Let's say that with X amount of wealth, a man can sustain his 100 kg body and 300 sq m home. Let's say he can also save Y dollars.
If the man spends the Y dollars on more food, which he regularly ingests, let's suppose he gains 10 kg. Those ten more kgs of cells require constant maintenance in the way of nutrition. Now, his Y dollars go to maintaining his 110 kg body.
The life of our friend isn't improved by the extra 10 kg of body mass. He is no smarter or wiser or more knowledgeable in any field. He is, however, Y dollars poorer every month from failing to save his surplus wealth. If Y = $500, then in a year he is $6000 poorer, not counting interest he might make on well-invested money. In 50 years he's lost $300,000.
Now, obviously supporting 10 kg doesn't cost $500, but let's suppose that the waste illustrated by spending money on extra body baggage is indicative of a general lifestyle of similar wastes and taxes that might, for example, increase the amount of stuff he has to move when he relocates from city to city but does not increase or improve much of anything else in his life. He spends Y on more food but also on more stuff. His 300 sq m home grows to 500 and more, increasing his heating and cooling bill, time needed to clean it, etc.
Focusing the analogy on the increase in weight, his breathing is slightly heavier and his heart has to work a bit more to take care of those extra 10 kg of cells. His lifespan has thus been slightly reduced, providing him less surplus time in which to acquire experiences and realize the self.
To the degree that money can also purchase free time, he wasted time by not properly investing Y but instead investing it in ten extra kilograms that served him no purpose. In effect, he stole time from himself, and the opportunity it provided to generate surplus wealth, in his poor choice of how to spend his surplus wealth. He might have used his surplus wealth to increase his free time, perhaps by retiring early or hiring assistance to free him from occupations that were no longer serving his self-expansion, affording him more time for exercises that might have challenged his skills and abilities. Perhaps he spent time giving attention to consumeristic gadgets that filled time and entertained him, but did little beyond that.
He used surplus wealth to increase his tax on his wealth. He increased the amount of nervous energy required to digest the extra food. He spent more time in food preparation than he might have otherwise. He required the farming and trucking industries to burn through more energy to supply him with his extra food. Perhaps he also failed to use a compost toilet and grow a garden, thus requiring a few extra visits of the septic tank cleaner. Indeed, the garden would have required an initial investment but would have saved money from his X dollars, further reducing the cost of his basic living.
Most people can understand the idea of extra body mass that serves no purpose in life. It is certainly true that in some times past or other places, weight might have been considered attractive. One's self-esteem might have benefitted by excess body mass. But such incidental advantages do not erase the plain fact that extra poundage doesn't improve our person or lot in life. This is, to a large degree, also true of possessions. Indeed, with more poundage the brain to body mass ration only reduces, meaning more brain activity is required to manage more mass, limiting its energies in the face of its more refined faculties.
Now consider millions or even billions of human beings squandering surplus energy in this very manner. Easily millions of human beings are alive today spending surplus energy on practically supporting a second body. This second body doesn't have its own heart, brain, and spine, but comes in the form of fifty, 100, or even more excess kilograms.
A large share of surplus energy gleaned from fossil fuels was spent on increasing and maintaining our size and our numbers. We didn't stop to think if we could properly educate every child born or even provide access to medical facilities and expertise. Diseases -- many stemming from lack of hygiene, poor access to potable water, and poverty -- and starvation, homelessness and ignorance/superstition are still prevalent, only now more human beings are vulnerable and exposed to these curses of human life than ever before. On the flip side, other diseases are caused by too much sugar, too much harmful fats, and altogether too much food. With overpopulation came pollution levels that threaten to affect the gulf stream, raise sea levels, displace hundred of millions of human beings, adversely affect modern agriculture.
The single greatest challenge human beings face is to reduce their numbers consciously, avoiding the reduction that will invariably come through war, ecological devastation, scarcity of resources, disease/starvation/homelessness, and more than likely all of the above.
When it comes to the human race, however, it is another matter to consider human beings as little more than excess cells. We appreciate people in their own right and do not feel it is fair to decide who is and who is not to be considered dispensable matter.
If the human race could progress, spiritually and scientifically, with half a billion people, it does not follow that it will progress faster with ten or twenty times that number. In fact, unless space and energy were in greater abundances than we currently possess, it more closely follows that five or ten billion people will jeopardize the progress of the human race. No one alive should be considered dispensable. Rather, we must consider that if a slimmer, more streamlined human race ideally numbered far less than seven billion, then procreation rates must reflect that ideal as best as possible.
Since growth rates decrease as education increases, we can surmise that the greater the amount of surplus energy directed toward education, the greater the reduction in taxes on surplus energy emerging from overpopulation.
Some people may remove excess body fat through surgery, a very intrusive procedure. That perhaps would be a kin to war or genocide as means to reduce population. If instead our cells could be educated so as to not divide and reproduce themselves at their current rate, that would certainly be preferable to invasive and traumatic surgery. Results may not come so quickly and dramatically, but sudden and drastic changes to society almost never serve its longevity -- at least not in a form approximate to its current state.
In the body of the human race, only roughly half of the people -- the women -- can reproduce. One man, or even none directly, can fertilize tens of thousands of women in his lifetime or a lifetime of ejaculations. Because of this, vasectomies are not effective means of curbing population even in strongly monogamous societies. A woman that can bear children can always find a means to get pregnant and bear children.
The first thing education does is increase the length of the generation. Education improves the odds that women will have children later rather than sooner. This is a crucial matter since repeated generations of early teenagers having children, with fifty year old women being great grandmothers, does not give enough time for humans to die if maintaining population is desired. If a society's population remained fixed if parents had two children at an average age of twenty five, population will increase if parents suddenly had children -- even just the same two children -- starting at age 15. And more often than not, young adults that have children will more likely have more than two children per couple.
Education also increases the odds that women will have fewer than two children, or even no children. Educating the public is an excellent use of surplus energy because it keeps on giving, generation to generation, as it is passed down. While sex education teaches the uses of contraception, more far-reaching education can inspire women to sacrifice having large families for the sake of human progress, even though at first it may be for the sake of a career or personal freedom.
One of the hardest things for women to sacrifice is having children. I have been called many things for even contemplating such a thing on a large scale. It is clear that to offset the tremendous sacrifice involved, women should be compensated and be afforded very large incentives. These may include education, training, ease in adopting orphaned children, money, free health care for life, guaranteed jobs, comfortable retirement packages, and citizenship in a first-world country if they live in the third world.
Such a program represents pouring a tremendous amount of a society's surplus energy into the lives of women. This will, in turn civilize and empower women. If the study of history gives us any indication, this will also create a social force that would civilize and temper men.
Obesity on a personal or species-wide scale is a disease. Aesthetically, it may be considered beautiful by some or many, but that beauty comes at a cost that the human race cannot afford. Mother Teresa loved children to such a degree that she saw no reason to limit the number of children in the world. This is a dangerous thought because real love for children requires the self-sacrifice capable of limiting the number of them in the world.
Religions or political policies that limit access to or forbid contraception promote values that are antagonistic to the harmonious progress, and even survival, of the human race. Scientists now warn that the planet can become uninhabitable by humans if CO2 levels continue to rise as climate models anticipate. We may adapt, some other species may adapt, but this means nothing short of catastrophe for human civilizations.
The harsh mathematical reality is that the challenge of self-sacrifice falls on women. More and more women need to become aware of humanity's plight and consciously choose to limit their procreative instinct. It is precisely because this is a hardwired instinct that it will require a tremendous surplus energy in society for such a culture of self-sacrifice to form and support this choice.
Traditionally, this kind of surplus energy comes from organized religions or governments. No private individual, even Bill Gates, has access to that kind of surplus energy. Even past centralizing mythic figures, such as Gandhi, might have had a hard time selling the idea that women should make the ultimate sacrifice. National independence probably sounded a lot more agreeable.
The first step is for each of us to start to think about these issues. We need to be clear in our own minds about the challenges and the possible solutions. When we share them with others, we need to understand our audiences. We need to be open to possible solutions so long as they realistically address the challenges we face. Whatever role we can play in making surplus energy available to women is a role we must play. Whether that translates into sex education, general education, job training, or whatever, it is a good thing as just about any kind of well-directed surplus energy in the hands of women will translate into a lower population rate.