As we transition to spring skiing conditions in Colorado, the crowds thin out and the skiing experience improves despite the stickier snow. A day on the slopes got me wondering – what other benefits might await societies as their populations decrease?
by Philip Cafaro
Yesterday I went downhill skiing in Winter Park, Colorado – a self-bestowed reward for a weekend of grading papers for my environmental ethics classes. I arrived there 20 minutes before the lifts started running, with plenty of time to suit up, gear up, and psych up for some challenging runs. Like most of the western U.S., central Colorado has had a great snow year, so there was still plenty of snow on the slopes despite the calendar saying April. The sky was a deep blue, temperatures were just above freezing, and there was almost no wind. All in all, a beautiful day to go skiing.
As I glided toward the main chairlift running up Mary Jane Mountain, I was thrilled to see only a handful of people in line. I couldn’t help comparing it to past visits, where it had taken 20 minutes or longer just to start the ski day. As I toured and slalomed around the mountain for the next four hours, heading up one lift and down another run, I saw some of the most popular runs on the mountain with only one or two people heading down them, sometimes none at all. And no waits on any of the lifts.
What a pleasure it was to ski the mountain without the usual crowds! A utilitarian philosopher might have wondered whether it would have been better to have more people on the mountain, even if their average experience was worse, in order to increase total happiness. But since I’m not a utilitarian, I felt no need to attempt that calculation. Indeed, I take such maximizing thinking to be one root of our environmental problems, helping make the world a more crowded and boring place.
Now you might say, “hold on, Bozo. You live a pretty a privileged life, to be able to indulge in that particular hobby.” True enough. I have the money to pay for the gear and the season pass, the work schedule that allows me to take a weekday off to ski, the good fortune to live in Colorado. But as I glided down the slopes, practicing my turns, hitting a few of the easier bumps, I didn’t feel any guilt for my good fortune. Only gratitude for the sun and the snow, the snow groomers and lift attendants, the physical therapists who helped me rehab a separated shoulder after a previous ski outing that didn’t go quite as well. It’s a privilege to be able to ski; for that matter, it’s a privilege to be alive. I hope a thousand years from now, other people can still enjoy these privileges.
Different times of year and different days of the week yield varying crowd sizes at Colorado’s ski areas, and too many days with minimal visitation would make them economically unviable. The owners of Winter Park Ski Area would prefer packed crowds from the start of the season to the end of it – that would maximize their profits. Skiers generally would prefer more days like I experienced. After all, we don’t go skiing to stand in lift lines and compare jumpsuits.
Driving home, I started to wonder: what other benefits might be made possible by smaller human numbers? With more nations starting to see the possibility of peak populations followed by population declines, we hear a lot about the problems that might cause. But there also seem to be potential benefits. What about smaller elementary school classes, where teachers can really give each child the attention they need? Lighter traffic on highways, cutting down on daily commuting times?
What benefits do you think would result from a smaller population in your city or town? What changes would you most look forward to if your nation became less populous? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!