Overpopulation, is it really a problem?
Overpopulation. This was a big issue in the sixties and seventies. One hardly ever hears of it anymore, at least in the popular arena. Partly this is because birthrates have gone down over much of the world, and it looks like the human population will level off at about 9 billion or so. So of course, the problem has been solved, and we don’t need to worry about it anymore? There are certainly those claiming the population bomb has been defused.
I don’t think so. Overpopulation was one of the topics I promised to write about in my “coming apocalypse” posts this spring. My basic theory, which I have been refining since the 1970s, is that a number of things humans are doing are all going to hit the fan around 2015 or so. It’s not a terribly original theory, many have made similar predictions. And in my particular theory, overpopulation is one of the really big factors that’s adding up to this critical explosion.
There’s several facets to this topic that make it of particular interest when examining the human condition. The first though is the fact that this is a real issue. For example, if the world’s population had continued to grow at the rate it was growing in the 1960s, by the year 16,000 or so, all matter in the Universe would have been converted into human beings. Clearly an unsustainable rate of growth. The situation has improved since then, but the world’s population continues to grow. The world’s population will hit seven billion any day now, blithely assuming that adding another two billion people is “no big deal” is missing the point.
The point is we don’t know what the actual carrying capacity of the planet is, estimates range from 2 billion to 40 billion. The 2 billion figure is if everyone lives at the American average standard of consumption. 40 billion if we all live at the lowest possible consumption level, like 75% of the human population currently does. Since we don’t actually know what the number is, claiming that everything is fine while the number of people is still going up is like claiming a dam won’t break even though the reservoir is still filling and we don’t know how strong the dam is. And since the total mass of human beings is already far greater than the mass of any other single species that has ever lived, I think it’s safe to say that there is still cause for concern.
Another problem is that the 7 billion people currently living are already degrading the environment, and thus lowering the Earth’s carrying capacity. Ground water depletion, topsoil erosion, deforestation, pollution, over-fishing, soil desalinization, and others are still significant problems over much of the globe. So we have a situation where the world population is still going up, while the ability to support said population is still being degraded over much of the Earth. Um, as long as these two trends are diverging, I think it’s safe to say that we aren’t out of the woods yet.
And sadly, this is an issue where religion has played and is playing a truly ugly role. Catholicism and Evangelists in particular have worked very very hard around the globe to discourage family planning and birth control. There’s no telling how many extra mouths the world has to feed because of this, and it’s a problem that may be getting worse not better as America’s Evangelical movement becomes ever more powerful and ever more influential in US government operations. Once again an example of just how devastating ideology is, because it causes people to act against their own best interests, or even against the best interests of everyone on the planet.
In fact I have come to believe that when people use ideology to support their beliefs, it’s because they lack any rational reason to hold said beliefs. That however is a topic for a future post.
(The above image as released into the public domain by it’s creator, and may be copied and used freely. I used it because it graphically shows just how stunning the spike in human population has been the past two centuries, and that the idea of it going up by another 2 billion in the next few decades just makes it even more extreme. Especially since the majority of these new people will live in abject poverty in slums, hardly an inspiring thought. And I’m pretty sure when God said “be fruitful and multiply” he didn’t mean “breed like there’s no tomorrow.”)
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