Vox Populi 1- A problem we have to confront

Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Thoughts | 12 comments

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a long series of “Vox Populi” articles on my blog, where I ask for your feedback and thoughts on a given topic. I really do depend heavily on your ideas to help formulate my own, so I decided it was time to give you, the reader, a real chance to say what you think. Hope you enjoy these short topical pieces, and please leave your feedback in the comments.

Topic 1: Population

For the majority of human history, our population has been kept in check by disease illnesses and wars, many of which we have managed to overcome. But with these massive advances in medicine and longevity has come the flipside of the coin, massive overpopulation and the risk of running out of resources. Predictions say that the human population will reach 9 billion by the year 2050, and 14 billion by the year 2100 if our growth remains unchecked. The growth has been exponential. In 1804 the human population was estimated to be 1 billion by comparison.

Human Population Curve - 10,000BC to Present

Human Population Curve - 10,000BC to Present

So while we have this great upside of longevity and healthier, better lives, we are effectively dooming the world’s population to destruction. The worst, and seemingly most unfair, part of this whole situation is that while western cultures use up the majority of the world’s resources, we also have he most benefit from technology and medical advances. The majority of the world’s population will not see these advantages, at least not for many years.

Yet still, we cannot afford to stop progressing, improving and innovating. It is in our nature to have a better society. Advances are coming thick and fast. We will surely see some amazing advances in the future.

The big question is this.

While we continue to “improve” the lives of people on Earth, and attempt to cure diseases like cancer and malaria, human population will continue to grow. Is it wise to pass these benefits on to everyone? Can we morally afford to? Can we morally afford not to? If we don’t pass these benefits on to the less fortunate and already struggling countries and populations of the world, how is it that we choose who is worthy?

Are we wise enough, or mature enough, to take control of the situation and reign in worldwide populations, and at the same time continue to bring up the quality of life for so many of life’s less fortunate?

What do you see as some possible solutions to these problems? Please leave your ideas below.

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12 Comments

  1. Ending poverty is the most efficient and ethical manner to control population…education about the dangers of overpopulation is a good idea also, but any type of forced population control goes against my libertarian nature.

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    • Interesting, just wondering tho, how does poverty cause population growth? Do people in poverty tend to have more children because they also tend to have poor education on the subjects of birth control etc?

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    • Addressing poverty as the solution to ovearpopulation is naive considering it is a decades old modern concern that has had no real impact. It proposes a structural solution that, now, is a far more immediate problem that needs a practical solution. The problem with a practical solution is that it cannot affect the natural state of unrestrained procreation. I think the solution lies with deincentivising children, by increasing costs and consequences, and creating a demotivating social opinion. But, that being said, I am actually quite pessimistic about the issue. Humans have never shown themselves as being able to be proavtive about issues until they are devastating beyond individual small scale exceptions. The primitive people who control the world cannot be expected to make some miraculous turnaround and see the errors of their actions, so planning on how to deal with the world as prescribed is probably the course to consider.

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      • However Marc, China has managed to pull off a negative population growth, which continueas to this day. They are still growing, but at a much slower rate than in Africa and India. If a country as large as China can do it, then I think any country can.

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    • But the way in which they have “pulled it off” is both ethically dubious and for a fact patriarchal, possibly misogynistic, and damaging to the welfare of millions of females born throughout China. I hardly accept this as “pulled off”. But there is likely a way…. egalitarianism coupled with education drops population rates like a brick.

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  2. We must eradicate poverty, only then will the poor no longer need to have large families. More children needed to overcome high child mortality and to help provide for the family. With wealth comes lower child mortality and no need to produce children to supply money/food via outrageously low pay.

    It is science that has allowed us to grow so large in population. sanitation, medicine and modern farming etc.

    We need to redistribute the wealth.

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  3. Poverty, at least here in America, does often mean more offspring. This is often driven by a system that rewards poor families for having more children. When in poverty, families often grow as a means to get more governmental aid, such as food stamps, energy assistance, etc. As a social worker I can see that this is not always the case, however it is clear that it is a growing problem. Education would also be a major factor in all of this, though it doesn’t take much education to figure out to not live beyond your means. We seem to have come to the point in American History where it is unfair for the poor to be expected to be responsible for finding ways to survive on their own. Our system has created a nation filled with dependency. I do fear that it may be too late to break from this path.

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  4. From the title I thought it was the Vox Populi itself that you were concerned about :)

    Population is complex, and I don’t pretend to know all the answers (i used to work for a statistical agency).

    As summarized by [population expert] Walker:

    “The human habit is simply to project current trends into the future. Demographic realities are seldom kind to the predictions that result. The decision to have a child depends on innumerable personal considerations and large, unaccountable societal factors that are in constant flux. Yet even knowing this, demographers themselves are often flummoxed. Projections of birthrates and population totals are often embarrassingly at odds with eventual reality.”

    Via Snopes from my somewhat fuller http://spritzophrenia.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/make-babies-or-islam-takes-over/

    Thanks Marty :)

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia

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  5. I don’t mean to be a uppity skeptic, but this is not a problem. Poverty, food supply, etc…. that is absolutely a problem.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/01/population-crash-fred-pearce

    But if you search population crash, you will note almost every scientist and economist is suggesting that the boomer population passing on will crash our population into utter despair.

    People in 1st world nations are not having kids, there won’t be enough human bodies to fill jobs, industry will fall apart because our skill level will be waning…

    I am much more concerned about the crash than overpopulation.

    The peripheral problems however, are understood… water supply, health, disease, etc.

    But as I understand it from a multitude of sources, overpopulation is no longer the issue.

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  6. Salon’s “Overpopulation Myth” article:
    http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/04/19/population_crash_ext2010

    It’s more about the carrying capacity of our resources for existing population levels.

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    • Thanks Unclefishbits. Undoubtedly that (the crash) is an issue we have to face, but that can be managed I believe. Supply to those who need it and our planet’s ability to sustain the population we will undoubtedly have is what I fear is the issue. As we are looking forward we must see that one initiative must lead to another, each to cope with the problem that the previous will bring to light. To me it is kind of like untangling string, wher e we work out one knot only to find that there is a much bigger knot down the way a bit.

      I am not pessimistic about this, it CAN be done, but I woirry about the willingness of the people to change their ways to adapt to this problem headed our way. I fear that the problems will have to be thrust upon people in order for them to take any sort of decisive action.

      I also worry that thise who are unwilling will band together into a “collective of the unwilling” and will be ready to fight for their rights to a new shampoo brans, a new car and a new TV, the Froot Loops and MacDonalds. There are those out there who cannot see past the immediate, and those who are unaware of what the future holds.

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  7. This is an important conversation to have, Martin. Smart people tell me it’s not physically possible for 9 billion or even 7 billion people to “enjoy” the highly consumptive lifestyle of the most affluent billion. Already we are liquidating the planet of resources and resilience, living beyond the Earth’s ability to regenerate. We must be very careful in how we think about how lives can and should be improved. I think that leaves two important solutions on the table:

    1. We absolutely must reduce human population to a sustainable level, well below 7 billion (eventually settling around 2 billion). The good news is we can do that, voluntarily and humanely. We can be well on the way within 100 years if we start educating more people about the ramifications of their family size decisions.

    2. We also need to help developing nations leap-frog over the mistakes the developed world has made, as we in the developed world get over our growth addiction and rediscover what “the good life” really means (assuming we can do that; so far we’re off to a slow start). Our obsession with more, more more needs to be replaced with an emphasis on quality over quality. We need to work less and be satisfied with “enough.” This is entirely possible, as more of us discover the “rat race” is not delivering good lives.

    The advances we most need today are not technological, but cultural. The culture of more and the culture of growth have outlived their usefulness.

    Dave Gardner
    Director of the documentary
    GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth

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