The Population Problem is Your Problem

Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Quick Note, Thoughts | 3 comments

Continuous perpetual growth is impossible, and yet it’s one thing we hear about almost continuously from politicians and people in financial circles. For them, growth means more potential growth. They would have you believe that in order for a society to be successful, that growth must continue unabated, and that this growth is the only way to progress. But think about it for a minute. Population growth continues all over the world, and at the highest rate in undeveloped countries. With every mouth we bring into the world comes the need for food and shelter, and for this person to have a way to feed and clothe their own children when they eventuate. Every time we add a new person to the planet, we increase the need for resources just so that person can continue to live.

The main problem is that people seem to ignore this obvious fact, and the powers that be would have you believe that any resistance to the idea of growth is anarchic. According to the United Nations, human population is looking to reach 10 billion by the year 2100, with the bulk increase coming from countries with high fertility rates such as India, China and Nigeria, countries which are already feeling the strain population can have on a national economy.

The answer is obvious; have less children. The Australian government would have us believe that this is not an option, because we need to have more children to look after the already “aging population”. Has nobody thought what will happen when that generation also becomes an “aging population”? This short term view of the future is astounding, and I’m surprised anyone would go fo it.

Than main problem is not that we should have less children, but the implications of telling the population to only have one child seems to hit a nerve, as if it’s a personal attack, or that the government would be trying to take control over people’s freedoms. So actually implementing a one child policy is nigh on impossible, and we remember reports from China’s implementation of this law. We can’t tell people how many children they are allowed to have because people will rebel against this.

Reproduction is not as simple as the biological meeting of sperm and egg. In the west many people feel a sense of entitlement surrounding their right to have children, and in developing countries having children is perceived as a way to become wealthier. It seems ludicrous that the Catholic Church could continue their war against contraception when the human population problem could very well become the undoing of humanity.

The video I posted of Sir David Attenborough last week covers a lot of these topics, and much better and with much more authority than I could ever exert. I really implore you to take 20 minutes out of your day to go and watch that video, because a far bigger threat comes from our own species’ overpopulation than does from things like religion, politics or natural disasters. It’s time to look at things like education for women, at reproductive rights, and at the effects this education could have on birth rates. It’s not a simple problem, in fact this is possibly the most difficult question we have to face in the new future.

So don’t believe that growth is a good thing, because anything that grows without control will eventually wipe itself out, or at a minimum, will reach a point where there is not enough food to sustain it, and population will fall steeply to a sustainable level. Think about it for five minutes, then let’s talk. How can we avoid a population of 10 billion? Or is it already too late?

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  1. Education for women and reproductive rights I couldn’t agree more with. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, one of the major barriers to both of these things is religion. Even in America you have movements like ‘Quiverfull’ based upon religious teachings, don’t even get me started on Islam!

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  2. It could be much worse than currently imagined. Agriculture today takes oil and transforms it into food calories. If we start to run out of oil, the price of oil–and food–will skyrocket. Climate change could play a significant role. We could suddenly, meaning over a decade or two, find ourselves unable to feed more than a small fraction of the world’s population.

    Billions of starving people will not quietly lie down and die. Demographic considerations make it impossible to go on a crash program to reduce population to a sustainable level. The expected lifetime of a person born today is about twice as long as we can project a steady supply of oil.

    Suppose we adopted China’s one child policy tomorrow. We would see little impact on our population for at least 18 years, and only after 35 years or so would the full benefit be realized. This simply follows from the fact that it’s 18-35 year-olds who are having children. Once the birth rate reaches equilibrium, it takes an entire lifetime–70 years or so–for us to reach population equilibrium. So, if we were to adopt a crash program today, it would take about a century to achieve our goal. In the meanwhile, we’ll have too many ageing people for the young and presumably healthy cohort to feed.

    Of course, the chances of such a crash program are essentially nil. I am afraid we are in for some very hard times as a species. Fortunately for me personally, I’m at an age where I’m unlikely to be affected.


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  3. Very well said, Martin. We don’t need population “control,” we need population literacy. Blogs like this help with that. And thanks for pointing out the lunacy of Australia running a population Ponzi scheme.

    We don’t need a one-child “policy,” we need one-child “thinking.” It needs to be cool to have responsibly chosen to have a small family, or to adopt. It needs to be uncool to have 3, 4 or 19 children. I see that shift happening, and I’m working to accelerate it.

    Dave Gardner
    Director of the documentary
    GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth

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