Population Poser

January 14, 2011

There is a lot said and written about climate change and what should be done about it. We are urged to reduce our carbon emissions. The assumption is that climate change is a problem that can be solved by altering our mode of living. But climate change is not a problem, it is a symptom of a problem.

The real problem is the huge, enormous, out-of-control human population. This morning, there were 6,897,307,682 human beings infesting the planet. This number of people cannot be sustained without industrial, mechanized agriculture and distribution systems, which rely on fossil fuels to work. You may drive your electric car or hybrid, but those technologies are not suited to, say, a combine harvester or a container ship, and your car emissions are a drop in the ocean compared to the gigatonnes of greenhouse gases pumped out by industry and farted out by the millions of head of livestock we require to keep our population fed. The principal resource upon which we rely to sustain our population are fossil fuels in general, and particularly oil. These are not renewable and are becoming depleted as we use them up at an ever-increasing rate.

Overpopulation is common in nature. When resources are abundant, populations grow exponentially until the resources are depleted and the environment is degraded to the extent that the depleted resources cannot easily recover, and (if migration is not possible) then the population undergoes a collapse, and (if the species is lucky enough not to become extinct) remains at a low level until the depleted resources recover and the population can begin to grow again.

Our consumption of non-renewable resources can be likened to herds of elephants that push over trees to get at the topmost leaves, killing the trees until the forest has turned into grassland and there is nothing left to eat. Then, amidst much plaintive trumpeting, the animals die. In 1989 Richard C. Duncan published the ‘Olduvai Theory’ in which he claimed that industrial civilization has a life span of about 100 years, and that per-capita energy production would begin to decrease in the early 21st century. Electrical power shortages would begin to occur, and shortly thereafter the energy shortages would lead to a decrease in the production of food.

Why do human beings continue to breed in such numbers when it is clear that to do so is disastrous?
I don’t know, but I suspect it’s because most people don’t know—they cannot project current trends into the future and read their fate there. I was listening to a radio talk show the other day, and the hostess said that we cannot ask people to reduce the number of children they have because it’s ‘culturally sensitive’. What poppycock! this is too important to allow it to fall victim to political correctness–the fate of our species is at stake.

So is there a solution? We could do nothing; let nature take her course. What would happen then? I foresee that as the resources we require to merely survive become more and more scarce, people will begin to fight for them. Conflict and violence will become the default mode for those wishing to survive, but most will die amidst great suffering. Yes, nature will take care of our population problem, but there will be no such thing as human civilization at the end of the process.

In 1968 Garrett Hardin came up with a solution he called ‘mutual coercion mutually agreed upon’. People must be made to agree to do voluntarily what’s best for the group as whole. As he points out, this will not be easily achieved, especially in Western cultures where freedom, in reproduction as elsewhere, is regarded so highly. Perhaps the Chinese strategy of limiting women to a single birth is the way to go, enforced by compulsory sterilization following the birth of the child.

I can offer no solution of my own, but if you wish to do what’s best for your species, please turn off the lights and keep your zipper closed.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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