I consider population a problem when a social-economic structure produces more problems than solutions and can no longer sustain itself. We have witnessed throughout history the fall of many great civilizations and empires due to this. Nations often try to expand by conquest to gain control of access routs and resources but when they seem to reach a critical size beyond what they can adequately control their empires collapse. When local populations in past history have increased beyond a certain size creating overcrowded conditions, disease often strikes with a vengeance to reduce the number of people or rebellions and wars occur resulting in many deaths. When births occurred a certain percentage died during or right after delivery and others died of disease or starvation when quite young and vulnerable. After people got to a certain age they naturally died of old age related illnesses. Nature always had something up its sleeve to keep overpopulation in check.
Then arrives modern science and medicine that upset the natural apple cart. Mankind figured out how to get around nature’s domination through the understanding of what causes disease and death. Birth survival rates soared and so did the survival rates of older people all in a span of less than 200 years, since the industrial revolution. Prior to 1800 the population of people on earth was close to 1 billion. 200 years later it is more than 7 billion and growing (see graph above).
This exponential explosion in human population has no equal in the animal kingdom. It has taken a huge toll upon the natural resources of this planet. Global Warming is a major consequence of man’s need for more and more energy. Natural resources have been stripped from the earth creating deforestation, huge areas of strip mining and drilling devastation, and the elimination of entire ecosystems. Industrial pollution has further endangered all living things where toxic chemicals now reside. Oil pollution from leaking and damaged ships and oil rigs are polluting our oceans, lakes and waterways. Vehicles, power plants, and oil/chemical industries are polluted the air we breath endangering our health and that of the environment. Wars are being fought to control resources nations badly need to support their growing populations. Economic imbalances occur because economic infrastructures are too huge and complex to adequately manage. And the list goes on.
So what do we do to fix these problems? We look at each individual problem and try to do a patch or workaround. Global warming is a result of excessive greenhouse gases being generated by huge demands for energy. So we look for ways to generate energy from non-greenhouse gas technologies such as geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, and solar. When pollution occurs due to the demand from certain industries producing toxic waste we develop technologies for more safely disposing of these wastes. When cars generate too much smog we develop technologies for reducing smog. When roads become congested with traffic we widen them or build more to accommodate increased traffic. When we are ravaged by disease as a result of our unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits medical science develops a pill to eliminate the symptoms.
No one is interested in solving root of problems. They are simply too inconvenient for us. Our governments spend far too much time doing what is popular instead of what is necessary until it reaches crisis level. So instead we create unsustainable technologies and solutions to temporarily get around problems or deny that the problem even exists. But the inconvenient truth is that we are unsustainably consuming far too many resources and the demand keeps increasing. True, we are placing some emphasis upon producing more efficient widgets to reduce the amount consumed but we are not making any lifestyle changes to sustainably reduce the amount of resources we actually need to consume, so as time goes on the demand for more increases in spite of our workarounds.
We need to find solutions for using fewer resources by lifestyle changes that reduce our dependencies on such resources. However we are not willing to make such inconvenient lifestyles changes. For example we refuse to take public transportation to work because it is less convenient than driving, as if being stuck in traffic jams isn’t an inconvenience. We use air conditioners when opening the windows or adopting some of the coping skills of our ancestors who lived without it. We drive our car just to get a newspaper or a snack and drive alone to and from work five days a week. We need to fundamentally change our lifestyles to actually reduce our use and dependence upon resources. This may mean riding our bikes or walking to shop or taking a bus. More convenient bus routs will exist if there is a demand for them as in large cities and other countries. Shopping once a week instead of several time a week can save energy. Watching less TV, turning it off when not in use, or not using a TV at all but instead spend more time reading or with your families is better for the mind and far better on relationships. Recycle our waste. There are endless things you can do to reduce your dependence upon diminishing resources if you put your mind to it.
But the mother of all causes for consuming such enormous amounts of resources is overpopulation. Without such a large population our energy and greenhouse gas problems would not exist. Had we less than one billion people on earth that remained rather constant we would learn to adjust and live in harmony with nature and all would be cool. Perhaps we would not have all the miracles of science and technology of today but we would be living in far less crowded conditions with far simpler and happier lives. But our population continues to increase at a rate of about 1 million people per week. That is the size of a moderately large city each week. How can we sustain such growth regardless of lifestyles changes and the reduction in the use of resources. We can’t escape the reality that the fundamental need for resources and technologies grows with population. But the genie is out of the bottle and quite difficult to put back in.
So overpopulation is the conversation we all should be having. Everything else is window dressing. How can we reduce it? How do we put the genie back into the bottle? I believe that if we do nothing to curb population growth we will ultimately sign our own death warrant. So what will happen as the population grows and resources become increasingly more scarce? Perhaps a large thermonuclear war will wipe out large portions of our population or perhaps Global Warming will accelerate out of control and kill us all. Or perhaps an incurable disease will wipe us out. In the meantime we continue to ignore this problem as if burying our heads in the sand will make the problem go away. But in the long run nature will have its way. I don’t have any good solutions but at least I am trying to start the conversation.