The Elephant In The Room - Population

Originally published on March 2011

Simply mention the word ‘population’ and some people get into an immediate state of apoplexy and start making accusations such as ‘Eugenicist‘, ‘Nazi’ or stooge of the ‘New World Order’. Such knee-jerk reactions are not entirely surprising given the extreme opinions expressed by Malthusians, some members of the Fabian Society and indeed former members of the German Third Reich. However, despite the distasteful associations of the population issue, population does indeed remain an important issue that will have a significant impact on the future of the human race and the future of our planet. So one must first ask the question - is the world either overpopulated or becoming overpopulated?

Statistics regarding world population and population growth are widely available and it is immediately apparent that growth of the human population in the last six thousand years has been on an almost exponential curve, with numbers accelerating greatly in the 20th century in particular. The current population of the world stands at approx 6.9 billion and growing. Although the rate of growth is slowing to approx 1.1% per year and is expected to continue slowing, it is likely that by 2050 the human population will be between 9 and 10 billion.

So clearly, population is increasing and will continue to do so for some decades unless measures are taken to prevent it. What is at issue here is really what are the effects of a continued rise and if it is necessary or justified to attempt to control the population? Also of prime importance is the issue of how population be controlled - gas chambers, sterilizations, immuno-suppression etc might spring to mind given the hysteria surrounding this subject, but these ideas fall into the arena of madness and despotism, rarely does one get the chance to actually discuss how a humane and fair way be found to control population.

Of course, population control assumes that high population is in fact a problem. So now let us quickly look at some of the problems that have arisen in the world during the ballooning of the human population. There is an interesting correlation between human population expansion and extinctions -there have been five major mass extinctions in Earth’s history, thought to have been caused by natural phenomena. However, a 1998 survey of 400 biologists around the world found that approx 70% of them believed that a human caused phase of extinctions was beginning. Furthermore it was predicted that up to 20% of all current species could be eliminated by 2028 as a result of habitat loss, pollution, redistribution of species and competition with humans. Some might argue that declines in species and extinctions are not caused by human activity or increasing human numbers, but the scientific findings and actual hard evidence seems to give a clear indication that it is our actions and expansion that is the cause.

There have been arguments made that there is plenty of space and plenty of food to go round, one such article I read recently suggested that the Earth could comfortably support and feed 50 billion people. It would indeed be possible to physically fit 50 billion people onto the currently viable land available, however no account was made for the continual contraction of viable land due to soil salination, pollution and desertification. Desertification alone is becoming a major problem, with an annual desertification rate of approx 3.5% of land becoming seriously degraded, this is a worrying trend that will have a huge impact on food supplies and living space. Another factor that was ignored is where all of the other organisms are going to live once all of these extra people come into existence - humans push out other species and reduce the biodiversity and habitat in areas that were formerly without a significant human population. This may not seem a problem to some, but would you really like to live in a world populated by mainly humans, livestock and edible plants, with everything ‘superfluous’ forced into decline or extinction?

Clearly, the consequences of allowing the world human population to explode are going to be dire. At current levels the availability and distribution of food is extremely unsatisfactory with approximately one third of the world population living in absolute poverty. If we cannot find a way to support the current world population and provide basic food, health, housing and education needs to everyone or the vast majority then how much worse will the situation be if the population is half as big again?

No-one wants to discuss this issue because it is too emotive and too explosive - it’s easier to run away from it or sweep it under the carpet than have an honest, informed and fair discussion of a vitally important factor in the world’s future. It is indeed likely that certain people in positions of power, so called Elites or the ‘hidden hands’ that control the world have specific ideas about how to handle the population problem. Perhaps this is the very reason that there is no debate about this issue in the mainstream media, perhaps there is an agenda to quietly and stealthily reduce human numbers to what ‘they’ consider an acceptable level? If a secret agenda is a reality then it makes it all the more important for this subject to be discussed openly by ordinary people so that the horrific solutions that we most fear may be avoided.

It is my belief that human population is becoming a severe problem, however, unlike the extremists I believe that a more stable and sustainable population could be achieved voluntarily rather than through coercion or deception. In developed countries there is an undeniable correlation between elimination of poverty and declining growth rates. Surely when child mortality drops, education, healthcare, availability of food and water, decent housing, sanitation etc are widely available then the need for a high birth rate is no longer there? When people are more prosperous they tend to have smaller families and that I believe is the key to maintaining human numbers at a level that will benefit humanity and all the species of this planet.

In order to achieve that goal it is necessary for the current unfair economic system, found in most of the world, to be dismantled or re-invented. While inequality and injustice continues across the planet then birth rates and population growth will continue to be high in impoverished countries - to the detriment of all life. If we really want a better life for ourselves, our children and a fair chance for all creatures that live here then we need to acknowledge the reality of this problem. By working together to find creative and fair solutions we might finally develop a model for living that truly tackles issues of poverty and inequality and thereby prevent an unprecedented disaster for future generations.