When media pundits or politicians talk about world hunger, climate
change, or pollution, there is something that they almost never mention. And yet, this forbidden topic is the root cause of these global problems! If this elephant cannot be effectively dealt with, there is no chance of reducing pollution, nor alleviating hunger, nor keeping global warming under control.
By now you may have guessed that I'm talking about the size of the human population: 6 1/2 BILLION and growing! Presently, not all of them are even getting enough to eat, let alone having the kind of life to which they aspire. At least half of the planet hopes to have a car at some point during their life. Is this possible? Could our planet sustain SEVERAL BILLION automobiles? I think not. Much more likely is that, as the human population grows, the material standard of living will decrease for all but the very wealthy.
There are many who deny the population problem. They say that
technological innovation will allow us to feed more & more people,
without limit. They point to the "green revolution" of the mid-20th
century, when the widespread use of chemical fertilizers greatly
increased the yield per acre for those farmers adapting the new methods. This in turn allowed a great increase in the human population, which has doubled since that time.
There are at least two rebuttals to the deniers. The first is that
there are physical limits to how much food can be produced worldwide. Plants create food by the conversion of solar energy into chemical energy. The earth receives a certain amount of solar energy each day, and that is not going to change. We can increase the fraction of the earth's surface devoted to farming, and we can increase the efficiency of the solar-to-chemical conversion process, but there is an ultimate limit. By extreme measures we may be able to eventually support 20 billion people on this planet, a tripling of the present population.
But what kind of life will they be living? This question leads us to
the second rebuttal, which is that we all pay a price in reduced quality
of life. A world with twenty billion people will be quite different
from today's world. Most of the planet's surface will be taken up by
farms, habitations, factories, and energy production facilities. The
latter will be largely solar and wind, which require extensive land
area. There will be little room left for the natural world of plants
and animals; those will mostly be confined to parks. Where there are
now extensive forests, there will instead be the aforementioned farms, habitations, factories, and energy producers. So the natural world will be sacrificed in order to have 20 billion humans. However, most of these humans will be living in very small dwelling units, perhaps 40 sq m for families, and half of that for single people. Most people will live in large cities with very high population densities. Most will not own automobiles. The wealthy will have a different lifestyle, of course. They will be able to eat meat, which the ordinary people won't be able to afford. And they can live outside of the cities if they choose, and use automobiles. The world that I'm describing is roughly 100 years from now, so it's not just around the corner. If you have any grandchildren during your life, they will see it, as will their children (if they are able to have any).
If humans can learn to be content with one or two children per typical
family, this bleak vision of the future does not have to come to pass.
There is hope, because this has occurred in much of Europe, without
coercion. In China it has occurred due to coercion. But the majority
of the world's families are still producing several children.
This article was written as my participation in Blog Action Day.