Most people in modern society don’t like talking about overpopulation because they don’t want to admit that not every single human life is precious and worth saving – which denies the simple reality that death happens; either at old age or infancy, it’s inevitable. It can happen under tragic or not-so-tragic circumstances. The most profound part of our existence is the fact that it ends, and yet we still can’t really grasp it. If every human life isn’t worth saving, the thinking goes, then maybe my life isn’t worth saving, and this is unacceptable to just about everyone. Instead of simply admitting that we are a society of narcissistic morons who parrot about individual rights and entitlements while hoarding and consuming all available resources, though, we project that thinking into, “no one’s life is anything but precious, therefore anything that reduces or limits anyone else’s entitlements is a direct attack on humanity and life itself.” Of course, this is silly as it relates to overpopulation, because the simple fact of the matter is that the less people we have, the more resources there are for everyone.
The point that’s being driven home by those who believe overpopulation has and will continue to be a real problem in our world, can be expressed in this equation:
Number of people * Average resource consumption per person = Total resource consumption
The simple beauty of this equation really begins to shine when one considers what humanity can control and what makes sense to control: the average consumption per person, or the number of people on planet Earth? The answer is obvious, but cutting through social norms proves a bit more difficult:
This is a column I don’t want to write. Its subject is ugly; it makes me instinctively recoil. I have chastised people who bring it up at environmentalist meetings. The people who talk about it obsessively have often been callous about human life, and consistently proved wrong throughout history. And yet … there is a grain of insight in what they say.
The subject is overpopulation. Is our planet overstuffed with human beings?
Are we breeding to excess? These questions are increasingly poking into public debate, and from odd directions. Phillip Mountbatten — husband of the British monarch Elizabeth Windsor — said in a documentary screened last week: “The food prices are going up, and everyone thinks it’s to do with not enough food, but it’s really (that there are) too many people. It’s a little embarrassing for everybody, nobody knows how to handle it.” He is not alone.
Further complicating this issue is the manner in which overpopultion is becoming a problem for everyone. Of course, planet Earth is still a big place, so the problem isn’t evident everywhere, and many people are now used to the idea of living in crowded cities so they scoff at the idea that infrastructure could collapse if yet more people were added into the fold. This is another layer of our social reality that most people refuse to see through, but when you look at the facts from a birds-eye view, you realize that something unpleasant has to happen – even with the first-world relief valve of immigration (legal or illegal) continuing to allow populations nearest the equator to continue to grow:
In 2008, world population is 6.7 billion: 1.2 billion people live in regions classified as more developed by the United Nations; 5.5 billion people reside in less developed regions. “We will likely see the 7 billion mark passed within four years,” said Carl Haub, PRB senior demographer and co-author of this year’s Data Sheet. “And by 2050, global population is projected to rise to 9.3 billion. Between now and mid-century, these diverging growth patterns will boost the population share living in today’s less developed countries from 82 percent to 86 percent.”
“The differences between Italy and the Democratic Republic of the Congo illustrate this widening demographic divide,” said Mary Mederios Kent, co-author of this year’s Data Sheet. “On one side are mostly poor countries with high birth rates and low life expectancies. On the other side are mostly wealthy countries with low birth rates and rapid aging.”
Worldwide, women now average 2.6 children during their lifetimes, 3.2 in developing countries excluding China, and 4.7 in the least developed countries. Lifetime fertility is highest in sub-Saharan Africa at 5.4 children per woman. In the developed countries, women average 1.6 children. The United States, with an average of 2.1 children, is an exception to this low-fertility pattern in the world’s wealthier countries.
[+|2008 World Population Data Sheet]
Interestingly, my perspective is one of a father-to-be. People grasp at straws when it comes to the supposed “irony” of my reproducing vs. my feelings on overpopulation. What they don’t understand is the process by which this problem is shared by everyone, and that fertility rates are higher in places they have no business being high at all (whereas, in places where fertility rates are low, average resource consumption tends to be high). The overflow comes home to roost in places like Portland, Maine when developed nations provide the aforementioned relief valve for overpopulation, when it would be better to simply reject massive waves of immigrants into towns and cities that not only don’t want it, but certainly don’t need it.
Since our economies are based on the idea of ever-expanding growth, though, we once again hit the wall of social reality and have a hard time saying “no”. The simplicity of Dr. Bartlett and Asimov, among others, states that it’s about time we say no not only to more immigration waves, but consumerism as well. The first step is admitting there’s a problem, as the saying goes, and for society to admit world overpopulation is a concern would be a great first step.