We are too many here.
Yes, we are too many here.
Over 7.7 Billion now. That is huge. And by most estimates, we will be 9.8 Billion by 2050. 2.1 billion more. Cut back to 1916. We were just 1.8 Billion people on earth!! I find that scary. We are just too many here.
Of course, it is fun to have lots of people around. To some, they are more voters, customers, consumers, friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. The more, the better for the economy, social interactions, politics, and religions.
It is also fantastic that we now live longer and many diseases have disappeared or have been controlled. Hats off to scientists and policymakers! But the flip side is worrying. Population control is ineffective due to many reasons; lack of education, philosophical differences, policies, or religious stances.
Every system has an optimum capacity that is sustainable and maximum capacity that starts hurting the system and eventually breaks it down. What is the optimum number of us that earth can support? We don’t know. So we assume it to be infinite.
Births are only part of the story. With its sophistication and development, many medical practitioners today view death as a failure of the system. Let us face it. None of us will get out of this place alive and death is as natural as birth. But old age is being prolonged at huge cost and with poor quality of living for the patient. Most of the medical expenses in a lifetime are incurred during old age.
Another worrying trend is the work to prolong life. The findings that “Death will be 'optional' and aging 'curable' by 2045“* by José Luis Cordeiro, and Cambridge (UK) mathematician David Wood make me even more worried. Their book The Death of Death claims that immortality is a real and scientific possibility that could happen soon.
People should have the right to decide and document what kinds of treatment they wish to take or not take and to decide not to take expensive treatments with a limited chance of success and tremendous agony. Simply put, we should have the choice not to prolong our lives. A more expanded version of the Living Will has to be in place. ( A Living will is a written statement detailing a person's desires regarding future medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent, especially an advance directive.)
Why do I say this?
I see the following 8 red flags that are being ignored.
1. Religions want more believers and politicians want more voters. How many of them feed or take care of their poor believers to give them a quality of life? Instead of encouraging a smaller family and a higher quality life for their followers, many are fighting birth control directly or indirectly!
2. The population is growing where it hurts most among the poorest, in the driest areas, and where climate change will have the highest impact. In Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, on average, a woman has more children than in most countries!
3. Over half the people in the world now lives in urban areas. The pundits say it could go to 70% by the middle of this century. Poor hygiene, pollution, crimes, malnutrition, and diseases are certain. Education could be another casualty with a significant impact on everything else.
4. Overcrowding, poverty, and extreme climate will lead to more conflicts and human misery. Resource scarcity and lack of access, particularly for water, could impact sanitation and spark new conflicts. Many cities could become uninhabitable. The impact of crowding on the mental health of inhabitants and the initiation of violent behaviors have been well presented by Desmond Morris.
5. The population is dwindling in many developed countries. The solutions such as more immigration create security challenges, political issues, and social issues such as racial and other discrimination.
6. There is strong opposition to technologies such as transgenics that could feed the new guests on our planet. We can’t have the cake and eat it too. Traditional means for increasing productivity in agriculture cannot support projected population growth. Consumption of animal proteins adds to the increasing strain on the environment and agriculture.
7. Tribal politics is gaining ground. We are becoming and are being encouraged to become more tribal. That adds to intolerant attitudes towards groups that we don’t belong to; be they national; religious, political, or economic. More conflicts, and misery along the way.
8. Every finite physical system has a maximum carrying capacity. Earth is no exception. We can’t ignore that. Some kind of self-regulation operates in nature to check animal populations. Whether we believe in Thomas Malthus’ idea or not - that population growth is exponential while the growth of food supply is linear - something has to eventually give way. We will have to either manage our population within the earth’s natural carrying capacity or exponentially increase food production and other needs in an environmentally sustainable manner using advanced technologies.
Forecasts and views will vary in details but the trends are obvious. Better preparation is absolutely needed. It is time to think anew and fight for this case if we care about our grandchildren. Doing nothing is not an option. At the macro level, the required actions are beyond national, religious, and biological domains and capacities.
At another level it is quite simple. There are many things we can do as individuals.
Plan family size ignoring religious or political compulsions. It is a great place to start. No one can stop us from that.
Stop over-use of natural resources. We don't need a law for that.
Consume less or no animal protein. That helps the world and the animals.
If we are serious about this, there are many more actions we could take. At the global and national levels, population planning will have to be a major item on their agendas.
Globally capping population growth at net replacement levels needs to be done.
Within such an overall goal, national goals could be set differently based on their specific situation and needs.
State support and free services should be aligned with the population policy to create both incentives and disincentives.
This is probably more important than setting carbon emission targets.
We are too many on this bus! And if we do nothing, this bus will breakdown.