Earth’s Overpopulation Issue Going Critical — Or is it?
There are too many people on the planet, yet we continue to make more. What gives?
What will give is our ability to survive.
You’ve heard the arguments: too many people, using too many resources, creating too much pollution, causing climate change, inexorably leading to our own extinction as a species (along with all the animals and plants on the planet).
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Don’t worry, the planet itself will be fine. It’ll keep spinning whether life exists on the planet or not.
This sounds bad, I know. It is a very serious topic and aside from Elon Musk suggesting we should colonize Mars and other planets to guarantee the survival of our civilization, I haven’t heard reasonable solutions to the problem.
Frankly, it seems like most people are avoiding the discussion altogether.
In my opinion, maybe we can solve this rather easily with awareness and a few easy moves.
Assuming people won’t stop eating meat, the Earth’s maximum population capacity is about 10 billion people. This number is calculated by understanding how much food humans consume on average and what the Earth’s 3.5 billion acres of arable land can produce. Now, we can extend that to a degree by using our arable land more effectively, perhaps by doing more vertical farming. We can be more efficient in how we bring food to the table. We could also eat less meat or grow our meat in vats to add to the productivity of our available arable land.
But there are limits to our ability to produce food even then. As a side note, if we invent something akin to the Star Trek “replicator”, using solar energy, we’d be immediately fine, but that invention still only exist in our imagination.
Compounded to the food issue, we must consider waste. The more people we have, the more waste we produce. We can get very clever in recycling waste and scientists are hard at work figuring out how to recycle solid and liquid waste coming out of our homes. I discuss some great advancements in that area in my book, “Engineering Paradise: Are You Ready?”. However, we are still dealing with waste from the beginning of the 1st Industrial Revolution. It’ll be a while until we can be dealing with any significant percentage of our current waste production. What waste does overall is reduce the amount of land that can be used productively and reduces the overall quality of our natural resources on the planet, from water to earth to air. The whole planet is connected. Pollution in one part of the world ends up everywhere else within a year. No one is protected from the pollution monster!
What adds to the pollution problem is we’re destroying the wild spaces on the planet. These wildlife areas are critical for the planet to recycle all the waste we throw at her. Right now, only 23% of the Earth’s total land mass is still wild. These wild areas convert much of the carbon dioxide we produce at ground level to our oxygen. Sure, developed farmland, parks also help but nothing is as efficient as the real deal. Also, many animals cannot survive in proximity to human development, so many species that are full-on part of the planet’s recycling system can only survive in those uncivilized areas. I’ve written another article about how the planet should be considered as a unique chemistry experiment in 2018 if you wish to better understand how everything on Earth is interconnected.
I’m not a tree hugger, but I’m a practical person. I think with a population soon reaching 8 billion, it’s about time to look at real solutions to the overpopulation problem.
Over the last decade, South Korea poured $70 billion into incentivizing childbirth. But it’s not working. Korea’s fertility rate per woman is less than 1.1. To maintain a population, the rate must be at least 2.0. Koreans are highly educated and busy people. Thus, they understand the world around them and most decide to have few children or none no matter what the government has to say or how damaging not having more children may be to their country’s economy. Their concern is more local: they want to live happy lives and want to provide quality education for their children. Having too many, for most, is a disservice to the family and the children themselves.
Here is the positive side of things. It turns out that research does show that in populations where women are well educated, where contraception is readily available and there is some degree of affluence, the population tends to be under control, or at risk of shrinking. If we look at the graph below, we clearly see a global trend towards fewer children per woman being born. That’s great!
In 2017, the global average birthrate was a reasonable 2.4 per woman. So if we averaged out the birthrates in 3rd world countries (high birthrates) with the birthrates of more developed countries (low birthrates), we get an average that is not that far off the nominal 2.0 we need to have a stable population.
Now, I’m not one to leave things to trends. We must be aware that this is a serious issue and we must take reasonable action to help keep the population levels from increasing too much further. Heck, we should discuss a plan to drive the global population down to a more reasonable number over time.
The first step, I think, is countries must stop encouraging birthrates. Governments should find other ways to keep their economy going than trying to force a population to have more children. Having more children to keep taxes flowing to the government is just not a reasonable thing to do.
The idea of controlling birthrates is a major problem because it is an unwritten universal fundamental right. While some countries have had success in reducing birthrates (China and Korea in the last 20th century are examples) through policies, we cannot expect to have an international consensus on how to stop the growth of the human population.
What we need is a solution that doesn’t involve limiting individual natural rights to have children.
Since we’d have a fine birthrate average if all countries in the world were part of the developed world and the birthrate trend is going down as information becomes available to the masses, the solution, therefore, seems to be simple: education, contraception and economic growth of poorer nations. The nations of the world, through the United Nations perhaps, could collaborate to ensure all countries on the poor side of the scale could join the rest of the nations in affluence and Internet infrastructure.
This would naturally empower women in developing countries to ensure they have contraception available, money to feed the family and knowledge to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Elevating women’s power in all cultures will continue the course we’re already on to reduce global birthrates and in a generation, we could be near population stability.
20 years ago, the global birthrate was 2.7 so getting to 2.0 within the next 20 years is quite reasonable.
Well-intentioned and informed parents can decide on their own if they want to bring a child into the world by evaluating the level of available resources on the planet for themselves. Internet connectivity is well over 50% now, and every connected parent can make their own decision based on available information.
No laws needed. We don’t need to establish new colonies on other planets to capture the Earth’s population overflow. We just need to elevate the nations that need it more, and we should be okay.
Then, with artificial intelligence and other technologies at the service of humankind, we can finally proclaim humanity can control its own population naturally, just like any other animal.
How cool is that!