My premise is that the biggest problem facing us now and in the future is over-population. I say this because population pressures exacerbate most of our other problems. This includes air and water pollution, lack of water, disease, food production, the health of our oceans, species extinction, global warming or climate change (whichever you prefer), and many others. I will be making the assumption that all of the earth’s resources may be committed to the support of humans to the exclusion of other species. This is a short- sighted point of view because many other species ensure that our environment is livable for humans. Think about the production of oxygen from carbon dioxide by trees that aren’t cut for lumber. But, nevertheless, for the purposes of this discussion, that is my assumption.
So, with population being the problem, it all begins with sex. Every living species tends to increase its population. But this phenomenon is driven, not by an urge to populate, but by the sexual urge. I don’t know how female wants and needs work. I do know that the adolescent male is overwhelmed by sexual wants. Virtually no thought is given to creating children, except sometimes how to prevent it. This drive is similar to that of dominant bull elk who are so consumed by it as to cease eating. Contrary to the narration in nature films, male animals are not trying to spread their genes. They are seeking sex. I don’t believe that this adolescent tendency goes away as the male human’s brain matures in his twenties. At that point the family urge may develop, assuming a long-term partner and the funds to support children are also present. If there isn’t sufficient wealth, or if the male has no permanent partner, then the sex urge remains dominant. Of course, this ignores those societies in which just having a lot of children is considered manly.
All species, given the lack of other natural limits like predation or disease, tend to populate until their source of food and water is exceeded. Then the population may crash. When rabbits approach overpopulation, the female ceases producing litters. Also, at that point of increased available prey, foxes and coyotes increase their numbers. Then the greater predation, or a natural phenomenon, takes its toll on the rabbits followed by the crash of fox and coyote populations. Humans are no different, except that our localized crashes are often characterized by starvation, disease and war, whereas that of foxes and coyotes is often due to lack of propagation. We, the sentient species, continue to produce children.
[Source Wikipedia] “Malthusianism is a school of ideas derived from the political/economic thought of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, as laid out in his 1798 writings, Essay on the Principle of Population, that unchecked population growth is exponential while the growth of the food supply was expected to be arithmetical. Malthus believed there were two types of “checks” that could then reduce the population, returning it to a more sustainable level. He believed there were “preventive checks” such as moral restraints (abstinence, delayed marriage until finances become balanced), and restricting marriage against persons suffering poverty and/or defects. Malthus believed in “positive checks”, which lead to ‘premature’ death: disease, starvation, and war, resulting in what is called a Malthusian Catastrophe. The catastrophe would return population to a lower, more “sustainable”, level. The term has been applied in different ways over the last two hundred years, and has been linked to a variety of other political and social movements, but almost always refers to advocates of population control.”
[Source Wikipedia] “Modern ‘neo-Malthusians’ are generally more concerned than Malthus was, with environmental degradation and catastrophic famine than with poverty. Many critics believe that the basis of Malthusian theory has been fundamentally discredited in the years since the publication of Principle of Population, often citing major advances in agricultural techniques and modern reductions in human fertility. Many modern proponents believe that the basic concept of population growth eventually outstripping resources is still fundamentally valid, and ‘positive checks’ are still likely in humanity’s future if there is no action to curb population growth.”
[Source Wikipedia] “The Population Bomb is a best-selling book written by Stanford University Professor Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne (who was not credited), in 1968. It warned of the mass starvation of humans in the 1970s and 1980s due to overpopulation, as well as other major societal upheavals, and advocated immediate action to limit population growth. Fears of a ‘population explosion’ were widespread in the 1950s and 60s, but the book and its author brought the idea to an even wider audience. The book has been criticized since its publishing for its alarmist tone, and in recent decades for its inaccurate predictions. The Ehrlichs stand by the basic ideas in the book, stating in 2009 that “perhaps the most serious flaw in The Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future” and believe that it achieved their goals because “it alerted people to the importance of environmental issues and brought human numbers into the debate on the human future.”
To me, the real problem with Ehrlich’s attempt to alert the public to the danger of overpopulation was the assumption of a time frame. It is now over 40 years later and we are still here. But we are also still increasing our population, and our planet’s area and resources remain the same. Also, many of the resources available in 1968 are now diminished or degraded. Consider the following.
[Source Wikipedia] “In 2007, the Global Footprint Network estimated the global ecological footprint as ‘1.5 planet Earths’; that is, they judged that ecological services were being used 1.5 times as quickly as they were being renewed.
Ecological footprints can be calculated at any scale: for an activity, a person, a community, a city, a region, a nation or humanity as a whole. Cities, due to population concentration, have large ecological footprints and have become ground zero for footprint reduction.
There is no fixed way to measuring such footprints, and any attempts to describe the capacity of an ecosystem in a single number is a massive simplification of thousands of key renewable resources, which are not used or replenished at the same rate. However there has been some convergence of metrics and standards since 2006.”
“The first academic publication about ecological footprints was by William Rees in 1992. The ecological footprint concept and calculation method was developed as the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under Rees’ supervision at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, from 1990–1994. Originally, Wackernagel and Rees called the concept “appropriated carrying capacity.” To make the idea more accessible, Rees came up with the term “ecological footprint”, inspired by a computer technician who praised his new computer’s “small footprint on the desk.” In early 1996, Wackernagel and Rees published the book Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth with illustrations by Phil Testemale.”
“In 2007, the average biologically productive area per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita. The U.S. footprint per capita was 9.0 gha (or 22.23 acres), and that of Switzerland was 5.6 gha, while China’s was 1.8 gha. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) claims that the human footprint has exceeded the bio-capacity (the available supply of natural resources) of the planet by 20%. Wackernagel and Rees originally estimated that the available biological capacity for the 6 billion people on Earth at that time was about 1.3 hectares per person, which is smaller than the 1.8 global hectares published for 2006, because the initial studies neither used global hectares nor included bio-productive marine areas.”
“The average global hectare would occupy the area of a standard hectare. A hectare is a unit of area equal to 10,000 square metres (107,639 sq ft) (a square 100 metres on each side, or, a square 328.08 feet on each side), 2.471 acre, 0.00386102 square miles, or one square hectometre (100 metres squared).”
From Our Ecological Footprint Table 3.4: the U.S. footprint in 1995 was 5.1 hectares, or 12.6 acres, per person; the world footprint was 1.8 hectares, or 4.446 acres, per person. This concept is equivalent to that of carrying capacity, as with livestock (e.g., acres per cow-calf pair). To try to clear up some of the confusion of the above paragraph, here is some data available from various Internet sources.
|Land Area||3.54 million square miles||57.5 million square miles|
|Population||318.9 million (2014)||7.376 billion|
1 square mile = 640 acres.
In the thesis, Our Ecological Footprint, the estimates did not include the fact that some land is just not productive for satisfying human needs (e.g., many deserts, mountain tops and glacial areas), and it didn’t try to consider true sustainability. That is, it didn’t consider how long it would take to regrow a forest, or that some resources are not replaceable (like iron, or other metal ores). For our purposes, I will assume that the U.S. footprint is 14 acres per person, rather than 12.6. I will assume a value of 5 acres per person for the world to attempt to estimate the same correction.
Let’s do some simple calculations. In the United States there are 319 million people occupying 3.54 million square miles, or 90.1 people per square mile. In the world the figure is 128 people per square mile. Since there are 640 acres per square mile, in the U.S. there are 7.1 acres per person. In the world there are 5 acres per person. Note that the U.S. current consumption rate of 14 acres per person is about double the available 7.1 acres in our country. This means either that we are using 6.9 acres outside our national boundaries or that we are degrading our land and water at an alarming rate. The truth is probably a combination of these two possibilities. In the world, for the moment, the 5 acres per person used equals the 5 acres per person available. This is mostly a product of lower standards of living throughout the undeveloped world. As development occurs, and as population continues to grow, this will become a deficit.
The solution to this problem is to either limit our birthrate so as to reduce our population, or to continue on until war, disease and/or starvation makes human population crash. Thankfully, I won’t be around until the crash. If I were, I’d rather we took the former solution. If each couple had only one child (and replaced it if it died before maturity) for a hundred years, our population would likely become half of its current value. This would not solve the problems mentioned above: air and water pollution, lack of water, disease, food production, the health of our oceans, species extinction, and global warming or climate change, but it would certainly make them easier to mitigate.