I made what I thought was a funny offhand comment a few weeks ago that has stuck with me like an imprinted goose. My Socrates Cafe group was discussing the world’s problems caused by too much pollution like CO2. I asserted that the population explosion was the main cause of the problem because it brought us from two billion people in 1925 to seven billion in 2013, and the population is presently growing at seventy million per year. My argument was that a ten percent reduction in personal pollution, as was being proposed by the authorities, would be swallowed up in a year or two by population growth, and increased expectations of consumption by those living people. With world population growing at seventy million people per year, every one of those new millions needs new housing, a continuing new food supply, and everything else needed to live for their expected seventy years of life.
Everyone seems shocked when I talk that way, even though it seems obvious the population can’t keep doubling every forty years forever, especially when it is not an arithmetic growth but a geometric one. Malthus was obviously wrong! Everyone seems to believe that, because we are now living with a seven times larger population than the less than one billion he was talking about back in 1800. I say “No, to that simplistic statement.”; human science and exploitation of natural resources have just grown faster than population, and natural resources that allowed our growth are one-time-use things like coal and clean atmosphere, but they are being used up, and the greater the population the sooner they will be gone. When they are gone the existing population will be forced by nature to get along without them, or reduce its numbers. Technology will save us, it always has! But here too, there is some limit, because there is not an infinite number of ways to improve things.
That was the tenor of the conversation, and various suggestions for reducing population were discussed, but all of the solutions seemed to be too little, too late, even if they could be implemented – which they can’t. On average people like the process of having children, because it is bred into our DNA to reproduce, and to enjoying reproducing maximally. The human situation is temporarily different from all other species, because we can see the problems associated with unlimited population growth. It was about that time in the conversation that I suggested a possible solution to the population explosion; it was to make sexual intercourse unpleasant. That met with howls of derisive laughter, as I intended it should, but the downside for me has been the mostly good-humored resurgence of that comment in many other situations. It seems no one likes the idea, but on the other hand if a pill could be created that would bring about that effect, then a controlled population decline would occur, and that seems better than the alternatives of war, famine and pestilence, and the death of vast numbers of innocent people.
I like humor, and “Make sex unpleasant” is a good quip because of its obvious functionality, but utter unpopularity.