The biggest environmental problem in the world today, tomorrow and forever so long as humans are alive is human population control. Other problems like energy creation, CO2 pollution, genocidal wars, H-bombs all pale beside the population problem because uncontrolled human population expansion will bring about all of those problems and many more. Even a Chicxulub like meteor impact that killed off the dinosaurs would not kill off all humans because some of them will have enough forethought to protect themselves in survival shelters and no other animal can do that. Humans or their future spawn will be the last large animal to go extinct unless some weapons biologist like Ken Alibek succeeds in developing a specific human genocide weapon, a Weapon Of Extermination—a true WOE. In every other case all other large animals are likely to precede our species into extinction.
Some recognition of the human over-population problem goes all the way back to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, of microscope fame and others such as Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin and others. They realized that humans will reproduce to the limit of the Earth’s capacity to sustain them. These future humans will eventually find ways of consuming all of nature’s bounty that is now being consumed by other animals. Perhaps even most wild plants are at risk of being replaced by human sponsored plants. Always these humans present the argument that they as individuals or groups have the right to live and in the extreme event have the right to kill others in order to preserve their own life and the lives of their children.
What is fondly called Mother Nature has always maintained her imperative law for living creatures, “Survive and Reproduce”. That law has worked very well up until the present and in fact will keep working deep underground long after humans have stopped occupying the surface of the planet. However, for humans with a modicum of forethought, it seems apparent that there are advantages to limiting their human population to some number smaller than the greatest possible number. That appears to be the current goal. But having all those humans living as quickly as possible at the maximum possible density possible isn’t my ideal.
I prefer the idea of maximizing the total number of human living-years as measured from some distant time in the future after humans are no longer extant. A human living for one year is the base unit of measure and that is multiplied by the total number who ever live a year. Looking backward from the present about 30 billion people have lived and let’s say they lived on average 33.3 years— that gives a grand total of about 1 trillion human years that have already been lived.
When you are thinking about how smart people are and all of the marvelous things which they have created they seem quite smart but if you divide by 1 trillion and that is giving them a whole year to think up something new, they don’t seem all that smart. How hard is it to invent fire, the wheel, horse stirrups, the rocking chair or the light bulb? It must be difficult for humans because those things were a long time coming after we humans reached their present large brain genetic status. Humans are not very smart but they do have a good ability to observe other people and copy their success’s.
Now to predict the future of humanity. Just for simplicity let’s say the ultimate number of human years to ever be lived will be double the the number already lived, that would be a total of 2 trillion human years. That would leave a total life expectancy of 1 trillion human years to go. That doesn’t sound too bad for a guess. However, if you expect those years to be lived like the average ecologically sensitive modern European is presently living there may be some serious shortfalls. Let’s take that remaining 1 trillion years of life expectancy and divide it by our current population of 10 billion for ease of calculation, to estimate how many years we have to live at our present size (we will be at than number in a few years). Uh-oh, 1 trillion divided by 10 billion is only 100. That’s only 100 more years living like we do now. Within the life expectancy of many children who are toddling about right now is the capacity to see half of all humans who will ever live. And what is worse for the ecology within which these humans live it that the population is still exploding. That larger population would make the total life expectancy of humanity even less. One of the Nobel Prize winning IPCC projections for the year 2100 is almost double that 10 billion estimate, which would mean we have much less than 100 years remaining. The projected life expectancy of humanity less than the projected life expectancy of a college freshman. Unfortunately, those rather morbid speculations may be more positive than what will actually transpire because some natural resources are already running in short supply and the pollution of the environment is becoming a serious problem.
What is obviously needed is some sort of reasonable limitation on how many people are inhabiting the planet Earth at any one time. A fewer number of people living for a longer period of time and living much happier and healthier lives would be better than an explosively large number of people living in squalor, lacking resources and quickly collapsing the earth’s life support system. Unfortunately to achieve a sustainable population in balance with the Earth’s resource capacity goes directly in the face of Mother Nature’s imperative for living things, “Survive and Reproduce”. In general you can’t go against Mother Nature and win but we Homo sapiens have been doing it for 12,000 years. It’s called agriculture, farming and animal husbandry. The simple answer to our human population problem is that somehow we must bring it under some sort of reasonable limitation. Mother Natures answer to our overpopulation problem will be rather unpleasant—famine and self slaughter. I think we can do better. What I propose is:
Population cap with transferable reproductive rights.
The idea is to bring the whole world into a single economic system of trade-offs of human reproductive rights for other economically fungible rights. Potential parents would receive some sort of economic benefits from having children or not having them based on a world need for children as defined by vote or by open market economics.
Actually this is already partially in effect because people in more developed free-trade regions of the world are having fewer children when they have more money. They are in effect choosing a better personal life style over the expense of having more children. What I am proposing is finding some way to make this advantage clear to people all over the world so that even in remote places potential parents would realize they could live better if they had an economically defined number of children. To make this work would require community wide support of the control of births. That is very difficult because it is one of Mother Nature’s imperatives we are attempting to control but the fact that most women in developed countries do not have unwanted children means that it is possible to bring births under an abstract control of the world’s needs as well as those women’s personal needs. The concept of population cap with transferable reproductive rights might be a difficult concept to sell to 13 year old girls but it could be sold to the local community leaders for the benefits which could be granted to their community.