Population control is the most unpleasant issue of all. There are several good reasons why it is rarely discussed by people and virtually never by politicians. Individuals hate to discuss population control because it seems to interfere with their second most imperative demand of life, the right to the creation and survival of their children. The first imperative of course is personal survival. If you as an individual don’t survive long enough to have children then you are the end of a billion years of successful evolution. Not a single one of your ancestors failed to have children and they programmed into your genes the urge to survive and to reproduce, and in the case of all mammals the protection of their children.
All of this works out quite well in the natural flow of life, as it forces the maximum number of children upon a species and then lets the various vagaries of the world destroy the least lucky, which generally means those not as well adapted to their local environment as their siblings and cousins. This abstract natural method is not vicious because there are no ethical or emotional motivations involved, but it is painful and in the end every individual dies. Humans operated under this natural law up until recently and it caused no problems.
The earliest we could claim humans were causing a problem for the natural environment is when we began consuming large quantities of energy stored as fossil fuels. That took off in earnest with the invention of the coal-burning steam engine and was just beginning to cause a worldwide pollution problem by about 1825. Nothing really serious at that time, but then along came the coal-burning electric power-generating plants, powered farm equipment, automobiles and jet airplanes, and as they say, much much more. Still, this pollution problem would not be an existential problem for humanity, but it was an side effect of the stage being set for a massive population explosion. With a huge population of interactive intelligent beings, the laws of nature were explored and then exploited, and that was so productive that great numbers of people came into being and many of them became involved in creating even more advanced technical devices. This has been wonderful for us — so far.
You and I have been privileged to grow up and live in a world with an abundance of marvels, and we take them for granted, and we take continued progress for granted. Unfortunately, there is a downside to science and technology that made this all possible, but this problem can be coped with if we choose to do so. If we fail to choose to make the necessary adjustments it means the extinction of humanity in the not too distant future. The reason for human extinction is simple enough — humans now have the technology to create Weapons Of Extermination (WOEs). These are far worse than what are known as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) some of which individually can kill a million people. Most of the WMDs are not so potent, but in a major war these weapons won’t be used individually and their results will combine and the results will be cumulative and thus more destructive. Probably these, even in combination, will not kill everyone, with exceptions.
What I am thinking of as WOEs are the combined effects of the 30,000 atomic weapons and the diseases intentionally designed to be more lethal and resistant to all known means of cure. Also, the geneticists will probably come up with some form of evil little monsters to do us in. I value what Craig Venter and his followers are doing, and they are making the world a better place, but I am afraid there will be a dark side to their success.
I have met some of the scientists and others involved in this type of research, and they are very nice people. Dedicated researchers trying to improve the world by finding out how nature works and then making devices which make our lives better. Unfortunately, sometimes nations have wars and in a moment these wonderful things that make our lives better get converted into horrible things which kill other people. I wrote a sonnet many years ago addressing this unfortunate problem:
When man’s most brilliant children speak of peace,
They do so in a most deceitful way.
With one hand they give us a golden fleece.
But, with the other, all of us, they slay
When Armageddon dawned all men still loved,
Mankind, and beast, and tree and clear blue sky.
But then, these man brought blasts came and proved,
The best for life that man could do was die
With mister Noble’s gifts and Einstein’s too,
Seeming love turns suddenly to proven hate,
That renders pulsing life to stinking goo.
Is this for me and you? Is this our fate
We need no villains with their subtle shifts,
With heroes such as these to bring us gifts.
It appears impossible to me at this time, for the currently super over-population of seven billion people to come down to a reasonable Earth population of seven million without a Doomsday war. So, I don’t worry about it anymore and have started trying to create the possibilities of a Post-Doomsday society which might have the possibility of founding a society where the world population could be defined at a specific number and then maintained at that smaller number indefinitely. It is a large number as far as large-sized species are concerned, but very small compared to current numbers.
The way to set up the post-Doomsday world is to have an abundant supply of certain things, some of which are to be provided by the EarthArk storehouse placed on Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. In that location a seed bank will be kept permanently cold and the stored items will be viable for thousands of years. The other critical thing is to define a government which will support long-term stability and maintain the population at a restricted level. Perhaps the most difficult thing to do will be to create a mind-set for the public which is willing to accept a man-made law of controlled reproduction as opposed to the natural law of maximizing fertility. The future people need this, because natural animal reproductive urges will lead in short order to another population and a scarcity driven Doomsday war. Unfortunately, with each of these cycles the Earth will become a much poorer place for all of its inhabitants.
We are doomed to a Doomsday war, because we have already vastly overshot the permanent carrying capacity of the Earth. Our future offspring may learn to live with man-made laws to supervene nature’s second most powerful demand. My hope is that the first imperative, the desire to survive, will ultimately prove stronger than the second imperative, to eagerness to reproduce. You and I will not live to see this happen, but we can easily provide for a much better world for those who do survive.
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