Humans are a wonderful species and my long-term goal for them is to maximize their lives and their total hours of liberty and personal happiness. Mother Nature has been exceedingly cooperative with us for 50,000 years living the lives of hunter gatherers, and then cooperative again as we became farmers, which brought our population numbers from 3 million to 500 million by about the year 1625. Then population rose to 1 billion by 1825, and the advent of coal-driven productivity brought us to 2 billion by 1925, by which time machines driven by various energy sources like oil and gas permitted a further ramping up of productivity and population continued soaring to what looks like 8 billion by 2025.
All of this progress for our species is wonderful, but after 1825 it increasingly has been based on one-time-use energy sources. Children born today may have a life expectancy of over 90 years, and many will see things one hundred years into the future. But, and it is a huge but, they won’t see much production based on oil, gas and coal. Those things will have been consumed to near exhaustion and what poor quality minerals are still available will be even more polluting than the current ones.
Species that quadruple their population in a single lifetime, and consume their energy source, that is their food base, have a population collapse. It is inevitable for humans within that time frame, that is within the lives of young people now living. I have little doubt that there will be some fantastic discoveries on how to capture more energy coming from the sun, and that is probably the only source of energy that will outlast a hundred years of consumption by humans. Unfortunately even that will not solve the problem if there are more people than there is food. I don’t like it either, but if we are to avoid a population collapse we will control our own numbers or natural processes will take care of it for us. The question becomes a simple one. Do we want to take responsibility for controlling our population to what the Earth can supply, or do we want natural processes to crash our numbers to far lower than we would reduce them to achieve balance?
Is it possible to determine some realistic projections of what the natural processes would drive our population to? If we assume that technology broke down to the point where it was very difficult to power our farm equipment with gas and oil, then the population would drop to a level where people were farming by hand. The last time we were near that condition was 1625 and only a half a billion people were surviving. Why were there that many people and not more or less? It was because that was all the food they could produce using hand labor. As a friend of mine was used to saying, “No workie, no eatie.” So that would be a population that might be sustainable; unfortunately the world’s topsoil has been depleted and modern agriculture is forced to use artificially produced fertilizers to maintain the soil. That won’t be available, so the soil will provide perhaps only a tenth of what it would have in those centuries past. If there is a major war using atomic weapons during that future one hundred years, then the soil will be even worse, and the food it will produce will be even more limited. Perhaps we will need to divide its productivity by ten again. I hope not! But it could be even worse. So with those grim projections we would be forced to divide the already grim number of a billion potentially feedable people by a hundred and end up with a world population of only ten million. That is the number of people alive in about two thousand BC. Early civilization was getting along just fine with that number.
That ugly scenario is what natural processes have in store for humanity within the lifetimes of newborns at this time. When looked at in that truly grim way it makes the voluntary trimming of human population to some more modest number more palatable, but if we don’t take care of ourselves Mother Nature most certainly will.
Here is a possible plan. I hope someone can come up with a better one, but I think this one has a chance of working. If we set a goal of reducing human population to one billion, a number the Earth might support, how might that be done? How might it be fairly done? First, the number of babies born per year and expected to live to age 100, (for easy calculation) would be one billion divided by 100, or 10 million new babies per year. How could we decide who those mothers would be? It seems the fairest way would be to have a worldwide lottery once a year, and limit births for that year to those women who won the right. Using that method would slowly bring the population back to a billion.
At present with a population growth of 80 million per year that method would limit child-bearing to only one woman in eight who had a child, and that would seem severe, but after a hundred years it would only limit child-bearing to two children per woman, and that shouldn’t seem too oppressive.
The alternative to this voluntary limitation of population is horrible population collapse. Look around—would you prefer seeing 99 out of 100 people starved to death, or voluntarily have women limit their number of children? I know some will prefer to leave things to natural processes but that will be so much grimmer than anything the world has ever seen.
If you don’t like this suggestion, please offer something better, but just saying no means death to huge populations of living people.