Earlier today I was in a conversation with a dozen people about the moral urgency of climate change. It was based on an interview of Kathleen Dean Moore by Mary Democker called Your House Is On Fire, which we had read previously, and a brief introduction was presented before we started our discussion.
Our conversation followed the article and we added our opinions about the various problems, but my personal problem with the whole ecology movement is that they all but ignore the population aspect. My personal feeling is that unless we and the future people somehow create effective population control all the patches proposed to various things like creating better crops or limiting oil drilling are futile in the long run. The worst of it is the long run isn’t very long. When mineral petroleum becomes scarce it is difficult to imagine the price of automobile gasoline not rising to the level where personal autos can’t be powered that way.
With the production of food people seem to think that because the Green Revolution worked once and doubled the world’s food supply, all we need to do is to have another Green Revolution. It is easy to say, but how can it be done? Perhaps it is physically impossible. Then what? The obvious answer is that human population must be brought under control somehow, and that means the population must never exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth. There are several ways that might come to pass. 1. We voluntarily reduce our population. 2. We endure a worldwide famine. 3. We have a really serious world war. 4. We have a really serious disease, either human or crop.
If we continue as we presently are, it seems obvious that one of these eventualities must hit humanity within the lifetimes of people now living. Perhaps present ninety-year-old people will see it happen, perhaps not. But, ten year old people are almost certain to see a major world population decline if they live to be ninety. That’s just eighty years, which seems like a long time, but the current population is doubling every forty years, and that would be two doublings from our current population of seven billion. One doubling is fourteen billion and a second doubling is twenty-eight billion people. When I was born there were just over two billion people. It’s hard to look at a little kid and think when he is my age there will be fourteen times as many people as when I was his age. It has brought tears to my eyes several times when I have seen happy tots walking along, through an arch of outstretched arms, while we adults sing, “As you go may joy surround you, as you go, go in peace. Know our love is with you always, as you go, as you go.” (Usually repeated.) Go to what?
If the world population was returned to the two billion it was when I was young, or better yet the population of 1825 of one billion people, the Earth could support us in a good way. If we continue breeding as we are it seems obvious there will be a collapse, of some sort, within the lives of those kids I know. When seen in that way it seems a moral obligation to find a solution to our Earth’s problems and our over-demanding population.
It comes to the question of how do we set a population number that is fair and reasonable, and then how can it be enforced in a fair way? At present it is well known that well-educated women have fewer children, but also well known is the fact that half of American women’s children are born out of wedlock. On average these women already have ten or more years of education. So, how much do they need? How can women be educated to the point where they control their child bearing when the population has reached the maximum sustenance level and there is no money to educate them? How can these women be convinced it is better for them to inhibit their child-bearing potential? Or is it going to be, as one woman suggested in a joking tone, “Castrate all the males!” That seems drastic, and yet the near extinction of humanity seems drastic too, and likely if we don’t do something, and something we all presently think of as drastic. We must answer the problem, or natural processes will answer it for us in an exceedingly unpleasant way.
Why do women have children?
I appreciate all of this except the end sexist and elitist comments. We need to educate men on equal par with women, not just castrate them. To ask “Why do women have children?” seems short-sighted, limiting, and smacks of age-old male dominance issues which we are trying to overcome. A lot of women feel that if only men would get their priorities lined up, we wouldn’t have such a population problem.
A lot of women are perfectly fine giving men the wheel and sitting back as their planet explodes.
Education is also an elitist concept, to some. Waving one’s degree as if it symbolizes moral superiority is a misinterpretation of what schools are meant to prepare us for. If school was interested in a moral education, there would be dramatic shifts in how we measure our students.
To accuse people of “ignorance” on any issue, is not their fault, but the aloof accuser’s. It is societies fault. The person accusing is just as much responsible as the educator or the statesperson. They can volunteer for S.M.A.R.T. for instance for an hour a week of their precious lifetime. If everyone did that, a lot more people would be able to think better, and act better.
I just wish we would stop pointing fingers, get to work and make a difference instead of another complaint.
I really like the first 2/3s of the essay though. Man, I’m totally with you there in my fears for our current and future kiddos.
The blog post attempts to find answers to the difficult problem of limits to Earth’s ability to support humans. It seems that any solution is going to be terrible by our present standards. Searching through the possible alternatives is unpleasant at best, and horrifying at not even the worst. Perhaps the worst would be a slow but steady externally imposed extinction at about the rate of current expansion. Imagine half of all people being dead in forty years, from uncontrolled causes and again half of the surviving population being dead in another forty years.
On a daily basis life might seem reasonably normal, as it does now with a similar rate of growth of population, but over an eighty year lifetime the drop to a quarter population one remembered as a child would feel painfully tragic. The reason this would feel worse because a sudden die off in a very short time from a war or epidemic would just be accepted and life would return to normal, but a slow withering would be a constant and unremitting pain.