Street sign near Pershing Square, Downtown Los Angeles (2016)
In a world of limited natural resources, an already stressed out ecology and decisive efforts from China and India to up their standard of living, the worst course of action that we, humans, can take is to continue to increase our numbers. Yet, what do you know, that is the very exact thing we are doing. We are headed the wrong way.
Most experts and models predict that human population will rise by yet another 2.5 billion is the next 35 years: a staggering 30% vs the current numbers. It is already crazy out there, imagine our future in 35 years.
So much has been written and talked about human overpopulation. Thomas Robert Malthus -also known as Bobby, to his close friends- started the whole discussion more than 200 hundred years ago. His models and theories fell from grace because his gloom and doom talk never seemed to materialize. In a nutshell, Mr. Malthus predicted that population growth will always tend to outrun the food supply and when this occurs the number of humans will naturally decrease until a balance is restored. The unexpected progress achieved in agriculture during the last century has made it possible to feed an increasing and healthier population. Thus, Malthus’ theories have never been truly tested in modern times.
These improvements in global agriculture have been made at a cost, though. The consequences on the environment of our Great Green Revolution are being paid dearly. Moreover, fertilizers -those magical chemicals that catalyze our agricultural progress- are married with an industry that is on its way out: the oil industry.
The problem of overpopulation has become the elephant in the room, a favorite metaphor used by journalists and bloggers. No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to hear about it, no one wants to do anything about it. But we all know it is there, that elephant, staring at us. We prefer to tackle problems such as Climate Change, the preservation of Biodiversity or our garbage disposal. These are more palatable to the general public (well, not even: they are palatable only to a fraction of the general public). But Climate Change and declining Biodiversity are consequences rather than the real issue. The mother of all environmental problems is human overpopulation, a problem which is in nobody’s agenda.
Politicians will never insinuate that the electorate should stop making babies. Churches will never suggest that using condoms is a necessity or that abortions will not win you a pass to hell. Governments will never regulate population growth, an extremely difficult to execute measure and very unpopular too. Parents will never dissuade their children to have children of their own. As if survival of the same kind is paramount. Isn’t that the purpose of life, to keep growing and growing ?
In 1979, China effected the “one child policy”, the only governmental initiative -that I am aware of- devoted to curb the population growth. This was a short-lived effort. In 2015, the Chinese government abolished the policy. Plausibly, China may now be viewing population numbers as a geopolitical weapon rather than a socioeconomic or environmental problem.
Maybe Malthus is finally catching up with us. Adequate and sufficient food supply is only part of the new Malthusian problem. There’s now the impact that humans are causing to the environment. As we remain silent, both in the East and the West, we are all opening the door to executive resolutions. We are all agreeing in having one person or a small group of persons decide if and when to push a button and eliminate billions of us in a matter of hours. That is, indeed, the text-book definition of a Malthusian catastrophe. Yikes. Better to start acknowledging that elephant soon*