Seven billion reasons to worry
That is going to be the world population by the end of October, going by figures the UN released earlier this week. Seven billion people who are going to live – mostly long and resource-dependent lives.
As of writing this we are a cool million away from the milestone, but we are certain to hit the big seven by Halloween.
Why is this significant? What is another million people in the vast ocean of faces that is already estranged from us?
It is significant because we're not slowing down. At least not fast enough.
In this year alone we've had a net population growth of approximately sixty-two million people, which is a hair below last year, and double our growth fifty years ago. We may have seen a sharp decline in the growth rate itself since the baby boomers came and went, but we are steady again, and bolstering the human species by a mean 1.15 per cent, year-by-year.
It means that we are going to eventually hit eight billion by 2027, nine billion by 2044, and a staggering ten billion flesh bags by the year of our respective lords, 2064. This is of course assuming that the growth rate continues to decline as it has since the '70s, which I don't think is a likely scenario. Social analysts are deducing future growth rates from the decline that started in 1968, but the baby boomers have long since exited the picture, and I think it is a poor marker to use for determining population numbers for the next fifty years, especially since the decline has slowed to as little as a tenth of a percent drop with each passing year.
With the numbers out of the way, I need to dive right into why this is a problem. Our infrastructure as a civilized race is not accounting for the possibility of running out of space and resources. We are burning irreplaceable fuels and building housing on irreclaimable land. When the next billion need a place to stay, the ones who got here first are not going to just get out of the way. It may seem like as people pass on, the young take their place, but we are welcoming way more young to the world, than we are saying goodbye to the old. For some perspective, 220,000 or so people were born today. Only 95,000 have died. While it is not the kindest thing to do, putting “only” and “died” in the same sentence, it needs to be done for the sake of illustrating exactly how screwed we are.
In a years' time we will have another seventy-million peoples' worth less rainforests, oils, and affordable downtown housing, which is on top of the billions who already demand it each and every day. In five years' time we will have 350 million new potential homeless in the streets, begging for scraps from a possibly-continuing recession. In ten years' time a whopping 700 million human beings drawing bloody lines in the sand, in the name of God, pride and country. In twenty years' time, a telecommunications fiasco as we try to deliver fast internet to a new billion people on our outdated wiring and infrastructure. I don't want to even think beyond that, if we do not plan ahead.
One might argue that some parts of the world are in fact planning ahead. Japan is facing one of the lowest fertility rates ever seen as adults focus more on work than personal lives, and China is notorious for their one-child policy. I return those arguments with examples such as Afghanistan and Niger, where an average woman gives birth to seven children in her lifetime, which is a far cry above the world average of two and a half. Most African countries are saddled down by shockingly high fertility rates, and large countries such as India are rocking an above-average rate as well, despite their efforts to suggest two-child families.
It may seem like a hassle to plan for a problem that hasn't exactly struck us directly yet, but it is something that needs to be done, if even only for the sake of taking small steps. There are some steps being taken of course, such as earlier sex education for youths, to encourage use of contraception and abolish teen pregnancy's contribution to population growth. These steps, while admirable, are not changing the numbers enough to save us from a really crowded future.
British economist Thomas Malthus published a population control manifesto of sorts in 1798, which goes to show how early some scholars saw this problem coming. In it he wrote, “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio.” This means that while our population is increasing by exponential and multiplicative values, our food and living supply is only increasing by mere pluses.
He also said that there are two main ways to stop a problem such as this one. “Positive checks,” such as wars, natural disasters and disease, which increase the death rate enough to compensate. Secondly, “Preventative checks,” where we make use of birth control and abstinence to keep the birth rate down. One certainly seems preferable to the other, wouldn't you agree?
The preventative checks are not helping us enough, and I don't wish upon the world any kind of positive check, so unless a meteor comes down on us sometime soon as a parting gift from the dinosaurs, I compel people to take the issue seriously.
Locally it may seem like another new kid on the block, and a laughing matter, but globally it is going to crack the Earth beneath us. Then nobody will be laughing.