The (Over) Population Problem

Ken Smail points out a disturbing global problem curable only by significantly reducing the worlds population. That problem, simply stated, is that we are reproducing at a rate that will make the earth unable to sustain us in the vey near future. Even if we could attain zero population growth (ZPG) toady, Smail believes the world’s population would contine to grow. At a replacement rate of 2.1 children per female, it would take two or three generations to reach population stability and the population would be considerably larger than it already is now. The reason for this is because 30 – 40% of the population is under fifteen years old and hasn’t born children yet, a phenominon known as “population momentum”. Two more reasons why a replacement rate of 2.1 per female is inadequate to stem the rising population is a decrease in the mortality rate and an increase in longevity. Fewer people are dying (infant and maternal mortality especially) and people are living longer, especially in developed and emerging countries. Smail states that the earth’s resources are finite. That is true. We only have one Earth and if we take more than the earth can replenish, eventually we will run out. The earth’s “carrying capacity”, Smail estimates, is approx 3 billion people. That is the number of people expected to live a reasonably adequate to comfortable existence co-existing with the other species of the planet. We have already more than doubled that estimate. We are currently growing at approx one billion every ten years. In 1900 the world’s population was approx 1.6 billion. This year (2011) that figure has climbed to more than 7 billion, a greater than four-fold increase (4.3 to be exact). The formula used to determine the human impact upon the global environment is I=PAT. That is, the human impact(I), equals Population(P) times Affluence(A) times Technology(T). Our impact increases exponentially as population and affluence (our standard of living) increases. Technology may off-set that increase marginally if we can find suitable alternatives to energy and resource consumption but, the total impact will still reach a critical stage very soon if the other two multipliers are not addressed. Man has been likened to a virus. That is an apt description of us. A virus takes from the host, has no appreciable benefit, causing more harm than good, multiplies rapidly and in the end kills not only it’s host but itself. Smail states we must “… come to regard ourselves more as the Earth’s long-term stewards than its absolute masters.” By this he means we must learn to care for and protect not only our natural resources but the millions of other species inhabiting and co-existing with us on this planet. The time is now to responsibly manage and maintain our world so that future generations will have to the same or better standard of living, if we are to survive at all, as we have now.

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