I hear that the subject of World Population is a sensitive issue. It essentially involves the touchy areas of reproduction, birth and death. Basically sex and violence. It is also a very complex issue, dragging in the total carrying capacity of the earth, projected rates of growth, the entire history of the world, evolution, life, the universe and just about everything else.
I’m going to charge ahead anyway because it is vitally important that we get this right and come to a common understanding of the facts and possibilities. There are a lot of extreme views regarding these issues, and some strongly held beliefs in myths, it turns out, or alternatively, blind faith that it will all work out. These extreme views have passionate believers, thus increasing the volatility of any attempt at rational discussion.
On the one hand, we have people who believe the planet is way over-populated, on the order of 5 or 10 times its carrying capacity, or even 20 times or 100 times. Many of these people believe we are reproducing at a rate that effectively assumes we have infinite resources, and we will soon slam into a wall of impossible density and total environmental collapse.
On the other hand, we have people who believe the extreme opposite, that there is plenty of capacity on the Earth for many more people, on the order of 2 to 10 times more, or even 100 times more. Generally, they expect that advances in technology will take care of all our problems, and that the more people we have, the more potential geniuses there will be to advance us even faster.
I am much more afraid of the first group, those who believe we are way over-populated, because it would only take a few of them to put together some kind of weapon of mass destruction (e.g. nuke all major cities, deploy a lethal virus, or EMP us back to the dark ages) that would “solve” the problem to their liking with genocide on a global scale. If they don’t do it, according to them, we are all headed towards some worldwide ecological disaster anyway, threatening species extinction. Which is worse?
It is very important that we dig in to this issue and understand the many errors that the over-capacity gang is making. They probably have a few bits of useful facts amidst the fear mongering nonsense, but I believe their beliefs are largely based on incorrect models, incorrect data, and a general negative attitude about everything that clouds their judgment.
The second group, however, those who believe we have plenty of capacity available to us, are dangerous in another way. They are over-confident in the possibilities for over coming the many global challenges we face, oblivious to the problems in some cases, believing in miraculous solutions in other cases, or accepting that however bad it gets, we will manage – we always do. Well, maybe so, or maybe not. How do we find out for sure before it is too late to avoid a crisis?
Some deny there are real problems (believing they are mere media illusions created to control the masses). Some believe there are fantastic solutions waiting to be revealed, such as infinite free energy. Even if these extreme possibilities are true, can we afford to just have faith that they are true when so much depends on quickly finding real solutions to real problems?
Others believe, more realistically, that while the problems are real, we have shown time and again that we are up to the task. Our exponential growth in population has been supported by an equally fast exponential growth in technology and advancement in civilization. But it is critical to recognize that never before in our history have we had the scale of impact on the entire world that we do now. It is a finite planet, however vast its resources might appear to be.
I hope these extreme positions held by the extreme pessimists and extreme optimists are not shared by the vast majority of people, and that most people believe as I do that neither extreme is correct or practical though they have some merit and their views should be listened to closely. We should learn from them, and hopefully they will learn from us as well. But I also tend toward the optimistic side – I am hoping that hope will find a way, and I’m willing to help make it happen. Are you?