Overpopulation is a bigger catastrophe than Obamacare

Let's just hope it's not a Malthusian catastrophe. What's this? Photo: Crowded bus station/ AP

OCALA, Fla., December 18, 2013 — Throughout the ages, fewer questions have been more controversial than this: Are humans basically good?

Some might say that our nature stands positive in quality, and this is proved by technological, social, and economic progression. Others could claim social constructs are necessary to keep us civilized; without these, the aforementioned achievements would never have come about.

Whatever the case, there can be little debate that when too many people live in too small a space, misfortune follows.

Some 215 years ago, English minister Thomas Malthus warned about what may happen if populations grow unchecked. Today, few likely know what a “Malthusian catastrophe” is.

“‘Sustainability’ is the idea of a population size where present needs can be met without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs, as well,” explains Craig Lewis, executive director of Negative Population Growth, to The Washington Times Communities. “In his NPG Forum paper ‘The Meaning of Sustainability,’ the late Professor Al Bartlett explained the First Law of Sustainability:  population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.  

“This is because arithmetic shows that ‘steady growth’ of populations – for even small amounts of time – will lead to sizes that are so large, they become impossible for resources to accommodate.  Unless we reduce our population to a sustainable size and implement policies to maintain it at that lower level, we will face ever-worsening consequences to our growth – including shortages of food, water, and basic resources.”

Lewis isn’t the only one concerned about twenty-first century Malthusian nightmares. Michael E. Arth is an urban planner and public policy analyst. Earlier this year, he told TWTC that “(w)e have a catastrophe, but it is necessarily more complicated than what a country parson living in England envisioned back in the 18th century. When Thomas Malthus published ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ in 1798  the world’s population was around 1 billion. 

“Malthus argued that population multiplies geometrically and food multiplies arithmetically, so that the growing population will outstrip the food supply. He was not able to foresee technological innovation because before his time the rate of innovation in agricultural practices and distribution was very low. 

“It took until 1927 for the world’s population to reach 2 billion. Innovation and modern technology that accelerated during WWII allowed for a 20th century population explosion that took us from 2.5 billion to 6 billion. It only took 13 years for us to go from 6 billion to 7 billion. 

“As I point out in my book, Democracy and Common Wealth, the number of people on the planet living in moderate and extreme poverty—3 billion—is roughly equal to the number of people born since 1985. If we had stopped population growth then, especially in developing countries, we could have essentially solved the problem of world hunger, along with a lot of other problems.

“Two to three hundred million people have died of starvation since Paul and Anne Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb in 1968. 

“Overpopulation has also contributed to global warming, acidification of the ocean, widespread pollution, resource wars, stress on the environment, deforestation, political instability, religious extremism and terrorism. The UN estimates that nearly a billion people are in a constant state of hunger.”

Californians for Population Stabilization is perhaps the foremost group addressing overpopulation’s footprint on American life. Its executive director, Jo Wideman, recently said to TWTC that “(i)n the case of human societies, while famine, starvation, disease, civil strife and war can and do occur in situations that may have little or nothing to do with overpopulation, these factors can also serve as checks on populations that have grown too large for their resource base to support.

“Carrying capacity refers to the population size of any species that can be supported in perpetuity by the available habitat/environment without degrading that habitat or environment. When the population of a species exceeds the carrying capacity of its habitat, it causes habitat damage, and impairs the ability of the habitat to support the organism in question. 

“When this happens, in nature, populations tend to crash or collapse and may take many years to regain their former size, due to long-lasting habitat damage.   

“With regard to human population, many scientists believe that it already exceeds the carrying capacity of the earth and a readjustment is forthcoming.  It may still be possible to avoid a Malthusian catastrophe however, but only if a number of strong steps are taken. 

“These steps would likely generate a considerable political backlash on the part of those who feel they are being treated unfairly or who fundamentally reject the idea that humanity faces this crisis of historic proportions.

“Too much time is currently spent debating whether there will or will not be a catastrophe instead of the broader question of whether population growth is going to alleviate problems or exacerbate problems. Suppose that a new disease begins to destroy large portions of a major crop—wheat, soybeans, corn, rice. 

“Our ability to respond would be much better if the global population were at its current 7 billion, or much less, instead of a projected 9 or 10 billion.

“We already use about 40 percent of the earth’s land area for food production and another 9 percent for other human uses. Much of the remaining land is not arable. A better question is whether continuing growth in the human population makes it easier or more difficult to solve our existing environmental problems.”

Indeed, the question of a Malthusian catastrophe strikes to the very essence of human nature. Just how many of us are willing to acknowledge the human condition, let alone investigate it? 

Talk about extreme controversy.

 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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