Posts Tagged ‘Population Growth’

See this post on Seven Billion Day only a few years ago as a launching point. We’re now closing in on 7.5 billion people worldwide according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At least one other counter indicates we’ve already crossed that threshold. What used to be called the population explosion or the population bomb has lost its urgency and become generically population growth. By now, application of euphemism to mask intractable problems should be familiar to everyone. I daresay few are fooled, though plenty are calmed enough to stop paying attention. If there is anything to be done to restrain ourselves from proceeding down this easily recognized path to self-destruction, I don’t know what it is. The unwillingness to accept restraints in other aspects of human behavior demonstrate pretty well that consequences be damned — especially if they’re far enough delayed in time that we get to enjoy the here and now.

Two additional links (here and here) provide abundant further information on population growth if one desired to delve more deeply into the topic. The tone of these sites is sober, measured, and academic. As with climate change, hysterical and panic-provoking alarmism is avoided, but dangers known decades and centuries ago have persisted without serious redress. While it’s true that growth rate (a/k/a replacement rate) has decreased considerably since its peak in 1960 or so (the height of the postwar baby boom), absolute numbers continue to climb. The lack of immediate concern reminds me of Al Bartlett’s articles and lectures on the failure to understand the exponential function in math (mentioned in my prior post). Sure, boring old math about which few care. The metaphor that applies is yeast growing in a culture with a doubling factor that makes everything look just peachy until the final doubling that kills everything. In this metaphor, people are the unthinking yeast that believe there’s plenty of room and food and other resources in the culture (i.e., on the planet) and keep consuming and reproducing until everyone dies en mass. How far away in time that final human doubling is no one really knows.

Which brings me to something rather ugly: hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. No doubt conservative Republican presidents nominate similarly conservative judges just as Democratic presidents nominate progressive centrist judges. That’s to be expected. However, Kavanaugh is being asked pointed questions about settled law and legal precedents perpetually under attack by more extreme elements of the right wing, including Roe v. Wade from 1973. Were we (in the U.S.) to revisit that decision and remove legal abortion (already heavily restricted), public outcry would be horrific, to say nothing of the return of so-called back-alley abortions. Almost no one undertakes such actions lightly. A look back through history, however, reveals a wide range of methods to forestall pregnancy, end pregnancies early, and/or end newborn life quickly (infanticide). Although repugnant to almost everyone, attempts to legislate abortion out of existence and/or punish lawbreakers will succeed no better than did Prohibition or the War Against Drugs. (Same can be said of premarital and underage sex.) Certain aspects of human behavior are frankly indelible despite the moral indignation of one or another political wing. Whether Kavanaugh truly represents the linchpin that will bring new upheavals is impossible to know with certainty. Stay tuned, I guess.

Abortion rights matter quite a lot when placed in context with population growth. Aggregate human behaviors drive out of existence all sorts of plant and animal populations routinely. This includes human populations (domestic and foreign) reduced to abject poverty and mad, often criminal scrambles for survival. The view from on high is that those whose lives fall below some measure of worthwhile contribution are useless eaters. (I don’t recommend delving deeper into that term; it’s a particularly ugly ideology with a long, tawdry history.) Yet removing abortion rights would almost certainly¬† swell those ranks. Add this topic to the growing list of things I just don’t get.

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In something that sounds like it ought to be a joke but isn’t, the day when the Earth’s human population is projected to cross above 7 billion (according to the U.S. Census Bureau) is April 1, 2012. What fools we all turn out to be!!

Back in the day (the 1960s and 1970s), I recall the population explosion used to be a very real worry, as were the energy crisis and the ecology movement. They were not entirely forgotten but were submerged for a time beneath the usual happy lies we tell ourselves about human progress (e.g., Reagan’s rhetorical blather about Morning in America). Forgotten worries have resurfaced as Peak Oil, Peak Coal, Peak Water (frankly, Peak Everything), population demographics run amok, environmentalism, and permaculture, all leading to industrial collapse and probably maybe even human extinction.

With respect to population specifically, this article in The Guardian has a scary picture of present-day Taipei just to show what a swarm of locusts humans looks like:

Of course, it’s far too late now to stop us from destroying ourselves, essentially by consuming the planet and thus ruining our own habitat (along with that of most other species). This foregone conclusion was foreseen in the 18th century by Thomas Malthus, which is described in a now four-year-old interview of Iain Boal at CounterPunch called “The Specters of Malthus: Scarcity, Poverty, Apocalypse.” The news is out, has been for a long time in fact, but none save the Chinese (to my knowledge) have taken any real steps to stem population growth. (A few countries have logged negative population growth, but not purposely.) A more sober, mathematical unpacking of the issue by Prof. Al Bartlett is found here, which describes the slow, steady, implacable force of even modest growth rates. One can argue with arguments, perhaps, but how can one argue with math?

Update: According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), world population reached 7 billion on October 31, 2011. The world population clock at the U.S. Census Bureau (linked to above) still projects April 2, 2012, as the crossover date. These are estimates, to be certain, and it’s probably not so important which is more accurate.