OverpopulationJune 23, 2007 by Jeff Goin (warning: no real powered paragliding content!)
Are there too many humans? Will there soon be?
Ooverpopulation is a hot topic among many and it could have dire consequences. But, more humans may also be the only hope earthly life has.
Human population has exploded, to be sure. Peace is one of our biggest "problems." Improved health care another although the wealthiest cultures have turned that around and slowed the growth—a trend that's expected to continue. In the U.S., for example, nationals are dying at about the same rate they're being born. We're only growing from immigration, good or bad.
But is population growth bad? I propose that it is not only good, but necessary. Here's why.
We know that our planet will end in a crispy cataclysm caused by the sun's expansion. A billion or so years hence there will be no atmosphere, let alone life. If our species has not gone to greener pastures long before then, it will be forgotten.
Space travel is tough. It requires forethought and expenditures that offer little immediate gain. It requires a vibrant economy whose excess can be channeled into endeavors that will eventually provide knowledge of inhabitable places and the means to reach them. Space travel is our only hope.
This is where I'll acknowledge a possible quandary. If the population were to continue at its present rate for a million years then we would indeed overwhelm our food production capability. Technology will undoubtedly improve efficiency that I suspect a trillion humans could be supported. That's about 100 times the 2007 population total of nearly 10 billion. Even allowing such a huge number, if the population were double every hundred years, we'd hit that trillion in less than a thousand years. What of a million years?
Fortunately, growth is slowing. The best accounts that I've seen suggest population growth will completely level off in a few hundred years which obviously negates the problem.
What to Do
Since I see humans as a required asset for escaping their home's eventual demise, I suggest we do nothing to inhibit population growth. Moms, dads, keep making those babies!
Of course there are some places where the area can't support its present population let alone more. That's not because of the areas inability to grow food but because instability won't allow it—a completely different story. I don't spite the individuals in such places but do despair in their predicament. How sad to live in such a fertile land like much of Africa but where violence prevents growing food.
On the other hand, there are vast populations in relative stability. China, for example, could easily be part of the solution. They have the largest populace living peaceably under one government. Being a totalitarian system makes it somewhat of a wildcard but, if they continue with free-market growth and are able to direct resources towards space exploration, they'll eventually have more to spend on it than anyone else. If space faring nations can work together in the long run, I believe there's hope. It's almost ironic that the very thing they seek so powerfully to limit, human births, are what would eventually be the species salvation.
Thankfully, we've got a few million generations to figure it out but many aspects of long term survival require very, very long term actions. For example, we can delay the our planets fiery demise to gain another few million years but must start really early. And that will only delay the inevitable. We must eventually explore, find habitable planets and learn how to move there en-masse.
With enough humans set to the task maybe we can pull it off.