Overpopulation Will Become Intensely Painful, Urgent Solutions Needed
It’s very difficult to explain to most people that the world’s population is growing “exponentially.” In a few countries, the population has stopped growing and is shrinking. Most of the times, when politicians frantically try to sell you the idea that population is shrinking, it isn’t – it’s just that the number of people able to pay taxes to the state (and fund politicians’ paychecks) is shrinking.
As an example – retired people generally cost the state money to keep alive. Sick people, ditto. Politicians with a clear economic agenda are by and large not overjoyed with the aged and otherwise unproductive not working. But even in places such as Russia there’s still 0.2% population growth, and any growth doubles the population over the long term. From the perspective of the Russian state and policy makers, 0.2% is insufficient, since the result of such comparatively low growth means Russia is eventually (and for several decades) left with comparatively too many old people.
The unchecked growth of human population on the planet has been nothing short of absurd in the last century. Even a casual glance at a population graph shows us that human numbers have spiked, and are still going up worldwide. We also know that the UN has been adjusting growth numbers consistently upwards in the last few years and is now projecting an eventual world population well in excess of 13 billions, and “population growth not leveling off beyond 2100.”
Under given energy and resource constraints, and with the current biosphere degradation, that’s just impossible. Some people (mostly conservative people) may think indefinite growth is possible, or that “nature will generate it’s own solutions,” but a moment of honest thinking should show anyone that population growth will eventually become an intensely painful issue.
Fertility Must Become Subject to Politics
Most people worldwide are used to considering the right to have children as a “sacred” natural right. But you can already see the tide of public opinion turning. When some arguably irresponsible guy fathers 30 children with various unwed mothers, taxpayers take notice and object. Taxpayers realize that the mothers will need some form of child support, and if the guy in question is not able or willing to provide child support, taxpayers are left holding the bag.
Right now procreative freedom comes with no consequences to “irresponsible” fathers or mothers as shown by the cases of Desmond Hatchett or the Duggar family. But those are two examples of people who make lifestyle choices that eventually will contribute to “intense pain.” It won’t be many decades before voters realize that ever increasing population numbers will cause ever worse living conditions for everyone. We are not there yet. Voters still weigh the right to procreate as sacrosanct. But someday in this century the unrelenting tide of doubling population rates will clash with the natural urges of entitled individuals. There will come a point where intense debates over population growth will start.
Right now in most countries the idea that we as a society might seek to impose constraints on individual rights to procreate is considered as unthinkable and too radical. I can easily show everyone reading this article applicable studies of overpopulation and resulting resource scarcity, and with the unrelenting doubling population rates “every several decades” we are pretty much almost there. Before 2050 individual countries will yield to the concerns of the voters and limit population growth.
In his famous “Known Space” series of novels, Larry Niven explored those conclusions. In his stories Niven described an Earth with 18 billion human beings. On such a world, the population pressure implies actual “intense pain” for the majority of human beings. Larry Niven’s conclusion was fairly simple and self-intuitive – at some point fertility must become subject to politics. Politicians will ration procreation rates, and once politicians are voted into office to limit birth rates, they will immediately try to impose radical policies. That means that the distinction between desirable births and not so desirable births will be made.
There will be a relatively brief flurry of protest over a few decades, but population reduction policies will be enacted, which will be supported by first local and then global consensus. Eventually, all the world will agree that a common authority must be put in place to use state force to limit human births. The criteria for selection of desirable births and elimination of non desirable ones may hinge on the ability of prospective parents to generate income or certain hereditary ailments (vis-a-vis measurable health). Other contributing factors to being granted a license to breed may be certain artistic, scientific or athletic accomplishments.
Solutions Must Be Democratic, Consensual, and Nonviolent
These choices should be inspired by sound science and democratic consensus. The voters will demand an end to overpopulation, and they’ll get their demand met. Politicians will then nestle in the demand niche and seek to come up with what they perceive as constructive policies for the future.
I am well aware that this conclusion may be offensive to many people. The idea that in one or two generations we’ll first see local US and EU laws constraining population growth, and then we’ll see those laws expanded to include the whole world, is still unthinkable and offensive. But public opinion is a very malleable thing, and exponential population growth can’t be allowed to continue for much longer on a planet with limited resources.
The most important question is – given the gravity of this conclusion, how can we as discerning and educated citizens of the most powerful world’s economies start a rational, just and sensible discourse about this problem. How can we guide our political system toward the best possible outcome? There is a lot that we can do at this very moment to start debating the issue democratically, and by doing so to steer policy away from unmitigated tyranny, disaster and the worst fascism the world has ever known.
The goal is to avoid killing people, which has been the default policy of states with regards to overpopulation for several thousand years. Large scale industrial wars are no longer a rational option – even a minor nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan would be globally catastrophic. We should, therefore, conclude that all solutions to the overpopulation challenge must be democratic, must be consensual, and must be nonviolent.
Images from Perati Komson and Shutterstock.