Let the Sun Work

Coming to Grips with the Population of the World

There are about 6.7 billion persons in the world, and the annual population growth rate stands now at about 1.4% per year. That doesn’t sound too bad until you understanding how exponential growth works. Then it gets scary.

For example, run that 1.4% growth out just a little more than 700 years (not much time at all in the 90,000-year history of humanity), and the human population of the earth stands at more than 178 trillion, or one person for every square yard of land area on the planet. Think we’ll reach that? We don’t either.

But we don’t need to wait until we’re literally out of room to see the folly in overpopulation. The problems posed by too many humans are already painfully apparent, and every challenge we describe here on LetTheSunWork, including vanishing rivers, desertification, deterioration of air quality, catastrophic climate change, infectious disease, and peak oil, gets worse with more people and more manageable with fewer people.

The human population of the earth is likely to decline. It’s just the way it declines that’s uncertain. One way the population of the earth can decline is for all of us (with the wealthiest nations using all the resources setting the example, of course) to move voluntarily to cut population growth to zero and then move to reduce population. This kind of change would be painful and would require that we dismantle a blistering array of pronatalist policies and customs that have held sway in the industrialized world for the last several decades.

If we don’t move proactively to reduce the world’s population, the decline will come in one or more crashes, massive and traumatic die-offs from drought, starvation, infectious disease, or war – far more brutal than the cost and pain of proactive limits on birth rates could ever be. For a simple explanation of the folly of unrestricted population growth, read the Bathroom Metaphor.

Of course we profligate westerners must learn to use fewer resources and share them with the rest of the world in a more equitable way; that’s a given. But we cannot focus only on living more efficiently; that would still force a collapse of human dignity if not human health. If you doubt that, envision all the solar panels and windmills you want on a planet with one person for every square yard – it’s still a fundamentally bleak vision.

“The bottom line is that absolutely nothing else you can do—driving a more fuel efficient car, driving less, installing energy-efficient windows, replacing lightbulbs, replacing refrigerators, recycling—comes even close to simply not having that child. All those good things still add up to less than 500 metric tons of CO2 savings. Not having the kid saves between 10,000 and 13,000 metric tons of CO2..” Mother Jones, March 18, 2009.

The mainstream media are convinced that we humans are afraid to talk about overpopulation. Are we, or is it just our leaders who are skittish?