Food systems are going to be of primary importance as population peaks. If, as the UN says, population will reach more than 9 billion in the 2040′s before beginning a steep decline, the causes of that decline are important to consider today. A historical review of population reductions shows that neither war nor the natural disasters we’ve seen so far make a noticeable difference, but suggests that famine and possibly disease have the potential to make major reductions in the population. Decades ago I expected that we might pollute our world so badly that average lifespans would fall, but there has been some progress on preserving the environment and it appears that energy and food shortages created by overpopulation are bigger concerns. (Of course, the primary concern SHOULD be overpopulation itself, as these other problems are results of it.) If organic food and farming methods are more costly than agribusiness’ methods now, why would they replace the hugely productive methods used to produce most food in the developed world today? Continue reading
Tag Archives: population
Are we smarter than lemmings? It’s time for humanity to prove how smart we are. We are faced with the biggest crisis we, and perhaps any species on the planet, has ever faced: our own overpopulation. But are we going to continue to grow our numbers until the massive and complicated systems by which we sustain ourselves collapse, essentially “marching off a cliff” as lemmings were once said to do? Or are we smart enough to curb our population growth and find a way to a sustainable world situation? Continue reading
Are the chickens of the population explosion coming home to roost? An Associated Press article today covered the employment situation in the United States, where the addition of 150,000 jobs in the last month barely matched the increase in the population. It occurred to me that these new people in the population will themselves have children someday, and that in the near future we may see the population growth consistently exceeding the addition of jobs by higher and higher margins. This suggests large and increasing numbers of people will be unemployed, and the middle class will be driven into poverty by the simple mathematics of the population explosion. In addition, conservative attacks on unions and public schools means the middle class will be less well educated and increasingly powerless before corporations larger and more powerful than most countries. Continue reading
As recently as 50 years ago it was common for American families to have gardens and can or freeze what they produced. Many people also waited for seasonal produce sales to stock up, canning or freezing the surplus food for consumption over the following year. In addition, many people had root cellars where they could store apples, potatoes, onions, and many other food items for months at a time including over the winter. Interruptions in the shipments of food into an area were troublesome, but not a serious problem because most people had stores of food they could subsist on for weeks or even months if necessary. Times have changed significantly, however, and the majority of people today not only do not can or preserve food, but don’t even know how to do this. The food in most homes would last for days or weeks at most, not weeks or months as in the past, suggesting the average person’s ability to survive in a food shortage is greatly reduced. Why has this happened? Continue reading
We invented our way into this situation. Many of our past inventions made life easier, food more plentiful, etc., and enabled population growth. When anything threatened to kill us off, we fought it with creativity and developed technologies to deal with it. Except for those inventions specifically aimed at killing people or managing our birthrates (the Chinese “One Child Law“, for example), our inventions have permitted us to thrive and propagate more and more effectively, and to increase our numbers at faster and faster rates. The problem we perceive now is that sooner or later the needs of our unchecked population will exceed available resources. This would seem a normal pattern for any life form, but there are plenty of examples where animal birthrates slowed inexplicably in the face of food shortages. That makes it seem that humans have lost the instinct for avoiding population-driven catastrophes, which leaves our fate up to us. So just how smart are we? Continue reading
How will we live when fossil fuel reserves have almost run out? Scientists and students of human history accept that human population will continue to explode until the energy sources fueling this incredible expansion start to run out. It is clear that a collapse of civilization will occur, probably over a period of decades in the mid-to-late 21st century. The change will be too rapid to cope with effectively, especially given skyrocketing energy costs and infrastructure breakdowns. The magnitude of the disasters involved will vary depending on how soon we wise up as a species, improve our long-range planning, and get serious about mitigating the coming challenges. While substitute energy sources will be developed quickly, the sheer numbers of humans being born onto the planet, day by day, may exceed our ability to build and deploy the replacement hardware and infrastructure, and the inability of most people to afford it may be an additional problem.
In the aftermath people will live quite differently from how we live today. After a period of decline that might last several decades, or perhaps a century, what remains will stabilize and coalesce into a new human civilization with some significant differences from what we know today. For instance, energy consumption per person will need to be a tenth or less of what people currently consume in North America. Here are a few ideas that might describe how we will live then. Continue reading
The Population Connection (a. k. a. Zero Population Growth) paints a clear picture of the world situation in its quarterly publication, The Reporter. Please read it for very interesting information on humanity’s biggest problem and what is being done (or not being done) about it. Power politics, greed, and ignorance are big factors in how this is being handled in the U.S., unfortunately.
Look at the comments I’ve received here. Notice that there are probably fewer total comments than the number of article-entries I’ve made here. I’ve been reading, researching, pondering, and writing for more than two years and 200 articles, and I rarely get a comment. Current total views stands at 44,327 – not bad – but I’m not hearing much back. Happily I was contacted via comment by another person who blogs on the future here on WordPress, Tincup68, and I find myself no longer alone. Amazing! Please give his or her site a read. It is very nicely written and well worth reading.
As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading — Tim
PS – it was because of this blog that I wrote and recorded this song: Nobody Looks at My Web Page. I hope you enjoy it!
The global human population is piling up. In the project management game (my current profession) we often observe a phenomenon that we call “snow plowing”. Essentially this is the putting off of work, or putting off of dealing with problems, until the uncompleted work and unresolved problems pile higher and higher and drive risk and costs needlessly high, to the point that the project could be canceled or simply fail to meet its objectives. It is easy to see, when you look at published population curves or see the sprawl of our suburbs and the decay in our infrastructure that we are rapidly plowing up a huge “drift” of problems and doing too little to mitigate them. Perhaps it’s time for a little truth, even though it may come across as shock therapy. My intent is not to shock, but to give a pause for thought that may affect future choices and actions.
First a few assumptions. Given that human population was less than one billion until 1804, and then didn’t pass two billion until 1927 (chart), it is safe to assume that, without the technological development that enabled our runaway population growth, a sustainable human population might actually be in the neighborhood of two to three billion. But humans are nothing if not adaptable and creative. It is possible we’ll be able to sustain ourselves with three or four billion if we invent a new source of energy to replace fossil fuels. Sadly, we are already near 7 billion and predicted to exceed 9 billion by 2040, leaving us a long way down to find a sustainable situation again. Keep in mind that these reductions must also counter the birth rate at that time.
Population: 9 billion
Sustainable population: 3 billion
Difference: 6 billion
Years to sustainability (by 2095): 50 (this might be less)
Reduction in population per year (average): 120,000,000 = 6 billion ⁄ 50 years
Reduction in population per day (average): 328,767 = 120 million⁄ 365 days/yr
Natural disasters haven’t come close to these numbers of deaths in the past. Of the natural events causing loss of human life in the past (list), only a few exceeded 100,000 in a single day. This suggests the reduction will involve human factors such as infrastructure failures, with resulting famine. Supply lines for most of us are already global, and both food and resources often travel through convoluted routes with a variety of risks. If populations in parts of the world are under pressure, they might block or otherwise hinder the supply routes, cutting off critical resources to the other parts of the world. In the past famine has often been accompanied by plague, and while our microbiological risks have increased due to overuse of antibiotics and our amazing transportation infrastructure, they could increase much more in the future.
Simple economics: fossil fuels will become unaffordable to most people within the 21st century. As population rises and we consume our energy resources at a faster and faster rate, there will be a point where further expansion is uneconomical and refineries will change over to produce products with higher value than regular gasoline, where they can still achieve a decent profit margin. This will further shorten supply and accelerate price increases. Oil is being exhausted most quickly, with somewhat longer futures for natural gas and coal, even though the former has environmental problems with its extraction process, only now being recognized, and the latter is a dirty fuel that is less affordable when the sulfur and other undesirable pollutants are removed. The problem with losing use of these fuels is not just transportation, but agriculture and manufacturing. Fertilizers and plastics (and most products involving chemicals) depend on large quantities of petroleum. Can you imagine the things you buy daily being packaged in, and often made solely from, wood, paper, or other renewable materials? When I see plastic I immediately wonder how much oil it took to make it, and what I would be using if there were no plastics.
A lot of people will have to die early before we’ll have a sustainable world again. While natural and human-caused disasters happen all the time, few (list) have ever killed enough humans to make a noticeable dent in the global population. The extreme steepness and height of the population curve suggests that, in the absence of determined actions to lower birthrates worldwide, those disasters will be much more prevalent and much worse in the next few decades. I hate to think about the size of disaster, and the number of dead it would take to make a significant reduction in world population but, given the number by which the population will need to be reduced, disasters will be far worse than we have seen in the past. Unpleasant as it is, we need to face the facts, change our direction, and begin working furiously in an all-out effort to curb population growth and invent ways to avoid the inevitable disasters.
This information needs to be faced directly by our political, economic, and social leaders. It’s obvious that we are still in a runaway condition as far as population is concerned, and it is creating ever larger problems involving supplies of energy and food, immigration, political conflicts, and economic instability. I have explored in other entries (here, here, here, here) reasons why people can’t bring themselves to speak of this topic, why news media, government, corporate, and political organizations refuse to accept, let alone address, the inevitable problems of the coming century. If we are to reduce and control the severity of these massive population reductions, and possibly save the lives of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, we need to act today. For starters, this huge problem needs to be discussed publicly. Facts need to be brought to light and calm, clear-headed efforts to mitigate the coming disasters need to start today. Governments that balk at funding family planning efforts, for example, need to give such endeavors top priority.
What can you and I do? Mobilization against overpopulation and its effects is needed on a global scale. Effort needs to be expended in a manner similar to that experienced by some countries during World War II, with businesses forgoing profits, government-regulated rationing, and huge investments being made in science and technology, except that this needs to be global in scale. Since corporations are not sensitive to such long-term and seemingly remote problems, governments will need to focus the effort and force the corporate world to behave appropriately. This will only happen if we demand it at every turn. It is up to us to change the perspective of politicians and business leaders, to take no quarter in our pursuit of the measures needed to address the huge problem we have made for ourselves and all life on the planet. Painful as it is, the trouble inherent in publicizing the truth and demanding it be addressed is nothing compared with the trouble we will have in three or five decades when hundreds of thousands of people are dying every day, somewhere in the world, and we are all suffering extreme hardship.
On a personal level, I expect that every bit of conservation I pursue might buy my grandchildren an extra second to devise creative solutions to mitigate the problems of overpopulation. If I and everyone does enough in this regard, the time gained could be a big factor in reducing the inevitable suffering.
Write or speak with your representatives and explain the truths, over and over. The simple numbers are compelling and frightening, and maybe some properly placed fear will get people and institutions to face and address the realities. The contrast between today and where we will likely be in a half century is compelling. Tell this simple story to your representatives and demand action. Make it clear you will vote for the candidate who shows the best understanding and most vigorous actions against overpopulation and the resulting problems which are already upon us. Do everything you can to get the message across: we need action against overpopulation and we need it yesterday.
As always, I welcome your comments. — Tim
A new book reviewed on National Public Radio takes an attitude similar to mine: that while the next few decades will pose unprecedented challenges to all life on the planet, courtesy of the human population explosion, it will be humanity (or some of us) who will find new creativity and discipline to solve the inevitable problems. Take a look!
Interesting reading at The Futurist blog. It appears there is a direct impact of our rapid technological development on futurists’ ability to predict events to come: we can’t see as far ahead or see what will happen as clearly. Unfortunately this is occurring just when we need to be planning to mitigate or prevent problems that almost certainly will arise in the next century due to the population explosion and it’s inevitable effects: exhaustion of energy resources and an ever-more-precarious agricultural infrastructure.
The futurist blog writer includes links to other futurists’ blogs as well – interesting reading.
As always, I welcome your comments — Tim
Increasing Electrical Infrastucture Failures Lead to Generator Purchases, De Facto Fuel Hoarding, and Long Term Problems
Electric service outages are driving home generator sales. Much of the Eastern US was pounded with heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes this past Spring, and many people I know bought home generators to prepare for more electricity outages. Those in towns and cities mostly purchased units that run off of the natural gas already supplied to the house by utility piping, but those who don’t have that kind of access had to set up new fuel storage. Doesn’t the storing of all this additional fuel in privately held facilities amount to fuel hoarding? What are the short and long term impacts of this? Continue reading
The population explosion can’t keep exploding forever. Sooner or later we must hit the limits of space and resources, and our numbers will be forced to decline. I see more and more signs in population-related news items (collected by the Population Connection folks) that global consciousness of the population problem is increasing noticeably. It is still far from sufficient to influence governments and corporations to do much about it, however. There has also been a change in UN projections of population growth such that they now give a high and low estimate for the year 2100, described in an article at foriegnpolicy.com, in which it is noted that the difference between high and low population projections for 2100 is about equal to the entire global population in 1950. That will give you an idea how fast the population is actually exploding. So how might population reduction occur?
It isn’t just fuel supply lines that have become stretched long and thin due to globalization and the corporate drive for cost reduction. Other products are affected, too, as their manufacturing is concentrated in fewer and larger facilities. The iPad factory explosion in China May 20, 2011. threatens to reduce Apple’s sales of the product as well as any other products that incorporate the popular tablet computer. So how did we get to this state of affairs? Continue reading
In many countries only the rich have cars, though this is certainly changing in some, but in North America almost everyone has a car, and even the poorest often need one in order to work. For this reason rising energy prices, predominantly oil-related, will cause a very big adjustment in North America. Auto companies are scrambling to put electric and hybrid vehicles into production even though battery technology doesn’t yet support the kind of range that can be achieved using internal combustion of fossil fuels. Increasing numbers of vehicles drive below the speed limit on North American freeways, trying to maximize their fuel economy. Sales of large vehicles always drops and small, more fuel efficient, vehicle sales increase as fuel prices rise. So what are our choices? Continue reading