I fully believe that the world will find a new, sustainable situation within the next century or two, as we get over our big “high” on fossil fuels and things settle down again, possibly with a new energy source (fusion looks possible, eventually). I have read so many predictions of cataclysms, the poisoning of the environment, worldwide epidemics, world wars, drought and famine … They all sound dire, and I can’t discount the possibility that some of them will occur to some extent, but, short of a major asteroid collision or similar cosmic-scale event, I have to believe change will generally come not with a bang, but a whimper. Still, the challenges before us are many, and important.
Population still appears to be our biggest problem. Like the birds in Northern Lower Michigan a couple of decades ago in the years after a major tent caterpillar infestation, our food and energy supply has been so abundant that we have been able to propagate like crazy, and have reached a population that, without question, can not be sustained without fossil fuels. Since, before this big surge of growth, world human population never got much above a billion (as far as we know), that indicates that the population must go back to a billion or so as fossil fuels are exhausted, which appears to be highly probable over the next 50 to 100 years.
Improved energy efficiency might permit a small percentage more, but, even with those improvements, it doesn’t look like we can have the standard of living prevalent in the developed countries and keep our current numbers. Fusion power, if and when it comes about, may provide some incremental improvement, perhaps the biggest improvement in the situation in centuries, but I would guess our numbers must still get below 2 billion to achieve real sustainability.
Population reduction can be achieved the easy way, by a massive, worldwide educational effort focused especially on the developing countries, if it successfully convinces people to almost completely stop having children in the next decade, and to limit their family sizes thereafter. The alternative is a set of frightening scenarios I won’t mention here, except to say that “the four horsemen” come to mind. If we are smart, and public policy can be turned to address overpopulation in the near term as opposed to just symptoms such as climate change and pollution, we may be able to find an easier path to the future than the worst cases. I don’t know how many major problems will have to crop up before the majority of people begin to understand the situation, though.
I, for one, continue to harangue my political representatives to make overpopulation a part of their thinking, their platforms, and the bills they propose and support, but this sort of action is needed from a lot more people than are apparently aware of the situation now. I urge each and every one of you to communicate this demand to your political representatives immediately, that their action is needed at once. We will need to continue to push this understanding into the political and public consciousness for the rest of our lives, I believe, so that our grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, will be able to live happy and comfortable lives as most of us in the developed countries have over the past century. We can minimize the “whimpering”, but it requires concentrated and consistent action from here on.
I welcome your comments, as always.