The population explosion is testing our intelligence as a species. There are a great many of us on the planet now, and the power of the masses has become incredible. When there are 6 billion people, and 10% of them change their habits in a way that causes them to use a tenth of a gallon less water per day, the savings of 60 million gallons of water per day, or almost 22 billion gallons of water per year, is staggering to contemplate. This incredible power over our planet and our future can only be harnessed through the use of our media to educate all those people, and that will require breaking through a lot of political and economic barriers. Can we do this and get ahead of our problems before a large proportion of the world population dies from famine, disease, or some combination of natural and man-made disasters?
In the future the earth will support less of us. In a century or so, when fossil fuels are much more scarce and expensive than today and have essentially been priced out of common usage, the planet may be able to support only one or two billion people. While many (including me) hope that technological developments will save us, it would be foolish to put “all our eggs in that single basket”, especially in the face of our amazingly rapid population growth (link). Even our best technologies may not be enough to keep us all fed.
The planning and work to achieve a controlled and natural reduction in population needs to start now. For a smooth transition we should begin planning and managing the “glide path” to those smaller numbers now. Fortunately, even at a population of 1 billion, though, the power of the masses will be enormous. How can those masses be reached, educated, and helped to think in longer terms such that more of them will help create and manage the future of the planet and the glide path to a sustainable situation?
Education, economic security, and family planning all help to reduce population naturally. The experience of the Chinese, among many others, has shown that people who are better educated and more economically secure have lower birthrates. Fortunately, the kind of aid involved is relatively inexpensive compared with war, for example, and the developed countries of the world have more than sufficient resources to make a huge difference in these critical areas by merely changing where they spend their money. The policy changes required could be voted in or otherwise created by the masses of people in the developed countries, many of whom are still unaware of the critical nature of the population problem. The increasing volatility of energy cost and widespread focus on global warming (really a pollution problem based in exploding population combined with energy-intensive technologies) has opened many eyes, however, and people are finally starting to take note. A massive education, economic aid, and family planning campaign could be created by the developed countries within a few years that might be our best hope of achieving a controlled population decline over the next century, as opposed to more disastrous and uncontrolled scenarios.
There are many obvious barriers to achieving what I suggest above. Linguistic barriers are just the beginning, but fortunately globalization is driving the adoption of second, more globally-common languages in the pursuit of economic success. Political barriers are huge, driven by what are essentially selfish nationalism and cultural chauvinism, as well as religious and economic “special” interests. Such narrow-minded views frequently sub-optimize the overall situation, and work against the pursuit of sustainability because they fail or refuse to see the interconnectedness of life on the planet. In reality, globalization is just our own human-created model of a situation that has evolved over billions of years and is the hallmark of life at every level we know. (How many life forms live without interaction with any species but their own, for example?)
Increasing the average level of education worldwide is key. Education is the biggest barrier, as without it people will not understand what they’re observing and learning from others, and will have greater difficulty understanding the imperative for the pursuit of sustainability. Fortunately, few regimes today still attempt to keep their populations uneducated as a way to control them, and the spread of electronic mass media around the world has brought even the most remote mountain villages within range of radio news, if not actual telephone and internet contact.
Such an important matter must be pursued on every possible front. The media and governments can do much to address our most fundamental problem of overpopulation, but we must each promote understanding and demand appropriate action on a daily basis from our elected and corporate representatives. That extends all the way to school boards, officials, and teachers in our towns and cities and local government officials. The changes that will spare us the worst effects of the population explosion will occur at every level, from our own homes to international treaties, and we must leave no stone unturned, and no politician in the dark about the importance of the problem and criticality of the need for action.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim