Our problems from population overgrowth focus mostly on food, and are not decreasing. As I have suggested in past posts, famine will be a key element of the global collapse humanity is racing towards, and this article describes the current status of our global food infrastructure. This additional article provides even more detail. Unfortunately, it appears we are steadily losing ground and on a path to disaster.
My mother’s passing created an interesting parallel to our future situation. My late mother acquired type 2 diabetes in her early 30’s (the 1950’s) and lived with it until her death in 2004. Her last days were for me a parallel to the future of the population explosion. For decades she had dealt with one negative effect of her diabetes after another, but the problems had arisen more and more frequently, and at 77 she had spent the majority of the previous 2 years in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.
One day she called me to come to the hospital for a meeting with her doctor, who was brutally frank with us. He reviewed her various problems with us, and then said “If it was just one or maybe two of these problems I could take a shot at making them better, but there are too many of them and they are complicating each other. I just don’t know how much more I can do.” My mother thought for a moment, considering what he had said, and then replied “Well, that’s it then. I want to go to the hospice, and I want chocolate!” Less than two days after her move to the hospice (with the best chocolate I could get her) she had passed away, seeming to just decide to let go.
Unfortunately, the population explosion is negatively affecting all life on Earth. Pushed beyond their capacities, existing infrastructure systems including agriculture are failing more and more, in more and more places, and this trend will continue and increase exponentially as the world’s human population grows faster and faster. Small failures will begin to overlap, complicating or causing larger problems and making solutions more and more difficult, until coincidences of really large problems, such as earthquakes, wars, and famine, will occur with disastrous results. As in my mothers’ last days, problems will become too many and too interrelated to be solved easily, or at all, and the result will be not just millions, but BILLIONS of deaths, probably over a period of just a few years.
Climate change, mass immigration, and political strife all increase with the population. Territorial disputes, and larger and larger movements of poor, often-undocumented people will increase. Huge refugee camps, already in existence in the most troubled parts of the world, will find it harder and harder to keep up with needs for food and water as they grow. Increasing droughts and unpredictable and increasingly violent weather patterns will make everything harder and more costly, and introduce near-random variability into crop failures and successes that will make the global food infrastructure increasingly hard to manage.
Many causes could push us to disaster, but the ones we don’t recognize will be worst. If a major crop disease attacks a genetically homogenous staple like wheat or corn, the resulting local or regional shortages could result in many deaths and economic devastation, but the global shipping infrastructure could mitigate the damage by quickly bringing in food. On the other hand, the most dangerous problems will undoubtedly sneak up on us, unrecognized until it is too late to deal with them and possibly combining with other problems to make far worse and almost insurmountable problems. For instance, a sea level rise of just a few feet would put container shipping ports out of business, or at least operating at reduced capacity, for weeks or months, which could cause food shortages almost anywhere in the world.
Barring some new breakthrough technology such as inexpensive fusion power, the course of humanity appears to be more and more certain, and more and more frightening. Little news is coming from the big research organizations such as CERN, and the U.S.’s incompetent conservative legislators have done away with important research funding in the U.S., apparently in an effort to give billionaire oligarchs bigger tax breaks but selling everyone out in the process.
Political strife increasingly blocks meaningful progress. As politics churn dysfunctionally in Washington because of our insane, mentally defective president and rabid Republican party, it isn’t clear that our leaders are willing, even at this late date, to face the population explosion head on. The longer we wait, the more complicated, larger, and more difficult our problems will become.
Conservative social forces such as religion will make things worse. Ignorant right-wing religious reactionaries of all faiths will continue to distract people from the realities and promote “dark ages” thinking that holds ideas such as the one that says that, if we allow minorities like LGBTQ people to even exist, god will wreak terrible vengeance on us. (Does this mean they’re going to blame the population explosion on god and do nothing about it?) As foolish as such an idea is, if it hinders us from dealing with our biggest real problems, it will only make things worse.
Like my mother’s health problems, will we (or WHEN will we) find that we have too many simultaneous problems to solve any of them? With the population explosion continuing almost unchecked, there is no indication that we can avoid a global infrastructure collapse that will starve people in the billions. The only question is how long we can put off such a terrible time, and whether putting it off will make it worse by allowing a larger population, or better because many people will voluntarily have smaller families and change their lifestyles to have less impact on the environment once they understand the nature of our biggest problem.
I don’t know if I will live long enough to see a global collapse. I’m not sure I want to live to see it, actually, as I have no reason to think I could avoid being one of the casualties. I fear for my children and grandchildren, and all life on the planet, however. Humanity may be intelligent, but we’re clearly not yet intelligent enough to avoid the “boom-and-crash” scenario followed by other too-successful species.
Good luck to us all, and thanks for reading – Tim
- 2018 The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2018
- The Fight Against World Hunger is Going in the Wrong Direction, NPR Goats and Soda blog, Jason Beaubien, 11-Sep-2018,