Friday, April 30, 2010

Quoque Turba

Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true of humans in the finite space of a planetary ecosystem as it is of gas molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive.
— Frank Herbert

Pick up a newspaper, turn on the news, and almost daily you can read about climate problems, air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, war problems, political discord.
To me these only appear to be symptoms; the problem seems clear to me. The dangers that scientists, environmentalists, and political commentators warn of are symptoms of this much larger problem: there are too many people.

Even were the majority of the civilized world to cut their rate of consumption and waste and pollution and war in half, in another forty years the population is expected to double, which will obliterate any gains we make in the half century previous.

If humans one day become extinct...there would be no greater tragedy in the history of life in the universe. Not because we lacked the brain power to protect ourselves but because we lacked the foresight. The dominant species that replaces us in post-apocalyptic Earth just might wonder, as they gaze upon our mounted skeletons in their natural history museums, why large headed Homo sapiens fared no better than the proverbially peabrained dinosaurs.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson

Picture the city you live in. Try to grasp a clear mental picture of how many people live there. Perhaps a crowded mall or grocery store may help you get a good picture. Now take all those people in your mental picture and double it.
Does it seem crowded?
Do you remember those old television shows of the 1950s? Small towns where everybody knew everyone else. In 1950, the global population was half what it is now. There is a direct correlation between population and crime. Perhaps because higher population means a greater number of strangers. Not only do most most people remain suspicious of strangers, but perhaps it is also easier to commit a wrong against someone you don't know. An already underfunded and understaffed police force (check your inner city statistics) will not be able to keep up with the civil unrest wrought by a higher population density.
I predict it will come to a boil likely even before the population doubles in forty years.

From a diplomatic standpoint, world governments appear to be doing little to reduce the heat. On the contrary, some governments, the United States and Israel in particular, continue an unyielding, hard-line stance with other countries which all but guarantees violent confrontation.
Perhaps that is just what we need to save us: a war of large — perhaps even global — proportions would drastically reduce a large portion of child-bearing aged adults from the breeding population. Post-war, the damage to social infrastructure would endanger much of the globally poor, perhaps even to the point of decimating large numbers of them.
Global war is, of course, a horrific suggestion, and to suggest that it may be what is best for humanity is cynical to say the least. Additionally, there is the very real possibility that a global war would include the use of nuclear weapons, which pose a threat of wiping us all out.

If we survive, our time will be famous for two reasons: that at this dangerous moment of technological adolescence we managed to avoid self-destruction; and because this is the epoch in which we began our journey to the stars.
— Carl Sagan

Clearly, however something must be done to prevent the widespread chaos and destruction certain to result from the doubling of the global population by 2050. One possibility is that Mother Nature will settle things herself. Arizona Bay, anyone?
As the population increases, natural disasters prove to be more devastating. Consider the inevitable bottleneck during a fire at a crowded theater. Fewer people mean there is a better chance all of them get out alive. Larger disasters scale the loss of life appropriately (or inappropriately, as it were).
As natural resource consumption and waste and pollution increase so too do the odds of natural disasters resulting from climate change. The more rabbits you cram into a cage, the harder it becomes to clean up all the rabbit shit (and, incidentally, the less happy the rabbits become). But again, a climate-change caused natural disaster solution to the problem of global population involves humanity killing itself.

The final solution I can foresee to this problem is also the most difficult to implement and maintain. Humanity must make a voluntary reduction in population growth. What this means is a commitment to bearing one child per adult. Incentives to bearing one child per couple. Enhanced support for adoption and social services for couples that can't bear children (such as those in the homosexual community).
I can imagine the many scoffs that will result from this suggestion, and no wonder. Really, such a suggestion seems not only unreasonable (especially in our "freedom"-loving America) but impossible to enforce as well. Yet I posit that such measures will be the only way to limit population growth without humans killing themselves.

This is not a pretty picture I paint, and let's face it, there have been prophets of doom and naysayers before (and will be again, probably perpetually). What makes my "prophecy" so special that one should pay attention to it over any other?
I don't have a good answer to that question.
I will say that short of a global natural disaster (like the one killing the dinosaurs) or a global nuclear war humanity will survive. But at what cost? There's the question.
The entire world exists in a symbiosis, one in which humans are currently grossly overbalanced. It is only the natural order of things that humans sink back into balance. It is merely my opinion that it is better to control the descent rather than to succumb to it.

"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." King James Version, Genesis 1:28

I'd say we pretty much have fulfilled the charge of God to Adam and Eve in this verse, with the exception of the "replenish the earth" part. Perhaps we can stop the "be fruitful and mulitply" and "subdue" parts that everyone likes to focus on and turn our attention to the rest of our duties to this planet.