I was disappointed this week to see that our global population exceeding 7 billion went by virtually unnoticed. This was a momentous occasion. Never before in human history has there been so many of us on the planet. I suppose it was our Manifest Destiny. After all the Good Book says, “be fruitful and multiple. Fill the Earth and subdue it.” Man, we nailed that. Subdue it? Heck, we’ve got Mother Earth in a strangle hold and aren’t showing any signs we’ll let her tap out.
But what does 7 billion really mean for the human race? The way I see it, soon we won’t be burdened with so many difficult decisions. For example, we won’t have to worry about deciding between Coca cola or water with lunch. There won’t be enough clean water to drink anyway. Speaking of lunch, we won’t have to decide on chicken or fish. The oceans will be so polluted that fish won’t be safe to eat. No worries here. I don’t like fish, anyway. Doctors have to be doing the happy dance now that we have passed 7 billion. As human population centers become ever more crowded instances of disease increase dramatically. How exciting would it be to treat someone with something exotic like cholera?
“But Dr. Place,” you say, “that can’t happen in America. We have freedom, and liberty, and science. Science will save us all.” I’m pretty sure heavy metal poisoning and cholera don’t give a crap about your freedom and liberty. As for Science saving us all, the scientific community has seen this coming for a long time. The human ecology textbook, Population, Resources, Environment, by Paul and Anne Erlich, warned of the dangers of uncontrolled human population growth back in 1972. Unfortunately, the ill effects of overpopulation won’t manifest in our lifetimes and the proposed solutions aren’t all that palatable either. The Erlichs’ call to action has gone virtually unanswered.
While there are a number of proposed solutions, the one I advocate is called Zero Population Growth. In its simplest form, ZPG suggests that all couples have only two children. I feel very strongly about this movement and have put my foot in my mouth several times talking to people with children or planning to have children. I think it is irresponsible to have more than two kids. Period. Back in the late 18th century Thomas Malthus (it seems appropriate I would reference the work of an Anglican pastor on this blog!) showed that resources generally only increase arithmetically (e.g., 2,4,6,8,10…) whereas the human population has the potential to increase exponentially (e.g., 2, 4, 8, 16, 32…). Consequently resources are quickly outstripped by human population growth. Two kids, then, is obviously the number required to replace you and your mate (humor me, I’m a biologist). If every reproducing pair in the population did this, the population growth rate would be zero and there would always be enough to go around.
As I said, this solution is not very palatable. I can already hear the tea partyers, “Ain’t no one tellin’ me how many babies I can have!” I agree. However, I think we have a moral obligation as stewards of the planet and as ancestors of our future descendents, to do what we can to preserve the beauty and majesty of our planet, not to mention preserving our current quality of life (though you might argue, that has already begun to slide for some in other parts of the world.)
The way I see it, you, the reader, has a choice. You can brush off this letter to the editor as the unsubstantiated rantings of an aging tree-hugger or you can look into the predicted impacts of human population growth and decide for yourself. If they are unsubstantiated, it won’t matter if you looked into it. But, if I’m correct, and you didn’t look into it, then you will be partially to blame for
the state of affairs that results. I‘ll close with a paraphrase of the venerable Bob Barker that I think is appropriate given the topic of this letter, “Good bye, and remember to have your friends spayed or neutered.” If we don’t do something, it won’t matter if the “Price is Right.”