- Has The Fuse Already Been Lit?
Population growth is a quite controversial topic to write about so let’s start somewhere neutral where no dilemma exists. The industrial revolution is generally considered to have begun in the mid-18th century. This single event drastically altered the course of human history, and in many ways irrevocably affected all life on this planet. It is the latter of these that I will address here. Prior to this pivotal event, the growth rate of our worlds population had been minimal. It required approximately 1800 years to go from an estimated population of 300 million to 1 billion in the year 1804. Shortly after this, during the industrial revolution, the rate of increase itself began to escalate. It required only 123 years to reach 2 billion in 1927…33 years to reach 3 billion in 1960…14 years to reach 4 billion in 1974…13 years to reach 5 billion in 1987…12 years to reach 6 billion in 1999…and just recently, only 12 years to reach 7 billion. Obviously, our population cannot continue to expand at this rate without our incurring serious consequences – both for ourselves and for the planet as a whole.
Current projections foresee this escalation to continue for now, with our numbers reaching 8 billion in only 11 years – in 2022. However, current computer models predict a decline in the growth rate after this. It is projected that it will require an additional 28 years to attain a population of 9 billion – in the year 2050, and another 50 years to reach 10 billion in the year 2100. But do not let these numbers lull you into complacency. These models consider multiple factors. Shortly after passing the 8 billion mark, without massive improvements in our ability to feed our population, hundreds of millions of people will face a slow and agonizing death from starvation due to inefficient food distribution every year! Yes, this will serve to decelerate our explosive population growth, but for those who are suffering it is hardly an equitable solution. Something must be done to address this issue of an unsustainable population growth rate. There are many potential approaches but some are extremely controversial. I do not promote any of these herein; I will merely list them for your consideration.
Increasing the productivity of our farmlands is the most commonly considered approach. Yet, it has many detracting factors as well as drawbacks to consider. As our cities grow and expand, it becomes a matter of inverse proportions. More land being taken for habitation means a reduction of arable land available for the growing of crops and biodiversity. Thus, ever increasing demands will be made upon farmland that is already at or beyond its capabilities. In some areas the land has been so abused that it no longer contains the necessary nutrients to grow anything at all, much less produce nutritious crops. A variety of methods are being tested to improve output such as newer chemical-free or less-chemical pesticides to reduce insect-derived crop losses, for example. But, in the opinions of some, these are often “worse” than the enemy they are intended to fight. How could they be though? Alternatively, genetic modification of the plants themselves is being utilized in some places. This, however, is considered extremely risky and controversial as well; and the long-term effects are still being hotly debated. The bottom line is simply: barring some revolutionary discovery or development in this area, we are just about at the limit of what we can do to improve our output with existing resources.
A variety of “radical” new ideas are being pursued, and some do seem promising. Hydroponics is being revisited as one method that might, with improvements, be helpful if utilized on a larger scale. One new method being tested, and thus far, with some promising results, involves growing crops in a controlled environment, without soil. The plants are grown in vertical racks with their roots being routinely sprayed with a precisely controlled mixture of water that contains all the nutrients that they require. Early test crops have thus far yielded excellent results, including an increased number of harvests per year. Another method being tested involves constructing vertical farms. Picture a 20-30 story tall structure consisting of open air levels, each filled with soil and growing crops. Obviously; the idea is to expand farmland upward instead of outward. This concept holds great promise; especially since it additionally provides shelter to many birds who otherwise might be eradicated because they roost in areas where they are not wanted.
And of course, there are those who argue for the artificial controlling of the rate of birth itself. This is without doubt the most radical and controversial of all. Be it because of religious beliefs, cultural ideas, personal philosophy, or a plethora of other potential reasons, this idea would be, ironically, the most easily actionable solution that has been proposed to date. Whether you are a proponent or opponent of a controlled birthrate; the evidenced facts are incontrovertible in the opposing cases of China and India. China has long borne the brunt of rhetoric concerning overpopulation, it is true. However, after the government implemented the highly controversial limit on births allowed, their prodigious population growth rate began to slow. Result: Ageing population. Conversely, India has no such restriction, and their birth rate has continued to escalate. The latest projections indicate that will surpass China as the most heavily populated nation on earth in the year 2025.
One conclusion is inescapable. Whether it be through increased food production, controlled birth rates, or a combination thereof, we must deal with the situation in the near future. If we do not, we doom hundreds of millions of human beings virtually to death unless a massive change in food distribution occurs. Highly unlikely though – lots of vested interests. Additionally, the overcrowding in our larger cities, which is already a major contributor to crime, will cause them to bear the brunt of an ever escalating crime rate, as social pressure mount due to overcrowding. Over population (and the resulting stresses it places upon social structure that accompany it) is a phenomenon that threatens the very fabric of our civilization. We are left with a choice that is simple in description, yet infinitely complex in solution: either find a way to adequately feed ourselves by redistributing food and making food actually nutritious, or else reduce our numbers. How we proceed is up to us.