by Marcus Loane
The biggest problem facing the world is population growth. The human population has been growing at an exponential rate. Every person needs food to eat and the food ultimately comes from the land. The approximate area of land needed to feed one person can be calculated. Eventually there will be more people than the surface area of the earth can produce food for. We may even be at that stage now. It does not matter if we discover new technologies which increase food production, eventually a limit will be reached. If you are not convinced, then think about space. If the population keeps on growing there will not be enough space on the surface of the earth for everyone to stand. Obviously disease, starvation and death will occur before that limit is reached.
Mice and men
An experiment was done where a large glass enclosure contained shoe box sized cubicles connected to each other by openings. Some mice were introduced into the system. They were provided with regular food and water and nesting material. They were happy and they bred. The offspring spread out into other cubicles. They bred some more. Soon the system became overcrowded but enough food and water was provided to keep them all alive. As the overcrowding increased the mice started to show signs of stress. The males would fight each other over females. They would also fight each other for no apparent reason and homosexual mating behaviour was observed. Eating of young became common. Mental instability was observed with mice performing pointless repetitive actions. The experiment was stopped on the grounds of cruelty.
Contraception and food
The earth is also a finite system but we will not have a limitless supply of food like our mice. Even if some miraculous new technology can produce endless food it only exacerbates the overcrowding by allowing yet more population growth. Most of the population growth is occurring in third world countries and this is also were there is premature death from disease and starvation. Our natural instinct is to help them by providing food. They will then go on to breed and increase the population even faster. Feeding the starving is a only a short term fix. We need to tackle the underlying problem as well. We need more education on the population problem and the promotion of contraception. Providing contraception, and education on how and why it should be used, should be as high a priority as providing food.
To bring the third world countries up to the standard of living in the West may not even be possible. The average consumption of resources in North America may be so high that if it were applied to everyone in the world there just would not be enough resources to go around. Trees had to be cut down just to provide the packaging of your microwave-in-three-minutes sweet and sour chicken. We cannot live without trees. They create the oxygen we need to breathe. Many plant and animal species are going extinct at an alarming rate because of human encroachment into new areas. It is not possible to turn every piece of land into housing. Our food has to come from the ground.
Our goal should be to actually decrease the world population by implementing two-children-per-couple policies globally. That way there are more resources to divide between the living. Everyone will have a better quality of life. The alternative is certain suffering from starvation or war over dwindling resources in the not too distant future. Perhaps we in the affluent West will escape the misery and all of the dying will occur elsewhere. That should be no comfort, except to the most heartless of people. It is only an accident of birth that you are rich enough to have access to a computer to be reading this.
We know the Problem and we know the solution but I am pessimistic about the solution being applied. China did it, but it is very hard to see how a democracy could come up with enforced birth control without being voted out of power. I think education is the key. The Problem needs media attention. It has to be made socially unacceptable to over breed. That sounds harsh but the alternative is much worse.