Friday, January 13, 2006

Not To Worry

Whatever happened to that population "bomb"? More than thirty years ago a biologist by the name of Paul Ehrlich wrote a best selling book entitled The Population Bomb. He predicted that famine and mass starvation would be the lot of the human race because of overpopulation on planet Earth, and likely beginning in the late 1970s. Thomas Malthus, an Englishman, some 200 years before Ehrlich, also predicted dire consequences due to increasing population. Well, it didn't come to pass. There's hardly a whisper about growing world population today. Not to worry?

The word sustainability is on everyone's lips; technological breakthroughs appear on websites and various blogs almost daily. It is de rigueur among corporations to now speak forcefully about "greening." Even the remarkable disaster currently dwelling in the White House mentions environmental responsibility from time to time. But only a soft murmur is heard about all these people easing their way out of the birth canal every day. No big deal?

At the time of Caesar Augustus in the first century there were slightly less than one billion people living on the planet. Some 1,800 years later we had just about one billion people wandering around. One hundred-twenty three years later we had 2 billion people using the planet's resources. In 1960, thirty years later, we had 3 billion people spreading out across the third planet from the sun. Today there are 6.5 billion Homo sapiens on Earth. Where's the footprint? Is there one?

The United Nations believes it's possible that nine billion people will inhabit this world by 2050, an extra 200,000 people each day. Others estimate that we could have 12 billion inhabitants on the globe before population finally levels off. Some conservation groups believe we're utilizing around 20% more renewable resources than we'll be able to restore each year. Will we all eat cake?

China has clearly demonstrated that a police state--at least in the short run--can create a vibrant form of capitalism. I-Pods and designer jeans will always trump free speech and environmental accountability ... at least in the short run. Of course we can sustain several billion more people on our one and only planet as long as we are far more energy efficient, reorder world priorities, quickly reduce superstition and ignorance, and accept an overall lower standard of living within perhaps the next 50 to 100 years. Not to worry. But what if we had only 5 billion people taking up space in 2050? And, what if we seriously started talking about population control--oh, I mean family planning.

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