The world population is estimated to rise to be between 15 and 18 billion by the year 2100 CE (there is around 7 billion of us today). That is a lot of folks vying for their slice of the resources pie. The number immediately brings up the question in my mind, How are we going to feed everyone? It not so immediately brings up a second question, Will there be enough dark chocolate to sustain my daily habit?
I do not have an answer. I do not have an answer to how there will be enough cars, electricity, or tea (coffee for you coffee lovers). Happily, I do not have to come up with an answer, because I will be long dead by the year 2100 CE—at least I hope so, unless science finds away to return me to a virile, healthy twenty-five.
I suggest we willfully reduce population by having fewer children, instead of worrying how we are going to feed and clothe all those future people, let alone contemplate the pollution crisis and potential for war as natural resources become far scarcer than they are today.
Decreasing the quantity of humans is not a popular idea. All religions that I know of are in favor of unbridled population growth—every sperm is sacred (Monty Python song). Since most of the people I know are pretty nice folks, I would not want any of them to go in an ugly, painful, untimely fashion.
How did we get in this fix?
It is estimated that the earth naturally supported about 400 million people from the stone age on up to the year 1400 CE. That means from 1400 CE to today, population increased to 17.5 times more people (remember about 7 billion is the current number). Imagine if we had 17.5 times more bunny rabbits, starlings or cockroaches on the planet. Not a happy place due to overcrowding.
The biggest factor my studies reveal in the growth of humanity from its steady 400 million and up to 7 billion was when, around 1350 CE, European countries started mass production and distribution of soap. Earlier civilizations had soap, but its use was limited to the elite or noble classes. It is not until the commoner or peasant classes start using soap that humans begin their upward population climb. (My studies have not revealed when raccoons started washing their hands before eating.)
Okay, at the same time (1350ish CE) medicine finally began to have an effect in increasing life expectancy and curing disease, but I still go with soap.
What is the ideal planetary population?
I don’t know. A lot depends on what you think humanity is willing to put up with. If you are willing to eat insects and algae and not have enough open space to play a baseball game, 18 billion might be doable. If you are like me and prefer the earth be mostly wilderness that is regulated by Nature and relatively unaffected by humans, let go back to the value of 400 million.
The website World Population Balance suggests this: if we want to provide everyone a modern Euro/American standard of living, a sustainable population level is about 2 Billion. That is 28.57% the current world population. Or approximately 1/4th.
Since the current human social-religious mindset is not willing to reduce population willfully, what if we employ the Four Riders of the Apocalypse to force the reduction upon us?
For those of you who do not know the Four Riders of the Apocalypse are: Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine. (They are sometimes referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.)
Death. Death is, well, you know—Death. The body ceases to function. When I say Death I generally mean natural death. The current annual death rate is approximately 55 million in 2011 (from Ecology.com). The birth rate is about 131 million. That indicates that life expectancy keeps going up. This is understandable with organizations like the Gates Foundation working to eradicate malaria, hunger and poverty. Also, there are groups like Doctors Without Borders who bring medical care to places that have known little medical care previously. Notice, there is no organization rushing soap anywhere—most people know about soap already and employ it on their own initiative.
There has been a down-tick in life expectancy in the USA. This appears to be from the despair that fuels the opioid epidemic combined with a lack of political will to deal with that despair (Fortune Article). I think this down-tick is temporary and we will get our act together and solve the despair problem in the next ten to twenty years.
War. The US inched closer to war earlier this year with the Korean nuke testing issues, but that seems to have settled down. Russia, China, EU and the USA continue to posture with their nukes, but there is no tension in the air like back during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So I am not worried a nuclear war will start.
There are four ongoing armed conflicts that are rated large, 10K deaths or more per year: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Mexico (a drug war). There are 14 medium sized conflicts and 40ish small ones.
I do not understand why USA gun deaths are not counted as an armed conflict. With 33K deaths per year American gun violence would qualify as a large conflict. In fact, US drunk driving fatalities (over 10K per year) would qualify as a large conflict as well.
It could be with an increasing population and decreasing resources (or increased demand for current resources as the 3rd world moves up) more non-nuclear conflicts will spring up around the world, but I do not see it happening. Conflicts hurt business if there are too many of them and those conflicts disrupt an important supply chain link for the first world economies those first world economies (the ones with the nukes and tanks) will solve the business disruptive conflicts—because oil prices are down, we don’t care that much about the loss of Syrian oil, thus the Syrian conflict continues with minor interference by the big four economies.
Religious and Nationalism movements which, I think, are more a fear of losing personal or group identity might spur more armed violence (conflicts) in the future. Key word is might. I think there will be ripples of those conflicts as a problem from time to time, but that they will calm down after brief flares.
Pestilence. This represents fatal diseases. Pestilence may really crush human population numbers as it has in the past. Think about the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. It wiped out between 50 to 100 million people—5% to 10% of the planet’s population at the time. But heavy duty mass death from pestilence does not happen regularly, so it may not help humanity reduce its numbers down to 2 billion before 2100 CE. But…
…we are misusing antibiotics and causing strains of currently curable diseases to become incurable. Nature may be shifting the population growth tide against us to a decline, but it has not yet manifested in real numbers. There are new technologies that can filter blood free of bacteria which may replace antibiotics for some diseases. More science may be placed into seeking vaccines to use the body’s immune system to prevent a disease from taking hold, instead of curing a disease after it “friends” you.
One thing that I noticed and may be a reason pestilence wins is HIV. The virus mutates at a fast rate with some sub-types being 30% different genetically than other sub-types (HIV sub-types). To give you an idea of how different a 30% change in DNA is I give you: Humans are 2% away from Chimps, 15% away from Zebra Fish and I could not find any animal that is 30% away from humans for comparison—we are 64% removed from Fruit Flies—so I need some animal between Zebra Fish and Fruit Flies. Um. Yeah. I will use Marvel Comic’s Spiderman or Aquaman as an illustration.
Famine. This is a lack of food sufficient to sustain life. Climate change may force people to change our population growth by altering where rain falls and does not fall, thus making agriculturally productive lands non-productive.
The current rate of extinction may take out so many bird and animal types that insects will go unchecked and devastate our farm fields. I am not eating grasshoppers and cockroaches to keep alive—I say that now, but when I am really, really hungry, who knows.
Pollinators may be wiped out (see loss of bees) and most of the world’s population will be enslaved to pollinate crops (okay, that is a little bit too much a dystopian science fiction plot for a book I am sure someone is writing, but not me).
Urban sprawl may take away the best, most productive farm land. Having grown up outside Chicago in a town with great farm land in the 1960s, I know that area is all strip malls and office complexes and parking lots today.
Famine is not a manner I would chose to reduce population, but it is effective at killing people (Great Famine of 1315) or sending your Irish ancestors (if you are Irish-American) off the emerald island to America to be whisked into Mr. Lincoln’s Army by unethical recruiting agents filling quotas for Civil War Armies as men exited the ships.
The Four Riders version of reducing population are not very much fun and lead to a lot of broken hearts and teary television episodes. And they are not as effective as we need to reduce the population to 2 billion from 7 billion.
I think we need, as a society, as a species, to consider voluntary reduction of population by having fewer babies, until we are down below 2 Billion people by 2100 CE.
I understand there will be massive amounts of fear by folks that worry their ethnic group or religion or other identifying factor will not be allowed to procreate. I am sure we could manage this reduction proportionally and responsibly. If I could make it stick, I would create a new ethnic group that included everyone on the planet, and call us something like, um, Terrans or Sollies (names taken from the science fiction books of my youth), so we see ourselves as all one people from the third planet out from a type-G, yellow dwarf star, off to the side of the Milky Way galaxy.
Nature might take care of fewer babies by reducing fertility in humans.
There are organizations that study and work on the world population issue. A list of population concerned organizations is at Wikipedia.
Reminder. I am a guy who writes a person blog to voice his views and entertain himself. I count on you the reader to think for yourself and, if you are so inclined, point out with facts where I make a logic-oops.
Love and Light