I arrived on the scene in 1944 when there were just over 2 billion people on this planet. According to infoplease.com, we reached the 2 billion milestone in 1927 and passed 3 billion in 1950, so I’m approximating (after all, we’re not splitting a dinner check).
From what I read, we’re on the cusp of passing the 7 billion milestone in October of this year. (The lucky 7 billionth child gets free sandwiches from Subway for a full thirty days — less shipping and handling.)
What this means, aside from the brutally depressing fact that I am likely older than 5 billion people, or 65% of the population, I don’t know, but I’m fairly certain that continued growth at this rate will not usher in a golden age of plenty, abundant crops at lower prices, free rides for the kiddies, a wild explosion in the number of carpool lanes and cleaner air and water.
Not so, according to a column — “Population Boom” — at the Boston Globe this morning. The writer set me off with his subhead: “More people leads to more prosperity.” That sounds like a slogan from the turn of the century Robber Barons celebrating the new industrial age, the rapid influx of cheap immigrant labor, and higher rents for fire trap tenement buildings.
The ability of technology and industrial society to conjure ways to feed, clothe, shelter and keep an ever growing, more densely concentrated population on a planet with diminishing resources from slitting each other’s throats is not discussed in the article. I think I’d avoid it as well.
If we’ve learned nothing from the mayhem of the last century, with its constant conflict over resources, its terrible wars, droughts, famines, epidemics and economic depressions, we should have learned that more people at the party will not reduce the noise level and no amount of religious or ideological wishful thinking will make it so.
We are on the brink of destroying the world’s oceans and waterways with the byproducts of the lifestyles we’ve developed since the dawn of the industrial age. We face the very real threat of massive water shortages, a more immediate threat of running out of the fuel that has driven this growth and the likelihood that our air will be so filled with pollutants from our own activities that it will require chewing rather than breathing.
The more the merrier may be a joyous concept to a mine owner looking for dirt cheap labor to strip away a mountaintop, and more people may mean prosperity and happy days for the few who benefit from the outstretched hands, parched throats and empty bellies of the impoverished, but there comes a point when the party loses its glamor down in the hood.
While I can’t offer a solution to the problem of rapid population growth other than education and birth control, for the billion or so people who are already fighting for arable land and potable water, for adequate housing, light, heat, breathable air, a view of a horizon that includes gainful employment and human dignity, time is running out and the worship of expanding markets and easily exploitable labor is no help at all.
- Designing for Density
- World Population Milestones
- Raising Meat in Greener Ways
- Tiny Federal Program Will Save Enough Water to Supply a City
Photo via laubarnes