Monday, April 28, 2008


A previous post hereunder, A WATER POLICY FOR CANADA, stated the biggest challenge humanity has ever confronted is its current need for basic access to potable water. While that may well be the most complex and overwhelming mankind has yet faced, the Earth faces a bigger one. Collective overpopulation by the human race.

Procreation is a right every being on earth has always inherently considered natural and basic. Sanctity of life and freedom to procreate have brought the world’s population to levels already beyond the earth’s ability to satisfy the needs of each new life. Other than discussed, or commented on by deniers and pro-life advocates, the term overpopulation is a four letter word that has moved to the center of the politically correct protective compound. Much of the developed world has had the luxury of being able to disregard the nagging but silent provocation. It is only slightly affected, although there is the residue of our own movement toward overpopulation evidenced in our rivers and lakes.

The agenda that receives attention includes fears of global warming, cleaning up our environment, the high price of oil, a shortage of water and the increases in our food prices. New terms like ecological footprint have entered our perception window, creating vague images related to consumption, yet serving some positive purpose as they stimulate guilt impulses across our synapses. The result is that we feel a certain angst when filling up our SUVs and think about possibilities of hybrids. Our consumption of nature’s abundance continues having grown faster than most had anticipated. No amount of cutting back by those of us in developed countries, while appeasing conscience, will deliver a solution. Such can only be achieved by a determined and deliberate engagement with the collective challenge of overpopulation.

The nature and size of the uncontrolled growth of the past century get little attention, yet we are encroaching on nature to an extent now being felt by everyone, including those of us most enjoying its fruits. Even if the total population leveled off at somewhere around ten billion by mid-century, we have already stretched the earth’s finite tolerance levels on too many fronts. Consumption has already exceeded the abilities of our technological capacities for sustainability or capacities to reverse damage on the environment. Ignoring population growth is ignoring the power of nature’s determination not to be overwrought by any force.

The impact of overpopulation is being felt by some third world countries where too often food and water are not available other than when weaned from the bosom of a 747 transport plane. There are many countries such as Niger, for example, where on average, over seven children are born to mothers already overwhelmed by difficulties caring for, or feeding themselves. Niger’s population is expected to be 56 million by 2050. It had only 1.7 million people in 1960. Our own tolerance in the developed countries and even developing countries will be strained when we are directly impacted by shortages of foods, medical care, energy or degradation of personal safety. We should not wait to be surprised by the failure of human ingenuity to solve this challenge for us.

Answers lie in education and work such as that done by Doctors Without Borders which promotes female emancipation in cultures with low literacy rates, encouraging women to take control of their own bodies. Developed countries should assist developing countries with providing women and men education on health and family planning. The efforts must be dramatic. The earth has presented us a challenge with ample warnings. It awaits a cogent and persuasive response, before issuing its own.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, James. As I commented on your post on MND, I believe that economists are the biggest impediment to progress on the overpopulation issue. Because of the black eye given the field of economics when Malthus' theory (published in 1798) about overpopulation and food shortages seemed to be debunked by exponential improvements in crop yield, economists vowed to never again give credence to any theory about overpopulation. Now they mock and deride as a "Malthusian," the economic equivalent of Chicken Little, anyone who dares to suggest that overpopulaion could pose a problem. For an economist, any expression of sympathy for the idea of overpopulation is likely a career-ending move.

    As a result, economists have a huge blind spot when it comes to the most overwhelmingly dominant fator behind so many of the problems we face today. I find it astounding that, even as we grapple with some of the problems you list in your post - global warming, declining oil reserves, soaring food prices - to name a few, economists still won't admit that there are no solutions to any of these problems that don't begin with addressing overpopulation.

    You mentioned the plight of Niger in your post. While many people see economic development as the solution to rising overpopulation in the 3rd world, I see it differently. Development is the cause of overpopulation, not the cure. 3rd world countries universally are characterized by both a very high death rate and a very high birth rate, yielding a population that's more or less stable. But the introduction of any modern advances, even the most rudimentary like sanitation, some basic medicines or food aid, sends the death rate plummeting, while the birth rate declines much more slowly, resulting in a population explosion.

    That's not to say that development is bad and shouldn't be pursued. Quite the contrary. But we must be aware of this effect that development is going to have on the population and simultaneously introduce measures to address the birth rate - including those you mentioned, especially education for females and providing them with the means to take control of their fertility.

    Some nations, like China and India, have gone further and adopted a heavy-handed approach, restricting couples to one child. I think the negative publicity surrounding such approaches have done the cause of addressing overpopulation a disservice. In my book, I've recommended an approach that I think would be much more palatable for most people, a system of economic incentives designed to encourage couples to choose smaller families. (Tax policy would be one way to provide such incentives.) After all, who really cares how many children any one family chooses, as long as the overall fertility rate is reduced?

    The book that I mentioned is titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." My theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don’t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

    This theory has huge implications for U.S. policy toward population management. Our policies that encourage high rates of population growth are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy.

    But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.

    If you’re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, I invite you to visit my web site at where you can read the preface, join in my blog discussion and, of course, purchase the book if you like. (It's also available at

    Please forgive the somewhat spammish nature of the previous paragraph. I just don't know how else to inject this new perspective into the overpopulation debate without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, "Five Short Blasts"