May 20th, 1998
Author: Joel Campbell
School: St. Joseph Scollard Hall
“If humanity fails to act, nature may end the population explosion for us, in very unpleasant ways, well before 10 billion is reached” (Ehrlich, 98). Population in our world is like a disease, its wide spread will only bring devastation to a people who will eventually end up breeding themselves into extinction. The world as we know it cannot sustain much more population growth without increasing the instances of food shortages, lack of resources, poverty, ozone depletion, deforestation, and desertification, to name a few.
Who started it all?
Thomas Malthus was among the first to discover the upward spiralling problem of population growth. In his essay on “Principles of Population” Malthus clearly outlined the human instinct to reproduce “They are all impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase of their species, and this instinct is interrupted by no reasoning or doubts about providing for their offspring” (Malthus, 4). Charles Darwin reinforced this statement when he said:
There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that, if not destroyed, the earth would probably be covered by the progeny of a single pair. Even slow breading, man has doubled in twenty-five years, and at this rate, in less than a thousand years, there would literally not be standing room for his progeny. (Darwin, Ehrlich Web Site).
This reiteration of the human instinct to breed reinforces Malthus’ grim predictions for the future, should population continue to increase unchecked. Malthus also clearly stated that the demand for food by an enormous population can not be met in the future because “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio” (Malthus, 1). With food growing at such a slow pace, we must attempt to find solutions to slow the increasingly fast geometrical growth of population. This brings us back to the opening quotation in which Ehrlich outlined the possibility of the intervention of nature into the increasingly constricting problem of social and biophysical carrying capacity.
“To repeat the old saying, it’s the top of the ninth and humanity has been hitting nature hard. But we must remember that nature hits last!” (Ehrlich, 225). The only way to examine the natural checks put on population is sift through the past and pick out occurrences which had influences on population growth.
10 000 BC End of the last Ice Age; humans lived as hunters and gatherers.
1230 AD Leprosy imported to Europe by Crusaders
1347-1351 Black Death/Plague; 75 million people die
1495 Syphilis epidemic spreads through Europe
1567 Two million South American Indians die of typhoid
1750 Industrial Revolution begins in Europe
1796 Smallpox vaccination introduced 1800 Industrial Revolution begins in US
1825 World population: 1 Billion
1827 Water purification filter developed
1853 Hypodermic syringe created
1893 Automobile built 1927 Airplanes dust crops with insecticides
1943 Penicillin used against infection
1954 Vaccine for Polio
1978 Test-tube baby born
1996 World population: 5.8 Billion (Ehrlich, Web Site) Take note that, in this “Population Timeline” (Ehrlich, Web Site) nature itself had kept population relatively low for over ten thousand years with epidemics of Leprosy, Black Death, Syphilis, and Typhoid. These epidemics kept population in check until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution which brought the creation of many vaccines to fight these diseases. As humans continued to create inventions that would make life easier and raise the standard of living, they inadvertently increased the average life expectancies and caused this massive surge in population.
The Population Explosion
By the beginning of the industrial revolutions in Europe and the United States in late 18th century, the total world population had just begun to barely attain 1 billion mark and now, 150 years later, we are at 5.8 billion (Population Timeline) there must be a reason for this incredible blast in growth.
The term “Population Explosion” was coined by Paul Ehrlich as a statement to describe the rapid spurt in the population growth of the twentieth century (Ehrlich, Key Terms). By examining the age structure of our current world, one can pick out many patterns which help to explain the dramatic increase of population of the 20th century. One of these points of interest is the fact that, generally, people are living much longer.
Improvements in health care and standard of living have increased the life expectancy of the average human and has resulted in a healthier, more “durable” people. “Life expectancy at birth increased by over 18 years for women and by 13 years for men” (McKie, 65) With this increased life expectancy, more people began to live through their childhood and into their childbearing years. This had definite repercussions on the total world population. The birth rate further exceeded the death rate resulting in an increased population momentum which has not yet been stopped.
Unfortunately, the cycle does not stop here, with the increasing population momentum, there were many more child births and a large part of the population was created. This part of the population represented the young children who have not yet entered their birthing years which brings us to yet another term, “Demographic Momentum”.
Demographic Momentum is the ability for a population to continue expanding despite reproductive rates being reduced. (Key Terms) Basically, this means that even if extreme measures are taken to lower reproductive rates, the population will still succeed in growing due to the “large proportion of our population entering their reproductive years” (Key Terms).
Stopping sex altogether would be an impossibility, therefore we must concentrate our efforts on assisting couples in family planning in order to give them the power to have as many or as little number of children as they want.
Birth control will help humanity to equalize the rate of natural increase in the world and slow the population explosion. If the World could achieve widespread birth control, exponential growth could be slowed by as much as 35% in select areas (Polestsky, 115). “If current demands were met, there would be 35% fewer births in Latin America, 33% fewer in Asia, and 27% fewer in Africa” (Polestsky, 115).
With all of these demands for methods of contraception, one can only imagine the potential decrease of population growth that could be achieved with adequate supplies. The Agency for International Development (AID) has reported that it will “have more than 100 million fewer condoms than it needs to meet demand” (Polestsky 114). Birth control and the education to prompt its use is greatly needed in developing countries such as those in Africa which house some of the highest fertility rates in the World. Unfortunately, contraceptive use is linked to people of higher education which ironically, is the area where it is least needed. “In Nigerian cities, contraceptive users were found to have at least a secondary education and a white-collar income and employment” (Gordon 137). According to the World Bank statistics, in Nigerian cities, only “27% of boys are enrolled in secondary school but only 13% of girls” (Gordon 209). This correlation between birth control and education does not give a very optimistic view of Africa’s future population. If only 27% of boys and 13% of girls are enrolled in school, and increasingly large part of the population will live without the education or personal resources to learn and practice methods of contraception, whether they be natural, or modern.
In the World today, there is a wide range of mixed views about contraceptives. Although methods of contraception are limited by religious and cultural factors, they are still in great demand around the world. With proper education and organization, birth control could become the savior of humanity. For this to happen, we must have religion on our side.
Presently, other than education, the main thing preventing these widespread use of contraceptives is religion. In fact, religion and its affects on people’s lives could be considered as one of the leading factors contributing to the world’s population. China is a prime example of the influence of religious beliefs on population growth.
The Years of the Dragon, including 1976 and 1988, are the years of the Chinese zodiac considered particularly favourable for having children. As the fertility of the Chinese and peninsular Malaysia declined from 1960 to 1990, the level of fertility (in China) spiked in 1976 and 1988 while the fertility of the Malay population continued its slower decline in those years.(Cohen 288)
The Chinese religion single handedly caused an increase in population. This observation proves that religion has a strong influence on fertility because the Years of the Dragon do not involve political or economic factors that would otherwise affect population growth (Cohen 288). Therefore, in this case religion was the only factor acting on the population and it showed considerable increase.
This religious opposition towards fertility control by certain churches greatly influences its follower’s attitudes about contraception. In an industrialized overcrowded era, the idea of God being responsible for choosing the number of children a couple will have is ridiculously out of date. The Catholic position is described as inhumane policies that, all over the world, force Catholics to choose between what their intelligence and moral sense tell them a doctrine which is dangerously outmoded. (Ehrlich, 241-242).
Although, the Catholic Church is not alone in its objection to contraception and family planning, “The Hutterites, the Amish and some Orthodox Jewish groups are similarly opposed” (Cohen, 288). it is definitely the group which is most discussed because of its wide range of followers throughout the world. In Canada, for example, Catholicism represents just under half the total population at over 12 million followers. (Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 93-319-XPB)
In a letter written to the Pope, catholic botanist, John Thomas wrote that “Anyone working to prevent bringing human birth rates down is simply working to increase death rates” (Ehrlich 242). He makes reference to statements made in the Reaffirmation of Humanae Vitae in which the catholic church reaffirmed its objection to unnatural contraception. Thomas is a reputable professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. He states that “For the good of humanity and the future of our church, I urge you to reconsider your position on this issue, and get the church back on the side of humanity instead of dogma” (Ehrlich 242). This very bold statement shows the extreme frustration of many Catholics, whose natural instinct is to use modern birth control in order to prevent unwanted children from being born.
By preventing unwanted child births, couples could keep the population at a minimum growth rate. “The UN has calculated that if all women who said they wanted no more children were able to stop childbearing, the numbers would be reduced by 35% in Latin America, 33% in Asia, and 27% in Africa” (Polestsky, 115).and are helping to ensure that there will still be resources such as food left for their children and grand children.
Populations’ effect on food is like a double-edged sword. “Soaring population now has a dual effect on food balance: it increases demand as it degrades the agricultural resource base” (McCuen 83). Without food, humanity cannot survive and shortages just might end up being that “natural” check that Ehrlich speaks of.
The amount of food available restrains the size of any animal population, unless space, disease, predators, or some other factor sets lower limits. Homo sapiens is no exception to that rule, and at the moment it seems likely that food will be our limiting resource (Ehrlich 66).
As population increases, there is a greater demand for food and less area to grow it on. “Each year farmers must feed 90 million more people using 25 billion tons less topsoil” (Ehrlich 242). As Malthus stated in his first postulate “food is necessary to the existence of man” (Malthus, 1)he was implying that, obviously, without food, life couldn’t exist. Since subsistence only increases arithmetically (as mentioned before) it is obvious that the future does not look bright for the survival of humankind.
The United Nations Population Fund announced that UN demographers have revised their earlier projections of world population upward…. Instead of leveling off at 10 billion, world population will settle at 14 billion. For a world that cannot adequately feed 5.2 billion inhabitants today, this comes as sobering news (McCuen 83).
Although the world’s food supply is one of its most important resources, it’s actually only one of many resources which needs attention and protection from the ticking population bomb.
Destruction of Natural Resources
In the world today, resources are a major source of profit and are used until they are exhausted, then, society moves on to another. “People a decade hence will be dealing with an entirely new set of resources” (Ehrlich 165). This misuse of resources is partly due to a belief that the availability of resources is unlimited.
This behavior is based in part on the first axiom of mainstream economics: since an infinite array of resources is believed to exist, once one resource has been destroyed there will always be another that can profitably be exploited to extinction, then another, and another, and another (Ehrlich 165).
Many economists believe that resources are infinite and that humans will always find a way to make use of what they have to survive. Among these uninformed economists is Julian Simon.
It is amazing but true that resource shortages resulting from population or income growth usually leave us better of than if the shortage had ever arisen. If fire-wood had not become scarce in 17th century England, coal would not have been developed. If coal and whale oil shortages hadn’t loomed, oil wells would not have been dug (Simon, 24).
Just because “Simon Says”, doesn’t mean it true. The growing scarcity of these finite resources poses an economic problem to rapidly growing populations. Not to mention the massive effects that Simon’s mentioned resources such as coal and oil have on the environment. Human “wants” are unlimited and with scarce amounts of resources in their areas, people such as North Americans look to other countries from which they can import the goods that they need. As Simon says, this trade is good for the economy, but it is detrimental to the earth’s resources. The importing of goods from third world countries into place such as North America creates a very unequal distribution of goods and causes suffering for developing countries. Simon’s statement that “raw material have been getting less scarce instead of more scarce throughout history” (Simon, 24) is plainly wrong. Throughout history, the improving development of resources has made them more available but has not increased the actual amount. “When something grows it gets bigger. When something develops it gets different. The earth ecosystem develops (evolves), but does not grow.” (Daly, 1). This shows that finite resources are indeed limited and once exhausted, cannot be replaced.
There have been many attempts to slow population growth but without the cooperation of the whole world, most plans are destined to fail. “Internationally, the Chinese oppose outside interference with their own country’s – or with any other country’s – population growth” (SIRS) and although they now have a control system in place, originally they had found power in numbers and had indulged themselves in high growth rates.
In an overpopulated world no country can have the right to indulge itself in a high growth rate. Since the human population of the world is truly a single interdependent community, such behavior by any country could reasonably be regarded as irresponsible and a threat to all the rest (Ehrlich 1970, 247)
This was the belief in the 1970’s, but now, China has felt the repercussions of its tremendously high population and has had to put a one-child policy into place in order to slow and eventually halt it’s growth. They now believe that “man must control nature, and he must also control his numbers” (Ehrlich, 205) By putting this program in place, they can control their numbers and actually lower their population by turning two people (the initial couple) into one (the child). The Chinese program has been dubbed the “most successful population control program in the world” (Ehrlich 205). In contrast, Canada has begun to reach a stable population with the natural increasing number of women in the workforce from 41% in 1975 to 53% in 1990 (McKie, 100). This has increased the instances of couples without children or with merely one child. Whatever the method may be, slowing the world population growth is a long process which will require the cooperation of all. Many organizations have been set up such as ZPG (Zero Population Growth), the Unite Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), and the World Bank but for these organizations to be successful, they must work together and not only represent the interests of certain countries. Roy Calne has said that population control is the most urgent task for the United Nations.
If only there could be established a scientific division of the United Nations, headed by a scientist with the administrative capacity of Lee Kuan Yew, to use scientific methods to work out means of controlling the growth of population, to stop the rape of the earth and minimize the dangers of a nuclear war! It would need to be a non-political, non-religious body, similar to the concept of the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences, able to speak the truth rather than indulge in the lies of politically correct statements or the prevarication’s of politicians. (Calne, 119)
This non-political, non-religious body would not be affected be the religious and economic factors as mentioned before. Unlike Simon, he or she would make decisions in the interest of money and would have to represent the interest of humanity rather than specific countries.
Dinosaurs dominated the earth well before humanity and survived over 150 million years. (Bookshelf 96-97) Human, on the other hand, have been around for about 3 million years (Bookshelf 96-97). Nature, destroyed them, are we next? Something must be done soon because remember “Nature bats last!” (Ehrlich 225)
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