So let's talk about Population (yayyyyyyy?)

The size of the human population has been a concern for a long time, even way before the global population hit a billion (gosh, imagine that). In the 18th century, a dude named Malthus proposed that population growth was a seriously bad thing because then there'd be no food for anyone, and proceeded to suggest a lot of nasty things to limit population growth.

Well, now we're at 6.5 billion. So.

On the surface, population growth is scary. It's true that it's not hard to imagine a world covered by people and farms vainly trying to feed them all - or if you're having trouble imagining, science fiction might be able to give you a hand with it. So that's scary, anyway.

The truth of the matter, though, is that we'll each limit population growth before it gets too out of hand. I know we don't like moderate solutions, but the fact of the matter is that having a child is usually a rational decision that's made by parents (the vast majority of the time, anyway), and if we're starting to have catastrophic human populations then parents will start limiting. Now, what I just said should be inflammatory to a lot of people, since a huge number of people in the world don't have access to contraception and the sort of economic opportunities that can give people an alternative to popping out children - but that's getting better. Trickle down development schemes are, in places, making way for community based microloan situations, and that's a good thing. Education and available contraceptives are spreading.

Basically, it's still a huge job to make sure people have access to the knowledge and resources that make having a kid a rational decision. Is there still a lot of work to be done? Sure. But we're starting to get on our way, so it doesn't concern me as much (plus, it's not my field anyway).

The bigger problem isn't whether human population will ever slow. It probably will - and hopefully in a gradual, as-a-result-of-good-things kind of way.

The really big, long-term problem, as far as I'm concerned, is that we're already past the number of people who could live on the Earth sustainably. That is, the number of people who are here is already environmentally destructive - even if we were all living totally sustainable lives (and we very much aren't).

Now, this isn't as big a problem as it sounds because a vast percentage of the human population isn't actually degrading the environment a whole lot, because they don't have the economic power to take advantage of any environmental degradation to begin with. But here's the issue - and, by the way, a huge part of Hot, Flat, and Crowded - these people are starting to get more prosperity. And they should have that - they should have transportation, education and communication, comfort (which, in a lot of ways, means electricity), and plenty of good food.

But to get the poor in undeveloped and developing countries all of these things, at least the traditional way, we have to turn to messing with the environment.

So that sucks - I feel like I've covered this whole thing before.

But the thing that's really bad is just the different paces these things - population growth, development, and environmental destruction (climate change and loss of ecosystems) - are proceeding. Population growth is going quick, but is already starting to decline. Not that quickly, though. Development is going quick in some places, but slower in others - and it's likely that it's going to take a long time to really come through for large percentages of any given population, especially in countries like Asia.

Environmental destruction, meanwhile, is on a catastrophic path in the next 100 years - and it'll probably be too late to do much about it in just 40.

So here's what I'm saying - we have to head this problem off. We need to move - quickly - into developmental, humanitarian outreach. We need to get out into the world right now and find ways to leapfrog development, so that all the billions of the developing world don't have to jump the same hurdles the developed countries (us) did - or burn the same amount of coal, or desolate the same amount of wetlands, or anything else. At the same time, we need to be moving ourselves forward, towards sustainability, as an example and test case.

We've gotta get there somehow. Modern, urban/rural sustainability is the end-point of the industrial era - and we've got to arrive there. Whether we do it wisely, as a global race of rational beings, or whether we're forced to scratch out a sustainable living once things get harder... that's the question.

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