Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Billions and billions of people

According to my local NPR station, as of this month, we'll hit 7 billion people on planet Earth. Go team!

In the last century, we've made some pretty astounding increases in population and, while I believe this growth will slow due to limited resources, I do believe that when we hit 9 billion in the next 30 years we well nigh will have worn out our welcome.

So, on this occasion, what do you think? Are humans the greatest thing ever to evolve or are we parasitic and need some sort of control on population?


Nic, SD said...

We're parasites, as a whole. Totally. I do feel that we will need some sort of control. It won't happen, of course. Or things will have to become stretched INCREDIBLY thinly before it does. (Why wait until things are already in crisis to fix something INEVITABLE???)
But yes. Lots of strong opinions on this topic that... probably cross over into the territory of inflammatory and thus I shall leave it there :)

ruchi said...

I think growth will slow down, not due to limited resources, but due to increased educational attainment and opportunities for women, as well as changing structures to society wherein having many children is no longer a necessary social safety net.

I do think humans are the greatest thing ever to evolve but I guess I'm biased being a human and all. ;)

Sandy said...

I think we're parasites, and we're about to kill our host: Mother Earth. One of two things can happen: (1) we will decrease in numbers for some reason (natural disasters, widespreading illness, starvation, war)and the earth will renew itself or be destroyed in the process, or (2) we will "outsmart" those scenarios and live with fewer people in a manner more harmonious with our environment, becoming a "beneficial" symbiant to the system (world/universe)as a whole. Either way, change is necessary. hopefully it's the latter option, because the first option is pretty bleak for us as a species.

The Haphazard Countryman said...

Overall the population will continue to increase, but it is going to be in less developed areas of the world. The US is already having less children, in my opinion due to the selfishness of people wanting more of their time to themselves. It is countries like India that will/are exploding. As we put more money and effort into curing common illnesses in Africa that keep the average age and child birth mortality rates high, Africa will be an explosion that will be unsustainable, due to their lack of resources and the quick turn over of governments that are only looking out for themselves.

Very political and religious debate that can touch a plethora of topical reasons either way.

If you truly believe that we are parasites, (which I don't believe), then you shouldn't have any children which will "continue to kill the planet".

Jennifer said...

I hate the thought that because one doesn't have children one is "selfish." Thank you for assuming I am a horrible person. Maybe I can't have children, and I can't afford to buy (adopt, if you prefer)a child. But nope I guess I am just a selfish human.

As far as parasites go, I think we have the potential to go either way. Current trends in the stewardship of the earth point to parasites. But I believe we all can change for the better. Consume less, grow your own etc.. Their is hope for us.

Anisa said...

I don't believe we have to be parasites, but that when we blindly coast through life we are.

I don't see limited future resources slowing population growth at all. History shows that there are baby booms when people are poorest. There's nothing better to do, sooo.... and all that sex meets emotional needs.

I was just thinking today and earlier this week about having our third. I was telling my midwife friend that I never planned to have more than two because two was still zero population growth. I am a childbirth educator and know how reproduction works. I was taking all the precautions necessary (except celibacy), but we still ended up pregnant with number three. During this discussion I told my friend that in addition to my husband's scheduled vasectomy, I have been thinking of getting an IUD after this one is born. My friend then told me (frighteningly) of how many clients she gets after one or both methods are being used. All this is making me feel like, basically, unless we are celibate, we have no real control over our reproduction. I know so many women who desperately want to have children, try everything and never get pregnant. And many who desperately don't want to but do.

So no - I don't think it will slow. Like all animals here on earth, we are made to reproduce. Morally or religiously, it doesn't really matter if you agree. As a whole, we'll keep going. Either we'll figure something out to make it work, or we'll die off. I don't see any solutions under the heading of "population control" though. (Shall we arrest people if they have too many children or a child without a permit? Do we sterilize at random (the only sure way for this is castration or hysterectomy - vasectomies and tubal is not 100%)? Do we just exterminate "excess people" like you would other parasites?) I think not.

Chile said...

I read Ehrlich's Population Bomb at age 12 and saw then that uncontrolled human population growth would lead to resource depletion and pollution issues. Many years later, I still see overpopulation as one of the biggest issues facing our continued existence on this planet and am happy I made the conscious choice not to reproduce.

Humans have great potential, both to create but also to destroy. As a species, we seem to be exercising the latter more than the former lately. And I do occasionally wonder if some of the aberrant behavior apparent in this day and age is due to the "too many rats in a cage" syndrome.

Brad K. said...

I look at my chicken house with two chickens - and was operating smoothly a few years back with 60. I look at the way science fiction writers envision hundred story immense residential towers (David Weber) and bioenhanced trees (Copernick's Rebellion, Leo Frankowski). There are space habitats and hollowed asteroids, domes on the moon and ocean bottom, tunnels underneath each, and floating sea-colonies.

I look at the difference between victory gardens, industrial agriculture, hydroponics and Monsanto Round-Up Ready GMO corn, wheat, sorghum, and pansies (just kidding on that last) that promise not to have really majorly serious birth defects for at least two generations, aside from the missing or extra limb, ability to distinguish colors, sounds, or direction.

I suppose we could adopt a self-limiting culture - require every residence to be below 100 feet below the surface of the earth. Want more room? Start chipping.

I think there are some energy sources that will seem sustainable, long term - including solar wind, once we get past the atmosphere into space. Geothermal and cold ocean venting seem to be reasonably long term sources. And given available energy, most of the rest can be dealt with.

Except that we are running out of cheap energy, and most work toward alternatives are more science career enhancements or tax dollar consumption schemes.

Just as today and in the past, I expect local concentrations of population to reach critical mass and implode. Will the damage spread to less critical densities? Time will tell.

And I do fear those that advocate unilaterl population reduction - which is a form of cultural and social and genetic suicide.

Prairiemom said...

We are parasites by definition. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host's expense. According to google.

So, yes, we are. And I believe that we will continue to live how we live, exploiting the planet and its resources until we reach a peak, there will be famine, and disease, and many people will die off. It will not be pleasant, but we will eventually reach an equilibrium.
Some sort of population control would probably be helpful, but since I am human, and enjoy living, I am not about to volunteer to give up my spot on earth, and I don't really care to have anyone telling me or my children how many offspring they are allowed to have.

Tracey said...

We are completely parasitic. The issue of whether our population numbers should be controlled is far too complex for me to give an intelligent answer. But heck, we control animal populations, right?

Nic, SD said...

To The Haphazard Countryman. Perhaps it is selfish of my husband and myself to not have any children. I think it is also very selfish of people like the Duggers to have 20, or whatever. At least my selfishness, in this matter, isn't making a bad situation worse.

(Somewhat related: I do wish doctors wouldn't look at a man in his twenties, with no kids, like he's NUTS for wanting a vasectomy!)

Brad K. said...

Nic, SD,

I have to agree with the doctor.

If the young man is of good character, responsible, and respected and honorable, then failing to form a family and raise a child or two is cheating his community and the future of the community.

It is the teaching of character and values to the next generation, something public education is only moderately capable of, that will prepare the next generation to survive.

The education the young man receives, the people skills and place in community and nation that he makes - those are all discarded with his own passing. That is not the way to build a sustainable future.

Amberley said...

@Brad K "... those are all discarded with his own passing. That is not the way to build a sustainable future."

Is this young man you imagine a hermit? Does he ever open his mouth to another human being? Ever write a letter, take an action or assist another creature? You might want to review some of your favorite icons before you make an absurd statement like this. Did the life of Jesus or Buddha mean nothing because they didn't raise their own children? Do you remember the messages of people like Gandhi and King Jr only via their children?

Please people, don't let these kind of statements go unchallenged. Help me out here. If we are only ever looking out for our own genetic line the whole will suffer. I want health for the human population, but I'm not stupid enough to think it can only come through my procreation.

Brad K. said...


Think about this: No society can persist over a 25 year span without 2.1 children per couple.

Unilateral choices to reduce progeny below the 2.1/couple by default yields the next generation to those that don't think as you do.

Build a world where those having more children don't need to procreate that way, and then a general reduction makes sense. But unilateral choices? More isn't better, here, but too few isn't surviving, either.

One observation of the medieval period in Europe was that the Church attracted all the brightest young men, the scholars and philosophers -- then they all took a vow of celibacy, effectively weeding out the brightest of European minds from the gene pool. Dark ages, indeed. Thank goodness the Church didn't make the bright women celibate as well -- they used different criteria for selecting women to the Church.

Please, do go ahead and clip off your philosophy's place in the world, and the hope of your community to continue in a changing world, 25 years from now. Making your own choice about reproduction is just that, your choice. Even though I think your choice is damaging to the future, that your ability to reason and think things through are in short enough supply to be very worthwhile in following generations.

Nic, SD said...

Brad K:
Bottom line for me? I feel my responsibility to the planet is greater than my "responsibility" to my species. And, as Amberley so eloquently pointed out, both can be served at the same time, without breeding.
Do you truly believe that we are nothing more than the products of our parents and our culture? That we don't challenge views, and form our own values??

EngineerChic said...

@ Brad K,

There are many ways to ensure that my values are proliferated in the next generation - and most of them do not involve having children. It's actually a very inefficient way to spread a message or way of thinking. Even the Duggars, with their 20 kids, will have a hard time changing the way people behave on a large scale just by reproducing.

Case in point - when I was a child almost no one neutered their dogs. Overpopulation of pets was rampant and . Now, just 30 years (roughly 1 generation) later, this same part of the country actually trucks in unwanted puppies from other areas of the country. Why? Because most people have neutered their animals. Almost every female dog is spayed and it is rare to see an intact male dog. Granted, we still have a problem with unwanted adult dogs - but it is rare to find puppies in our shelters (it used to be common to see multiple litters at a shelter plus ads in the paper for "Free Puppies!").

This did not happen because the few "weird" people who believed in neutering animals had dozens of children. It happened by educating the children of people like my parents (who had several un-neutered dogs).

That change is just one example of the massive shift that can happen without "breeding it into being." I'd wager that many of the people who drove that change in our society had few or no kids - changing society's view takes TIME and effort. Something that is in short supply if you're trying to raise 2-20 kids.

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Brad K. said...

@Nic, SD, and EngineerChic,

I agree wholeheartedly about lots of children. There is little benefit to the future, even though there have been very significant contributors to civilization that were fifth and seventh and later children. And some of them farmed, raising food for the rest.

The single point I made was that more is not better - but none is not sustainable.

Just one for-instance. Do you want to know that in your community, in the next generation, there is at least one person that was raised to the sensitivity, the understanding, and responsibility that you value? Because most of the people in the next generation will not be raised by people that think failing to raise children is the primary option.

Adopt children, foster care? By all means -- that is a good, partial answer. But, like recycling, it also has the unintended consequence of providing a social 'market', a permission, a demand for something that shouldn't have been produced in the first place. There should be no unwanted babies -- no rapes, no unintentional parents. I am *not* talking about abortion, or even abstinence or 'protection'. I merely point out the social pressures creating adoptable children must be addressed to reduce that problem, not adopting the result. Even building and instructing today's world will ultimately pass, often replaced in a generation or two. But other people's children.

Refusing to bear children in this generation might make sense - if anyone believed that the overpopulation problem would be solved within one generation.

Instead there are barriers to solving this problem - the Biblical and Greek teachings enjoining believers to raise sons to fight in the army, to win the wars in the next generation, are but one example. Today in America, parents with children in the military take justifiable pride in their children's service -- a form of patriotism that has served America, like faiths and nations before, very well.

And, again, I am not about to suggest that large families are better -- at solving the overpopulation problem.

Various societies and cultures in the past addressed the problem of too many people and too few resources. Of the success ones, many of their teachings and practices are still available. Of those that simply chose fewer births -- we can't find much of their legacy, and they surely didn't contribute to solving the larger, multi-generational problems.

I understand your point of view, but I think we will likely continue to disagree.

Blessed be.

E said...

All things in moderation - too many people, too many desires...

Amberley said...

It hurts my head to hear the line of logic that says the Dark Ages were so called because all the bright people were celibate. The ages were dark because anyone who disagreed with the very illogical and grossly greedy church were branded a heretic and burned at the stake and because fundamental human truths were denied the population by an overbearing church and monarchy.

Greenpa said...

oy. :-) I'll just point out that, from the standpoint of technical biological terminology, no, we are not "parasitic." I will claim a bit of expertise there, since my PhD advisor was in fact a parasitologist. Believe me, I had to know the definitions.

Homo is simply another species whose ecology has become unbalanced. It happens perpetually, in thousands of different ways. In our own case, the major factor is what we laughingly call our "intelligence" - which allows us to come up with stuff like agriculture, industrialization, and antibiotics; all of which drastically destabilize previous limits on our reproduction.

Paul Ehrlich came to my college for a major talk. He said lots of very interesting things. I'm not sure if this was one of them, but it might be; I remember hearing it personally from some major figure back then.

"Just remember that the long-term survival value of intelligence has not been demonstrated."

"Long term", in the evolutionary sense, which was intended here, meaning in the tens of millions of years, which Homo is not even close to. Many dinosaur species lasted without major changes for millions of years; no "intelligence" needed.

Maybe the reason we don't hear from the other intelligent species in the universe is that what we call intelligence creates not only art and poetry- but deadly technologies, like nuclear power?

We will, of course, find out. Looks like we'll be finding out fairly soon, in evolutionary terms.

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Jean said...

People are worse than parasites... they are viruses... they go somewhere consume all the resources, devastate the location and then move on, whilst spreading and reproducing without concern or consideration under the pretense of human rights.

I say bring on the apocalypse... I want to take down as many scum sucking bipeds as I can, all of them to hell where I can torture their souls for all eternity... die you filthy human scum... all of you young, old, men, women and children... JUST FUCKING DIE!

Brad K. said...


Re-electing Obama aside, it seems to me to be unfair to blame individuals for adhering to the values their culture taught.

Things like feeding your children, teaching them how to use resources for security, shelter, food, and reproduction seem pretty universal among life on this planet.

The accumulation of wealth through exploiting resources, especially during the industrial age (now ending) when cheap energy vastly accelerate natural tendencies, and invited unimaginable levels of corruption and tyranny, set the stage for where the world stands today.

I predict the dust will settle, eventually, onto a world with a much lower rate of resource utilization. That people will still teach their children to untilize resources for security, food, shelter, and reproduction.

The challenge, if you care, is to use the social and legal and political resources available today, to reduce the waste and abuse you decry. We might be able to put leaders in charge that actually care about conservation, about bringing the economic and spiritual might of America to bear on building a lower-energy, less profligate state that provides adequate security, food, shelter, and community for the most people of all.

What you advocate invites the worst possible levels of brutality and exploitation of the innocent, and I hope that isn't the path to the future.

Blessed be.