Over Population – Slowly People Are Realising

Over Population – Slowly People Are Realising post image

It gets my goat that politicians still haven’t answered the most basic of planning questions: how many people should this country contain? I firmly believe that until you decide how many people you want in the country, you can’t possibly have a sensible conversation about anything to do with the country’s infrastructure. If you don’t know how many people there are going to be, how can you decide for example:

  • How many hospitals we need?
  • How many teachers there should be?
  • How many roads to build and how wide they should be?
  • How many power stations we need to build?
  • How many people should we let into the country every year?
  • How much to invest in the train system?

I could go on… For so many years talk of over population has been a taboo subject, for the simple reason that if you accept the fact that there may be too many people, then you must accept that the logical conclusion is to somehow control the population, and that’s something that most people instinctively rail against. Only the Optimum Population Trust (rebranded as Population Matters) seems to be talking about it openly.

Slowly however the tide is starting to turn. Tools like the BBC’s What’s You Number tool that calculates what person you are in the world. I’m around the 3.8Bn out of 7Bn mark, which means that since I was born, the world’s population has nearly doubled… that’s staggering, and not in a good way! That’s why a few years ago I wrote a rather ranty post about why IVF should be banned I realise posts like that are never going to make me any more friends, but that’s the kind of thinking that stops people talking about what needs to be talked about.

So it was a refreshing change to see a serious engineer and scientist (despite what you might remember of him from the Great Egg Race) as Professor Heinz Wolff starting to talk about the difficult issues over population brings. This is what he said (my emphasis):

“But the critical subject we have to face worldwide is overpopulation. We have to be schizophrenic about the benefits of medicine and health. Overpopulation is down, to some extent, to the fact that even elementary medicine – anit-malaria treatments, anit-parasites, clean water – all reduce death rates.

“Somebody at some stage has to have the courage to ask questions about issues such as how we react to famine? To do this you have to think the unthinkable, which you can only do in your own mind because this often gives rise to opinions that would put you in a great deal of trouble – even with one’s own conscience.”

Whilst I accept it’s only hinting, I’ll take it. I firmly believe that over population, and hence population control, will become the defining political issue of our life time.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Colin McNulty 3 January 2012, 12:00 pm

    I had a message from a Kieran on Facebook about this post that I thought would be useful to post here, along with my reply. This was Kieran’s message, followed by my reply which maybe qualifies a few of my points above:

    I’d like to maybe teach you something about overpopulation, regarding your latest blog post.

    the population density in paris, is so high that if everyone lived at this level of population density, the whole worlds population, could live in france alone.

    Secondly, the USA alone could provide food for the whole world twice over people if they wanted to.

    So overpopulation isnt as big a problem as some think, the problem is how our governments deal with it.

    My over population issue is not about how many people you can physically cram into any particular space, or how much slop you can feed them from intensive factory farming, but how many people are sustainable on this planet with a quality of life that’s worth living.

    Would you want a Paris the size of France and have everyone eating nothing but bread and water? Besides, I doubt there’s enough steel and concrete and other raw materials in the world to make a city that big.

    What it comes down to is this: the world / any one country is a fixed finite size, so having a constantly growing population cannot be sustainable in the long term. There has to be a limit somewhere (albeit one that’s flavoured by Quality of Life considerations) so let’s work out what that limit is and put policies in place to reach it, and maintain it, and not exceed it.

    That doesn’t feel like an unreasonable approach to me.

  • ProfBob 13 January 2012, 8:03 am

    It would be nice if we could reverse the growth pattern, but our ethical and psychological drives continue our self-centered motivations and preclude acting for a better world society. Books 4 and 6 of the popular free e-book series http://www.andgulliverreturns.info certainly clarifies these barriers. If we would only act with enlightened self-interest instead of thinking only of the “now” we might survive. But people much smarter and more informed than I tell us that we have passed the point of no return.

  • Colin McNulty 13 January 2012, 8:14 am

    Hi ProfBob, thanks for the comment and the link (I fixed it, it needed the www. prefix to work).

    I suspect you are right that we’ve passed the point of no return. The hardest issue (although there are many competing for that title) against reversal of the trend is one of economics. If people have less kids, then the population demographic will shift radically to a top heavy, older population. Our expectations then of “retirement” will have to change equally radically, as will the health care system to manage the older population. With fewer people working, where’s the money going to come to pay for a larger population of pensioners?

    My personal feeling is that the greatest challenge to mankind, is to work out how to get off this rock and permanently colonise space, before we consume all the resources needed to achieve such an undertaking.

  • ProfBob 13 January 2012, 10:34 am

    Space is not an option. Book one of the series I mentioned looks at colonizing planets in our solar system. It is not possible. There may be other planets many light-years away but we don’t know they exist, we would have the means to get there, and we would need to to have lifespans for longer than ours to make any such voyage.
    Some people say that we need more young people to pay the retirements of those now living. When Social Security was developed for lifespan was less than 65 years, which was the retirement age suggested. We have about 17 people working for retirant. now we are closer to two people working and our life span is about 13 years longer than our retirement age. Governments are talking about raising the retirement age to 67 or 70 in the next 30 to 40 years. By that time our lifespans will probably be well over 100 based on the progress of medical science.
    I assume that nature will take care of the problem and the rich will survive. some experts are estimating 100,000,000 to 200,000,000 will make the cut. But with the warming being the problem and it is, none of us may survive.
    I think you would get a great deal out of reading the series I suggested. It goes so deeply into most of the problems our world faces.

  • Colin McNulty 13 January 2012, 3:44 pm

    Agreed that our solar system is probably out of the question. We need a significant advancement in space propulsion to make it viable, or the production of Generation Ships in the interim. I doubt you’d find there would be a dearth of volunteers.

    It’s like Mars, we should have gone to Mars years ago… one way! The reason a Mars trips hasn’t happened is the cost of getting the astronauts back. Again if you asked for volunteers to go on a one way trip to Mars with just 1 year’s supplies, you’d have a queue from London to Liverpool.

    > Some people say that we need more young people to pay the retirements of those now living.

    Yeah, that sort of Pyramid Marketing way of thinking was banned in the 80’s if I recall. It’s so short sighted and utterly unsustainable. I agree about the changes in retirement age vs life span issues.

    Thanks for the link to the books, I’ve download them and will have a look when I get the chance. Sadly I don’t get nearly as much chance to read as I would like and have some 50+ books on my reading list and it’s only growing!

  • ProfBob 8 March 2012, 9:19 am

    in the same series that I mentioned, book 9 proposes that everyone pay for their own retirement insurance. Thinking that our grandchildren should pay for our retirements is ridiculous. We definitely need to work longer, longer than they are proposing in the US, France and Greece. Based on our current lifespans most people have paid into Social Security enough to pay their pensions for 7 to 10 years. The government must pick up the rest. Medicare is even more costly for the government. We need a rethinking of our whole social welfare system– unless we can find a lot of North Sea oil like Norway did!!

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