Too Much Of A Good Thing - Earth Week

By Mark Falanga

Photo courtesy of James Cridland.

“Be fruitful and multiply.”

These are words from the book of Genesis, meant as supernatural encouragement for  the human race to populate the earth and have dominion over it. Fast forward over 2,500 years after these words were likely written to a time when human multiplication is considered of the biggest problems facing the earth . To put it simply, there are simply too many of us.

The world population clock says that there are over 7.07 billion of us humans on the world today, of which 313 million of us live in the United States. With all of these people there comes a plethora of problems. Some of the most basic include proper nutrition, education, shelter, and recreation.

By no means are these recent discoveries. Thomas Malthus, a 16th century British economist discovered that the natural urge for humans to reproduce increases geometrically (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 etc). However in regards tofood supply,  production can only increase arithmetically (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 etc.) at best. Malthus’ theory was that if population went unchecked, it would lead to mass starvation.

One aspect of this equation that Malthus was unable to predict was making the most out of crop yields through the “green revolution.” It began in the 1940s and it increased the yields of crops per acre, allowing food supply to keep up with population. However, some say the green revolution led to overpopulation worldwide, and that since this method of farming is dependent on finite sources of fossil fuels, that this method cannot be sustained.

For further study into population and its subsequent problems, BTR spoke with Dr. Joel E. Cohen, a mathematical biologist and is currently the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Populations at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

When asked how many people the world could sustain he said, “When I started my book in 1995, How Many People Can the Earth Support?, I wanted to find that answer. After 4 and a half years, I realized that I couldn’t pinpoint an exact number.”

That’s not to say that Dr. Cohen isn’t concerned with the population of the Earth. Although his work focuses on hard numbers, there are also other variables to consider, such as  the quality of life given to current humans that are born into.

Cohen explains that there are three key areas that need improvement in the world today in order to address the larger population problem. The first is proper nutrition for pregnant mothers, nursing mothers, and all children under five years old.

“It’s so important that proper nutrition be met at young ages,” says Cohen, “without it, the brain of that person won’t fully develop, and they won’t have a chance to be fully functioning people.”

The next area that needs to be improved on is access to family planning tools like, condoms. The third is proper education for all children.

Says Cohen, “Studies have shown that the more educated the person is, the more likely they will be to think about the consequences of having more children.”

However, there are other perhaps more extreme solutions to the human population problem, although they are about as passionately reasoned. Take for instance, Les U. Knight, the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, spoke with BTR about his philosophy.

“The human race has led to the extinction of many animals and plants,” says Knight. “The only way to save the planet is for us to die out.”

Though this may seem like a rather extreme scenario, Knight is committed to his cause, receiving a vasectomy at the age of 25. He also believes it is everyone’s responsibility, men and women, to help not populate the planet.

“I just urge everyone to think before you breed,” says Knight. When asked what would be a safe human population for the Earth, Knight said no such number existed, “As long as there is one man and one woman on the Earth, there’s a potential for problems… We were at 10,000 people at one time, and now look.”

Whatever the case may be, the population problem needs to be addressed in a public forum. However, according to Dr. Joel E Cohen, that time may have already past. He said “I don’t lose sleep worrying about the future. I worry about how the Earth is going to survive today.”