Our readers may be surprised to see a self described political conservative stating unequivocally that a world wide crash of the human population is not only inevitable but overdue. Isn’t that within the purview of those Progressives and other liberal types?
Why yes. Yes, it is.
The right wing conspiracy theorists point to those promoting the New World Order, the Illuminati, population control measures in China (one child per couple), and extermination camps at various “secret” locations throughout the United States being all set up and ready to go.
“They want to cull the herd, kill us off down to two billion, what they consider the optimum number of humans for a slave planet!”
That’s the battle cry. It may even be accurate. Whether or not the slave option is foremost upon the table–and the willingness of man to enslave his fellow man has historically been difficult indeed to eradicate completely–it’s a fact that our current world wide population of seven billion (7,000,000,000) humans is more than a ticking time bomb.
It’s a bomb that’s already gone off.
Most of us just haven’t heard the boom yet. We don’t get it, being (understandably) focused on more immediate concerns like putting food on the table for the family, coming up with a table to put under the food, and somehow managing to acquire a roof to go over all of the above.
Which is why I tackled this topic. The average homo sapiens doesn’t have time to do the math.
I’ll do that–or rather, I’ll report the math, since it’s already been done by a thousand scientists from all over the globe.
Most importantly, I’ll try really, really hard to make it not only understandable but memorable, something that lets the reader lock an image or two in the old brain pan, something that helps you get it.
Because most of us don’t.
Not that “getting it” will automatically lead to a solution. It doesn’t work that way. But we’ve got to start somewhere.
Before discussing the population chart (above), let’s talk about a real life example of “boom and crash” population numbers.
No, not the bison, the American buffalo that teemed in their millions upon the prairies until the white man pretty much wiped them (and the red man) off the face of the Earth. There is one branch of scientific thought that the numbers of buffalo in the American West during the early 1800’s represented an overgrowth, that there never should have been that many in the first place.
Of course, as any student of western history knows, that population crash involved a mere handful of years when buffalo hunters slaughtered the great beasts for their hides only, leaving the skinned carcasses to rot and the Indians to starve.
Win-win, as far as the white settlers, railroad barons, and Manifest Destiny politicians were concerned.
This example, however, hit closer to home during my youth. It was small in scope but high in impact for that very reason.
When I was growing up on a western Montana ranch where men were men and sheep ran scared, the blacktail deer used to congregate on the steep hillsides above our Clark Fork Valley ranch headquarters when the cold weather came. Moving down out of the higher, timbered country, they would graze the open slopes during the afternoons before disappearing back over the ridge tops to make their beds.
In my thirteenth year, I once counted 256 deer on those slopes.
The idea never entered my mind that there could someday be a scarcity of deer in the area.
That naiveté on my part was shattered utterly and forever by the time March rolled around. Snow had been deep and plentiful that winter, the deer had been fiercely concentrated, and disease had found in the herd a vulnerable host.
Dad and I fed hay to the cow herd from a flatbed trailer pulled behind the Allis Chalmers WD tractor. We drove by fading carcasses of deer that had…starved?
No. Not starved, or at least not just that. My old man (in his early thirties, a veritable graybeard) saw me observing the winter kills and explained with a single word.
I got it. A degree in rocket science was not required. I understood in that moment that the huge deer count of a few months earlier had not necessarily been a good thing for the deer population.
Never again did the number of deer on those slopes approach 256. Fifteen, maybe, on a great day. More likely a handful, or none at all.
Are we humans approaching that sort of “winter kill”, mange-induced population crash?
No. We’re not approaching it. We’re already there, with bells on. But the crash has not yet arrived…why?
Good question. Part of the answer lies in the advances our species has made in the field of medicine. Mange-infested deer do not usually have access to vaccines, antibiotics, antifungal agents, colloidal silver, Dr. Oz, or even a measure as simple as quarantine.
On the other hand, planet Earth has shrunk to the size of a pinhead through the agency of high speed air travel between continents, a jet-powered disease carrying structure that can deliver a new and deadly biological agent from the depths of the Amazon rain forest or a third world village in Africa at several times the speed of sound.
Are there evil humans out there, plotting to kill us all except a chosen few through the vehicle of engineered viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteria?
Could be. Nothing surprises me any more. But with or without the evil scientist in residence, Mother Nature is quite capable of killing us off by the billions without the least bit of deliberate help from our side.
So: It’s time to start constructing one of those images you can’t forget.
Picture this: There’s a new biological agent in town. Let’s say it’s something like the MERS virus, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. Discovered in Saudi Arabia, MERS is newly discovered and has been identified in just 49 people so far–but 27 of those 49 are dead.
And yes, it’s definitely contagious.
Okay, so you’re out and about, so is MERS, and there’s no place to stand where your neighbor’s not close enough to sneeze on you.
At that point, if not long before, We the People are in for a Crashing good time, yes? Death and rotting bodies all around. Puts the Black Plague to shame.
Still don’t get it? Except in the major cities of the world, you can still find a bit of elbow room, get away from that deadly sneeze?
That’s true. For now. But hang on; we’re getting there.
Now it’s time to take that population chart and get rid of the guess work.
How many square miles of inhabitable land exist on the planet? If we leave out water, tough mountains and tougher desert–all of which require help from somewhere else to sustain human life on a long term basis–the generally accepted number comes in at 24,642,757 square miles.
Let’s be generous. Let’s go with 25 million square miles for the sake of simplicity.
Twenty-five million square miles we two-leggeds can use to live, breed, work, and die.
Okay. Dividing those 25 million square miles by our 7 billion people yields…0.00357 square miles of “good Earth” per person. For the real estate minded, that’s a bit less than 2 1/3 acres of land per human.
Right here. Right now. Before subtracting for highways, railways, schools, police stations, parking lots, sports playing fields, rodeo arenas, and such.
Doable? Maybe. Certainly, as long as we can keep folks cooped up in the major cities, stacked like piles of pancakes in places like Paris, Kowloon, Mumbai, Los Angeles, London, and the like, we’re making it work so far.
But wait. In true Ginsu knife commercial fashion, there’s more.
What’s coming down the road? Not millions of years away, where science fiction writers rule the roost and you don’t care because your offspring a couple hundred thousand generations down the line are probably dweebs who deserve to die anyway. No, we want to know what’s coming up for just the next few generations, some of which the younger among us might be around to enjoy.
The U.N. estimates look like B.S., don’t they? Check that first graph again. See how their highest population growth estimate is nothing more than the one we’ve been experiencing for the past 50 years already?
Okay, there’s a slight uptick, but not much. Looks like a line conceived by a politician who wants to convince the folks his pet program won’t cost what it’s really going to cost.
Then they give us that green “hump and dive” line. Looking at a Plague or People Mange there, don’t you think?
Well, we’re going to get a little simpler than that.
Pay attention now.
From the prehistoric time when Adam first acquired Eve or the first cave man figured out how to club predators, enemies, and women–however that worked–it took thousands upon thousands of years to get Earth’s human population up to one billion in 1802 or thereabouts.
Hold that thought. The ride is about to take off.
That one billion doubled in the next 130 years, giving our glorious globe a people-load of two billion by the early 1930’s.
Happy days. Time to have a real baby boom. Our numbers doubled again in a mere 40 years, give or take. By the mid-seventies, we were up to four billion.
Oooh-h, baby! Literally.
And by sometime in the 2020’s–unless the Big Crash hits before then–we’ll have doubled yet again, this time in something like 50 years, for a total people tally of 8 billion remarkable individuals.
All right, then. That’s pretty much where we are now.
How be we look ahead just one century? A measly hundred years. A single lifetime for the longer lived among us.
Your newborn child, precious beyond compare, could live to see what I’m about to describe.
Taking the 8 billion (we’ll be there before you can blink) and using the 50 year doubling cycle as a reasonably likely possibility, Earth will be carrying 16 billion people by the 2070’s and 32 billion by 2125.
Yes, that’s a guess, but it’s not outrageous. It’s a simple projection of what we homo sapiens are doing right now.
That 2.3 acres per person we mentioned? It just shrunk to 0.57, more than half but less than 2/3 of an acre.
Wait. We never did allow for infrastructure, did we? Hm. Government would never be greedy or anything, so let’s just round that off to 1/3 of an acre per person.
That’s pretty good, right?
Oh. You don’t know what 1/3 of an acre looks like? And since it’s your “fair birthright” (no one person should be allowed to own more than any other), you want to know?
Sure. Here you go: 1 acre = 43,560 square feet. An acre is defined as one furlong (660 feet) by one chain (66 feet). Since all people are equal in the eyes of the land surveyor and you get (roughly) 1/3 of an acre, your hunk of terra firma home comes out at 66 feet by 220 feet.
Still don’t get it? Okay, how about this: You know those big rigs running down the highways, the 18 wheelers consisting of a truck tractor pulling a semi trailer? You do? Great.
Your hunka hunka homey land is not quite as wide as one of those 18 wheelers is long…and about as long as three of them (the trucks) placed end to end.
Now, build yourself a home on that piece, dig a well, grow a garden, and try not to get into any deadly altercations with your neighbors because, as you know, they’re touchy folks who will kill you for a carrot.
At this point, of course, land based wildlife can no longer be allowed. All endangered species will have to be completely eradicated, leaving (obviously) humanity itself as the last species standing.
But not for long.
Do I have a political agenda of some sort in writing this piece?
Nor do I have the slightest clue what, if anything, can be done about the impending population crash. Certainly it cannot be forestalled indefinitely. The U.S. Congressman who was concerned we might sink a Pacific atoll by placing too many military personnel on it notwithstanding, there is a limit to how many humans the planet can tolerate.
Frankly, I strongly suspect we’ve already passed that number, at least for the long run.
But let’s say that’s too pessimistic. It might be. I’m no Interstellar Physicist with a thousand years of studying the rise and fall of planetary populations throughout the galaxy. I could be wrong…up to a point.
Perhaps we amazingly adaptable humans really can find a way to keep going with no more than one TerTrucken of land per person available for habitation, farming, and the like.
TerTrucken? That comes from the infamous holiday dish, the turducken. In the TerTrucken’s case, however, it stands for Terra Firma split into one-person parcels, using trucks as surveying instruments.
It makes as much sense as anything else in the population debate.
Finishing that thought: If We the People can survive on one TerTrucken of land each, can we then also find a way to keep on truckin’ on half a TerTrucken? A quarter? Sixteenth? Thirty-second? Sixty-fourth?
1/64 of a TerTrucken comes out at just under 227 square feet per person of habitable ground. That’s still plenty to bury everybody, and it’s reachable in a mere 250 years after the one TerTrucken population point.
The next 350 years should prove interesting indeed.