A recent post explored the simple math that makes a world wide population crash inevitable. Tonight’s offering takes a look at human nature, the force that guarantees such a cataclysmic event will occur in the relatively near future.
Relatively near future: Definition: Sometime with the next few centuries at most, though it could begin as early as today.
The math has been around for quite a while. At the rate the human population is exploding on planet Earth, we’ll be passing the eight billion mark in the next decade or so. Quite a few serious thinkers put the “sustainable” number of humans on planet Earth at around four billion, or as little as two billion. The more optimistic (deluded?) among us feel we’re still okay at eight billion and able to double that before the hammer hits us on the head…but even they admit there’s a limit.
I’m one of those who believes that limit has already been left in the dust.
But we won’t stop propagating. Like a mestastasized cancer in the human body, we’ll just keep growing and growing and growing until The Big Die-Off hits the human herd.
Why? Why are we such–for lack of a better word–idiots?
Surely we must be able to rein in this runaway horse even now, right? After all, look at China. They’ve got a handle on it, with their one child policy, and–
Wait a second. China does not have a handle on population growth. Yes, they have the one child per family policy, which you would think ought to result in a shrinking population, right?
No. Not exactly. An average human life span covers several generations. Thus, the one child policy has simply slowed China’s growth, not stopped it.
From Wikipedia on the Demographics of China:
The demographics of the People’s Republic of China are identified by a large population with a relatively small youth division, which is partially a result of China’s one-child policy.
Today China’s population is over 1344 million, the largest of any country in the world. According to the 2010 census, 91.51% of the population was of the Han Chinese, and 8.49% were minorities. China’s population growth rate is only 0.47%, ranking 156th in the world.
They’re getting close, though, right?
Not even. My earlier piece guesstimates our world wide population will double every 50 years. The Chinese have pulled back the throttle on baby booming, yes, but even at a growth rate of 0.47%, China’s population will still double again every 153 years.
Beyond that, slowing their population growth even that much is giving China major, major headaches. For one thing, fewer kids growing up means an increasing tilt toward an aging population. Old, senile buggers past their useful years, good for nothing but drooling in their oatmeal.
At this rate, the average Chinese will be older than the average American before long.
What are the precise aspects of human nature that guarantee the coming population crash? (A crash that, by the way, is going to hit us long before global warming or holes in the ozone layer can get around to doing the job.)
Thought you’d never ask.
The following AHN (Aspects of Human Nature) are listed in no particular order of importance. They’re all crucial.
1. The biological imperative. As the hit song said, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, but women want to have babies. They really are born with a biological clock ticking in their jeans. Uh…genes. And quite a few guys yearn to be daddies, too.
2. Us vs. them. The fear of genocide, or even of potential dominance by a race or group not your own, is nuclear-powerful in the human race. “They” want us to have fewer kids? Must be trying to rub us out! Let’s go make a baby, Mama!
3. The cultural imperative. In a lot of neighborhoods, you’re measured by your children. They are our future, we hear. Better go produce more of them.
4. The religious imperative. If we believe God, the Creator Himself (or Herself or Itself), has commanded us to be fruitful and multiply, we’d best be multiplying!
5. Ignorance. Never underestimate the power of ignorance.
6. Denial. This is a big one. It startled me to see the first poll results on my initial population-related article. Two thirds of early respondents did not believe a future population collapse–or anything else–could be predicted. Wow.
7. The belief in the sanctity of life. If it’s accepted that life is sacred, how does one go about preventing the burgeoning of life in this world? The short answer? One doesn’t.
8. Apathy. This springs from many sources, producing an attitude of, “So what? Who cares?”
The list could be made longer, but that’s enough for now.
As a species, we glorify life, sorrow at death (while often being secretly relieved when the Grim Reaper comes around), and continually push to make more of us. The Catch-22 is that, historically speaking, we need to be that way. Every species needs to push for propagation or it will no longer exist as a species.
Think about it. If we slack off too much, there will be no more people, period.
Which, the dour among us declare, might be the best thing all around.
Until quite recently, with the advent of the Industrial Age, we had serious competitors for space on this planet. Prior to the invention of gunpowder, the larger predators were quite capable of giving us a hard time. Wolves and lions and bears and giant snakes (not to mention smaller, venomous snakes) were all factors to one degree or another.
If Nature didn’t kill us, we killed each other. Which we still do, but not nearly fast enough to keep up with the Joneses.
Pestilence and plague, fire and famine, the Great Flood, tectonic shifts, you name it.
For the past few centuries, we’ve gotten cocky. And in one very real sense, we deserve to be. Our success as a species has been almost as impressive as the cockroach. But here’s the rub: Either we hold ourselves in check (which we will not do) or the Boom-Bust Rule will take over.
Heck, we can’t even get our own American government to hold its own spending in check. It just doesn’t see the need to do that…unless it’s the other guy’s ox going to the slaughterhouse. If you’re a Montana Congressman, for example, it might be a really good idea to cut out a few unnecessary programs that are nothing but California pork–but Heaven help the fool that tries to pull the federal funding slated to help your ranching and farming constituents in the Golden Triangle.
On a much, much smaller scale, I saw an echo of this same “I don’t see the problem” attitude in my sixth wife. One day, I remember mentioning two specific issues, telling her, “I believe we need to talk about those two things.”
“I don’t!” She said it flippantly and dismissively, ignoring and rejecting my concerns in one move. Six months later, I was gone.
So it is with the Population Bomb. Some of us, a relative few, say, “I believe the Bomb just went off.”
“I don’t!” Comes the reply from the masses, many of whom will be ever so surprised one day to “wake up dead”.
When the crash becomes obvious to the least aware among us, will it mean the end of humanity? Armageddon? Time for Mad Max or Water World or some such?
Nah. Not likely. We’ll be back.
And do it all over again.
This concludes (at least for now) my musings upon world wide population considerations. There are no plans for a third article in the series. For whatever reason, the Population Crash is a topic that has been firmly in my awareness for at least the past 60 years, though, so a couple of pages on the issue seemed in order.
Despite having grown up in what most people would consider a semi-remote setting, I’ve always felt like there were too many people in the world. This was true from early childhood.
Where did that awareness come from?
Certainly not from Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which was not written until my 25th year–though I did read that the moment it came out.
There were other writings available on the subject long before my birth, Thomas Robert Malthus in particular, but I’d never even heard of Malthus until two days ago. My Dad was the eldest of eight children and thoroughly believed in being fruitful and multiplying. (I have at least one half sister I’ve never met.) Mom only believed in physical intimacy for the purpose of procreation. None of the surprisingly excellent teachers at our school in Drummond, Montana, ever brought up the subject of population control.
So, again, where did that awareness come from?
I know not…but suspect it played a part in my eventual decision to study the human psyche, to get a college degree in psychology, and to work to comprehend how we bipedal mammals function emotionally.
What comes next? Got me, y’all. The sun is coming up, it’s time to hit Publish, and while I’m not planning on adding any more children to the population explosion any time soon, my baby in the next room needs to have her morning meds ready when she wakes up.
There are those who believe the Black Plague was a blessing for humanity, followed as it was by the Renaissance. Could the population boom-bust cycle be a good thing? Perhaps, perhaps not. The answer to that question might well depend on who you ask. Most likely, species like the dinosaurs, passenger pigeons, Cro-Magnon man, and Neanderthal man will not be impressed.