We've been warned to set 9-billion places at the table by 2050. We're expected to hit 7-billion this October which means another 2-billion in the following four decades. (This makes me feel old. When I was born we were still in the low-two billions, itself a record).
In recent weeks I've read a number of articles about how we can feed nine-billion human beings. The expert consensus is that we can indeed meet the challenge. Yes we can, but it's not a question of "can" but of "will." Do we have the will to accept the sacrifices, the compromises without which nine billion cannot be fed?
It's conservatively estimated that we'll have to increase global food production another 70%. Some believe we'll have to double it. And then we'll have to ensure that we distribute everything properly so we no longer lose food to spoilage. We're going to have to scrap our fancy notions of "best before" dates and be willing to eat stuff that, by today's standards, has gone a bit off. But the big challenge is that we in the affluent world are going to have to cut our food intake back, way back.
I think it's quite possible that we can do these things but I don't believe it's in our nature, the human nature, that we will do them. Try to imagine how intensely ordered the world will have to become to pull this off. It would be a world unlike anything we have ever known.
The Guardian warned yesterday that the era of cheap food is about over. From here on in food will get much more expensive. Presumably that's the supply and demand function at work. Yet those extra two billion won't be born with silver spoons in their mouths. Most of them will be born to poor parents in poor nations. Just how are they going to be able to buy expensive food? How will they manage to pay to have it shipped vast distances to their markets? How many middle men will stand between them and the calories they need to subsist? How many thugs?
If food is elevated to the status of a strategic weapon, something that can be used to bring a nation living at subsistence levels to collapse, how will we prevent that nightmare from happening?
Surely what these projections tell us is that we cannot have another two billion people added to the roster. We're just not capable or good enough to manage that extra burden. We can't even figure out how we're going to cope with the impacts of anthropogenic global warming that are supposed to begin arriving, in force, at the same time we bring aboard those extra two billion.
Maybe it's time for a showdown. Perhaps it is time we resolved that 7-billion is enough and that mankind has to draw the line there. Africa and Asia have to put the brakes on, arrest their burgeoning population growth. They've simply got to stop. They have to take responsibility for their population levels.
We all must recognize that the good times have rolled. We're in for a century marked by droughts, floods, severe weather events and rising sea levels with associated inundation and salination threats. Even the more advantaged countries, like the United States, will be hard pressed to meet domestic troubles including loss of agricultural capacity and internally displaced citizens.
It's hard to imagine the affluent, northern countries bending low to help regions that chose to add two billion people while knowing full well where the world was heading. For ultimately what is being hinted at is rationing. We'll have to consume less so that ever more can consume a little. That's not something we do terribly well. Worse yet, if we accept some sort of de facto food rationing, we'll also be facing pressures for other types of rationing/sharing - water, energy, natural resources. That's simply not going to happen.
There's nothing we can do any longer to avert the baseline impacts of global warming, the changes that are coming even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases entirely as of today. It remains entirely in our power to defuse the global population explosion. That's a matter of choice. It's a life or death choice.