Monday, February 16, 2009

The Curse of Nadya's Sprogs

They're almost as bad as the global warming denialists - those who adamantly deny that the world has an overpopulation crisis. The reproductive antics of Nadya Suleman has brought them out in droves.

For the record, we have an overpopulation crisis. It arrived in the mid-80s when humanity's consumption of renewable resources first exceeded our planet's ability to replenish them.

The typical response from the denialists is that, if we only managed our planet's resources better, there'd be plenty for everyone. Yes, and if my aunt had balls... well, you know.

For almost two decades we've been running an overdraft on earth's renewables. We've been eating our seed corn. Deforestation - we've been savaging our forests. Desertification - we've been working arable farmland to exhaustion, transforming it into desert. Groundwater depletion - we've been draining our aquifers as though they were truly bottomless wells (they're not). Species extinction - we've emptied large tracts of just about every ocean and sea of fish species, the poor man's main source of protein, and we just keep "fishing down the food chain." Pollution - we've been overwhelming the earth's ability to clean our air and our water.

On just about every front we're degrading or destroying our habitat in our quest to produce more to meet the demands and the needs of a relentlessly growing population.

And then there's Nadya Suleman and her fourteen babies. I'm not particularly concerned with all the social costs. Her community and her local government can deal with those. What troubles me is the idea of another fourteen American consumers.

Look at it this way. Since WWII, the US population has grown by about a hundred million - it was two and change, it's now three and change. A hundred million in a planet of 6.5-billion doesn't sound like all that much, does it? Well it begins to sound like a lot when you compare resource consumption on a national basis. For example, the average American consumes roughly ten times more resources than the average Indian. Suddenly that extra hundred million Americans places the equivalent pressure on Mother Earth of a billion Indians and do we really need another billion Indians? Just ask an Indian.

There's one immutable truth about our planet. At the end of the day it wins, not us. We can be as rapacious as we want but we can't make earth renew its bountiful resources any faster.

And we used to make fun of lemmings.


JimBobby said...

Whooee! Generally, I agree. Population control is about as hot a button as it gets, though. It's the elephant in the room.

Some economists and agronomists believe the planet can support 9 billion. We're close to 7 billion now and nearly a billion are not getting as much food as they require. More than 100 million will starve to death this year.

If we are to sustain 9 billion or even 6 billion, we need to ramp up agricultural production and get a lot smarter about local self-sufficiency. Communities that formerly grew the crops and livestock needed locally have mostly switched to large, single crop economies -- fine when trading is brisk and transportation costs are low; not so good right now.

If the population continues to grow at the same time as our agricultural capacity withers due to climate change-related severe weather and drought, we're in for some epic struggles. I suspect that the financially fittest will survive. Like always.


The Mound of Sound said...

The problem, JB, is that all of these forecasts are so hypothetical. "If" this and "if" that and "so long as" the other thing and they never come to be. Human nature being what it is, they never will. It's easier to take what someone else has tomorrow than to conserve today. Then throw other wrenches, like climate change, into the gears and all bets are off.

Sorry JB, lemmings don't run over cliffs en masse - we do.