Forward: It’s the Population, Kids

| January-February 2009

Baby Population

Image by James Duft

If you were born around 1960, you came into a world populated by some 3 billion people. Today nearly 6.5 billion of us reside on the planet. When you die you’ll likely leave about 10 billion behind. Human population causes desertification, deforestation, extinctions, and climate change.

It’s easy to blame industrialization and point an accusing finger at gas-guzzling automobiles and unscrupulous multinational corporations for our environmental mess. Yet the planet somehow weathered 200 years of coal smoke, robber barons, and fossil-fuel locomotives with relatively mild, comparatively isolated consequences.

So why, despite the presence of international watchdogs, hybrid cars, and clean-coal technology, is a global meltdown closer than ever?

To quote the sage (a cartoon possum named Pogo, speaking to his friend Porky Pine on Earth Day in 1971): “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”

Maybe it will take 75 years to reach a population of 10 billion. Maybe the planet can accommodate 12 billion frugal human beings. Someone recently pointed out that the world’s entire population could be housed in high-density skyscrapers on a piece of land the size of Virginia. In Macao, China, the population has already reached about 17,000 people per square kilometer. If the entire current human population lived in the same conditions, we would occupy about 150,000 square miles, a piece of land slightly smaller than California, slightly larger than Montana.

OK. But who would want to live there?

kristina norrad
4/13/2009 4:30:26 PM

you know what scares me the worse is that where i live poeple are now killing their babys ..calling it a moment of insanity...but we all know better..a lot of women and familys should never had any kids from the get go and yes most of it is poverty related....once on the poverty list with the goverment it's self makes it hard to get of go over the $ allowed one month and your cut off...and to begin with you can't afford birth controll as a women... how many men have looked into birth controll ...look it takes their sperm to reproduce,,, and ususally its the male that pushes the female to give in!!! hey us women have been on the short end of the blame stick too long...time to step up the schooling from first grade.....i remember the time i came home and saw my grandaughter put her mothers male rat in with a female...i asked her what she was going...she was 5 years old at the time and she told me she was making i know no one is to young to know how things's are wonderfull if they are wanted but they all add to the global effect from day one.....................!!!!!

3/20/2009 4:17:04 PM

I bought a bumper sticker several years ago which reads '6 billion miracles is enough' and still don't have the gumption to put it on anything--much less my car. As a young woman, I am very frightened to bring a child into this seemingly nose-diving planet. How can you not be? As it was selfish for my parent's (and grandparents and however far back you want to go)generation (albeit by ignorance or misinformation) to trash our planet to what it is today, I don't think I could put a kid out there, and tell them to clean up, or die trying, what my generation has yet to do.

3/12/2009 11:58:41 PM

Brilliant Mr. Welch! And while you may have been writing professionally about human over-population for just one year, I have been worrying over it and discussing it within my family for well over two years now. In fact, I have had vivid nightmares about its devastating consequences upon my daughter's and my son's futures. Now, -get ready for it...get ready...I am just a HOUSEWIFE! That's right. I am an average, American, stay-at-home-mom, housewife. It should also be noted that my husband recently told his mother that the birth of his sister's FOURTH child was a "mistake." And...get ready for it...ready? He is just a TRUCKDRIVER. That's right. Just an average, hard-working truck driver. Why all the melodrama? you ask. Here's why: you write on the "taboo" of population control discourse and its negative reception without first asking the five W's in journalistic writing which could shed light upon said undesirable public reception. I mean, if me and my family value greatly such a discussion, then you'd have to ask; why not everyone else? I believe the answer lies with the leaders in this field (i.e. scientists) being a bit myopic, and not asking the who, when, where and whys behind the seeming apathetic and/or negative global view toward this critical topic. The answers might lead to profound progress. For example, what if Growthbusters had a PR agent who then got a member a spot on Oprah? Or perhaps a column in the NYT? Maybe the Larry King Live show? After all, this is the Information Age, which is GLOBAL, with a "G." So kind sirs, in closing, get over your fears of the approach and buck-up, man-up, and just plain get-up and get the word globally on over population. You could take a page from Al Gore's play book. Heck, give him a call.

12/22/2008 11:56:59 PM

Population is one taboo topic we can’t dance around, both because it's ineffective to do so, and because we don't have the time. We’ve already exceeded global carrying capacity. We are now in “overshoot”. (Visualize a car sailing smoothly through the air after having been driven off of a cliff.) Global population is nearing 7 billion. Different theorists using different methods seem to end up agreeing that global carrying capacity is probably about 2 billion. (This assumes some level of social justice and a moderate, low by US standards, standard of living. More is possible if you accept a cattle car / Matrix-esque "life".) In any case, we will get to that much-lower-than-7-billion number the hard way (wars, famine, disease, and their accompanying losses of environmental quality, freedom, and social justice) OR the less hard way (immediately and drastically reducing our population voluntarily). Yes, all of us, yes, everywhere. There is no scenario anywhere in which population growth is a "good thing" long term. Yes a drop in population would cause problems, but none of those problems are as big as the problems, suffering, and environmental collapse that is certain to occur if we don’t. While responses could and should be adjusted to the local, it’s too late for any “us” vs “them” arguments or any belief that national boundaries will do much to help anyone in the long run. This is a global issue with local and nation-state consequences. For example, immigration is a consequence of overpopulation, not a cause of it. Likewise, global climate change is not impressed by national boundaries. I disagree with the argument that there is some “right to reproduce” that must be accommodated in this scenario. If there is any "right to reproduce" it's in the concept that one has the freedom to nurture a child or children and form some sort of family. Biological reproduction is not necessary to do that and th

dave gardner
12/22/2008 9:01:35 PM

Clearly a thoughtful, respectful and logical post. However, since it's about population you can almost be assured comments will run the gamut from nonsensical or insulting to complimentary and insightful. There are many people the world over trying to get the rest of the world to have this conversation. In the face of overwhelming evidence that we have more people than the planet can support over the long haul, we largely ignore the subject. It needs to be okay to discuss sustainable population levels. There are plenty of humane ways of moving toward sustainable population. And what is inhumane is to leave our grandchildren a legacy of hunger, thirst, and climate catastrophe. Dave Gardner Producer/Director Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity