“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970’s the world willundergo famines-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death inspite of any crash programs embarked upon now.
At this late date nothing canprevent a substantial increase in the world death rate, although many livescould be saved through dramatic programs to “stretch?the carrying capacity ofthe earth by increasing food production. But these programs will only provide astay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successfulefforts at population control. ? These words, from Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich’s bookThe Population Bomb, predicted a grim future for the world of 1968 when the bookwas published. Today, the debate rages on about how much life our planet canhold.
With world population estimates currently around 5. 5 billion, and aprojected population of over 10 billion by 2100, the question of resourcescarcity is raised. Will there be enough resources to support the explodingpopulation of our planet? Also, is it true that population growth is necessaryfor economic prosperity, or is it responsible for problems such as hunger andpoverty? One of the first things that need to be considered in the populationdebate is the issue of “carrying capacity. ? Many different people definecarrying capacity in many different ways, and in this lies a major problem. Basic ecology textbooks define carrying capacity as the number of individuals ina population that the resources of a particular habitat can support. Othersdefine it as the point at which the birth rate is equal to the death rate, whilestill others define is as the average size of a population that is neitherincreasing or decreasing.
Each different definition of carrying capacity hasdifferent arguments for the earth being above or below its carrying capacity, orof having infinite carrying capacity. Also, many other factors must beconsidered when estimating the earth’s capacity by any of the abovedefinitions. For instance, one must consider the level of prosperity of thepeople, the technology available, and the distribution of available wealth. Under certain conditions, the world might not easily hold even 1 billion people,while under other conditions a number as high as 20 billion is possible. Anotherfactor in overpopulation that must be considered is that of life expectancy. According to United Nations estimates, the life expectancy in developed nationsin the 1950’s was approximately 66.
0 years, while third world nations enjoyeda life expectancy of 40. 7 years. Due to substantial declines in infantmortality, the average life expectancy in developed nations was 74. 0 years and64. 7 years in developing countries.
However, although the majority of thisincrease is due to decreases in infant mortality, jumps with this large of anincrease cannot be entirely explained by that alone. New developments inmedicine and technology have increased life spans across the board. Even morepromising, and perhaps alarming, is the fact that predicted “upper limits?ofhuman life expectancy have regularly been surpassed, and increases in lifeexpectancy even appear to be accelerating. These average life expectancyincreases, if they continue, will allow the world population to skyrocket at aneven faster rate. Finally, and perhaps the most important issue that must bediscussed in the debate on overpopulation is the issue of resource scarcity.
Socalled “experts?love to enter the debate and make doomsday predictions thatthe world will run out of food, or oil, much like Dr. Paul Ehrlich did in hisbook, The Population Bomb. However, these predictions never seem to come true. Julian Simon, an economist, has an idea about natural resources which hassparked mountains of debate from both camps in the overpopulation discussion. Simon asserts that all natural resources are infinite.
While this claim may seemaudacious at first, it becomes clearer exactly what he means when studied. Hispoint is definitely not that there are an infinite number of gold or copperatoms in the earth. The mass of the earth is finite, and current scientificstudies imply that even the mass of the universe is finite. Simon is saying thatresources are indefinite in the sense that we will never run out of them forwhatever we decide to use them for. This contradicts the environmentalist wackoswho claim the more of a resource is removed from the earth, the scarcer thatresource becomes.
For example, copper has been used for thousands of years for avariety of uses. The amount of copper taken from mines has increased over thelast few thousand years, yet copper-based products are cheaper today that at anyother time in history. If it were true that the more a natural resource is usedthe scarcer it becomes, this should not be the case. As the price of copperincreases due to scarcity, we will invariably find new sources of copper, findways to reuse existing copper, or develop alternatives. Essentially, Simon ispostulating that people do not buy resources, they buy services.
They couldn’tcare less if a satellite that uses no copper at all has replaced the copper wiretelephone systems. This helps to explain why prediction after prediction ofimpending natural resource shortage has been repeatedly discounted. It seems asthough the real question in the overpopulation debate has to be “Is there aproblem with overpopulation, or will there be one in the future?? Through myresearch I have found the answer to be an emphatic NO. The world’s populationhas increased exponentially over the past 5,000 years, and without any realapproach to that supposed “carrying capacity.
? Although life expectancy iszooming upward at an accelerating pace, the sun still rises and sets everymorning and evening. This is not likely to change. However, if at some pointconditions change on earth, and that carrying capacity is reached, we must beprepared to deal with that situation. Many experts have said that technology isthe key to our continued existence while the population rises, and I believethey are right. Technology has given us most of the causes of overpopulation:lower infant mortality, higher life expectancy, etc. It stands to reason thattechnology will solve the problems it has created.
I tend to agree with JulianSimon’s opinion of natural resources. Effectively, they are infinite. What wemay run out of is space. In this case, I think that space colonization, whichhas been suggested by “experts,?is entirely ludicrous. We would be better totravel under the sea and live a mermaid existence in glass bubbles than to tryand build space stations or outposts on other planets.
Technology will, Ibelieve, allow us to keep up with the population and supply enough food for theentire population of the world as well. It has been stated that there currentlyis enough food produced to feed nearly twice the world’s current population. The only reason people are starving is because of issues with distribution. Inthe future, possibly even the near future, I can see technology solving eventhat dilemma. As you can see, the problems facing us with overpopulation are notnearly as bad as some would have us believe. We must simply take them in strideand see what happens.
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