Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is overpopulation a self-correcting phenomenon? (question 3 of 3)

Upon first consideration, this question struck me as rather heartless. One theory is that the world is already overpopulated and that it currently thrives by stealing from the future – that is, by using up non-renewable resources that will leave future, even more populous generations without the means to survive. Thus, the current growth of population is setting the stage for a massive death of human beings in the near future. This massive death, of course, will eliminate the problem of overpopulation - however few survive it will not be too populous. Thus, overpopulation is a self-correcting phenomenon - one way or another.

As Tertullian wrote in 210 A.D, “Pestilence, famine, wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the abundance of the human race.”

It then occurred to me, however, that there may be another, more positive, sense in which overpopulation could correct itself, not without some pain but certainly without so much death. And this sense touches on something Ian Gerdon wrote in his wise criticism of my previous post: “it is only industrialization that allows us to easily support so many people. Our ability to produce food vastly exceeds that of the pre-industrial world.”

Around 200 million people was considered overpopulous in 210 A.D. - a point I am trying to beat to death - but maybe it really was. Again quoting Mr. Gerdon, "When famine threatened in antiquity, it was not lack of compassion but actual lack of food that caused death." In reality, because of the ingenuity of humans, the very meaning of overpopulation has changed. This world can actually support more people now than it could eighteen hundred years ago - because of technological advancements in agriculture and transportation.

Just as the necessities of the past inspired human beings to invent ways of producing more food and finding more places to live, hopefully the necessities of the future will do the same. As soon as those with creative and inventive abilities perceive the necessity to once again advance our technologies and expand the world's capacity for supporting human life, they may respond with solutions we've not even imagined. Overpopulation would then have created the necessity that mothers invention and therefore, in a sense, corrected itself.

There are already plans for growing food in outer space and humans have been imagining colonizing other planets for more than a century: Galaxy Gardening More Than Hobby For Future Moon, Mars Residents

Is this getting a bit too kooky? Bear in mind, ships that can traverse an ocean were once an absurdity. Anyway, if overpopulation does need to correct itself, I hope it can do so this way rather than with the destruction of human life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, it would temporarily. When we can create more food to feed more people then more people can survive. But, you're only delaying the inevitable.

But, unless you have infinite resources (we can't create anything out of nothing, just rearrange existing things) you'll eventually hit the wall. Even the whole universe doesn't and never will contain infinite resources. And you're forgetting not just food, but the other resources we need to to grow it, workers, water, land for the crops, even if you had machines do it, they'd still need energy and people who knew how to program and repair them.

Even if people didn't need to eat drink ,sleep or need shelter, but could reproduce we'd eventually run out of space.

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