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Posted by wmmbb in Environment.

Population panics have occurred from time to time. One of the most notable, as least in England in 1798 with later editions, was Mathus’ prediction that food production could not sustain the growing population.

In earlier times there were places the excess numbers of people could go, but one doubts that the immediate planets or the long distant ones will act as a practical pressure valve. Neil Peirce originally in The Seattle Times and republished in Common Dreams writes:

The population of Planet Earth is now projected to pass the 7 billion mark this October — up from just 2.5 billion in 1950. One study shows that if today’s explosive birthrates in developing nations continue, the African continent alone, by the end of this century, could have 15 billion people — more than twice the population of the world today.

This won’t happen. As populations age and urbanize, today’s fertility rates — in many poor nations an average of five, even six children for every woman — are bound to recede.

But the speed of the decline depends significantly on whether women have access to family planning and contraception services. Plus legalized abortion. Unwanted pregnancies and abortions are actually declining in countries that have made abortion legal, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Yet it notes that 70,000 women around the world die each year from illegal, often seriously botched abortions.

A closely related issue: food for our expanding billions of people. Popular “Malthusian” concerns — how many people the globe can sustain — were put to rest by the fabled Green Revolution that flowered from the 1960s onward, bringing dramatic gains in new corn, wheat and rice varieties, huge new irrigation systems, synthetic fertilizers and pesticide use.

But more crop gains — especially gains to match the world’s population growth — may be seriously limited. “The great agricultural system that feeds the human race is in trouble,” Justin Gillis reports in a New York Times roundup of global food issues. A special point of concern: Demand for production of four crucial staples — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has begun to outstrip production. Some grains more than doubled in cost in 2007 and again in the most recent price spikes.

Why is this occurring? Check your newspaper — recent weather disasters, from fires in Arizona, heat-scorched harvest loss in Russia, deep drought in Australia to record-setting floods in Pakistan and right now in North America. Plus melting glaciers and rising tornado, typhoon and hurricane threats. Add to that fresh indication that the rising carbon-dioxide levels of a warming climate will not, as many scientists had projected, necessarily act as a plant fertilizer and help raise yields.

But the world’s population plays a major role too. In 1960, the Population Press reports, there were 1.2 acres of good cropland for each person in the world. Today that figure has shrunk to half an acre per person — in China a quarter acre, a decline compounded by soil degradation.

Nothing in human or natural life is infinite: One day world population must and will stop expanding. Yet there’s remarkably little U.S. or global discussion of the perils in today’s rising world population — to food, to climate, and in fomenting social tensions and economic crises.

It seems to me that population cannot be considered in isolation. The problem is related to climate change – or at least climate variability – and government. Ideally government should manage resources for the common good. The problem is seen acutely and currently in the drought in the Horn of Africa.


Despair is in the air, at least if the latest report by Chris Hedges in Truthdig is taken as the indicator.



1. Zach - July 5, 2011

wow… great post, I couldn’t imagine 15 billion in Africa alone, where does it end.

wmmbb - July 6, 2011

I suspect that forecast has to taken with circumspection. What population could Africa sustain? Population and the pressure on resources, such as water and food production, is likely to generate conflict – and then there is climate change.

2. Ifugao joins in the observance of World Population Day | Latest Live News Update - July 5, 2011

[…] OVER-POPULATION « DUCKPONDNothing in human or natural life is infinite: One day world population must and will stop expanding. Yet there's remarkably little U.S. or global discussion of the perils in today's rising world population — to food, <> […]

3. Mikez - July 5, 2011

This seems to be an insurmountable political problem.

Even without the political interference of religious lobbying, pro-creation is (appropriately i guess) seen as about as fundamental a right as you could imagine.

So, the only curbs on growth will be environmental limits – and unfortunately with so many people on the planet those limits will not be localised.

wmmbb - July 6, 2011

The political problem is in part, in my opinion, the failure to realize we live in a global society and to look a long way down the road into the future, so that we can act with deliberation and determination and not be overcome, as we very well might be by despair and violence.

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