Population

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Who doesn’t love babies? I know I sure do. Some of you may claim to be that one who “can’t stand babies” but all things being serious I’m certain that experiencing the death of a baby would be far more traumatic than that of someone older. Like all species we are attached to our young with something so adhesive only Life itself could’ve come up with it. Like any animal protecting their children we can go primal when it comes to threatening their safety. The abortion issue is a clear indication of how important our children are to us, they need only be conceived and their life has become sacred.

The reason why we, as humans, all love our children; the reason why all life loves all life, particularly their own species is because it is genetically imbedded in us. To evolve we need something driving the continuation of the species – otherwise life would be a lot more of a “miss” than a “hit.” The reason why sex is so unimaginably pleasurable and seductive to us is not so much sin but instead our natural urge to do the one thing we were knowingly meant to do – and that’s reproduce.

Our genetic code is complex, but the urge for sex will surpass social standards, legal standards, and moral standards that also keep the genetic code intact. That is why this drive is so primally strong and so zombie-esque in need. As a species we feed on sex like vampires to blood.  But of course – nothing new here – we are not even the most sexually active species on the planet.

There is a point to all this – the preservation of life is sacred to us all that exist through it. But specifically the preservation of your particular species, even more specifically – your personal genetic code. From this simple purpose you came to know to love, for nothing melts our hearts more than a love for a child. And I’ll admit – that sounds really sappy – but it’s just a simple fact that shouldn’t be overlooked.

A single life is so complex and beautiful. The creation of a child should never be diminished in its importance as it might as well be a miracle for every time it occurred. The conception of a new life is practically magical in the rapid assembly of itself. For generations which I cannot even fathom this has occurred and this is something profound to say about both life and humanity.

The Problem

With all that being said above, we do have a problem. I just wanted to make it perfectly clear that I think human life is a beautiful, sacred thing that has signficant importance to all our lives. The problem lies directly on the graph to the right. Now, I know you all see what I’m talking about and you want to skip right to the end where you see the giant leap. But let’s take this graph step by step. First let’s recognize that 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago not very much changed in the human population growth. How do we know this? Because more people would’ve meant more bones and bodies found in the ground – but we stayed a relatively low-key species for about 2.5 million years.

Then something happened about 10,000 years ago to change this very sustainable way of living. What was it? What took the population control away from Fate’s hands and into our own? What was our key to control over our own population levels? The answer happens to be something pretty boring sounding considering its power – the agricultural revolution. It’s hard to express my emotional attachment to this time period in human history. To me the agricultural revolution is more than just simply learning how to farm and store food, it was the first breath of civilization. This is important to me because civilization is the one thing we are completely surrounded by with virtually no questioning or truly understanding it. And it was simply the result of deciding to stop running around everywhere and make use of what was directly around us.

And a human living in a world of tribal sustenance, hunting and gathering, incessantly setting up camp and taking it down, almost completely exposed to unfavorable weather, and sometimes not knowing if they’ll have a next meal or have a day to rest I can only applaud their sheer brilliance of fortifying a single spot and attempt to master some of nature to work for us for a change – instead of the other way around. And because of this we prospered, and our genetic code was ecstatic pumping our brains with endorphins as our species finally could put their efforts in to other things rather than simply surviving – one of those other things quite obviously being sex. Yet other things were medical advances which helped people live better and longer lives, and still yet other things were to make life more convenient so as to decrease the risk of something going wrong. And through this we prospered even more, having more free time, and being productive in our own definition of the word with that free time.

Continuing on the graph our species goes through the many periods on which historians use to define eras – we float by the New Stone Age, in which some of the earliest civilizations on the planet began to flourish, in modern day Egypt, Iraq, India, and China. The Iron Age gave rise to the world’s most prominent civilizations to date, mighty empires rising and spreading across the planet only to crumble and fall again, sometimes centuries later. Additionally the Iron Age gave rise to our modern day commonly accepted religions, hardly a blip on the radar of humanity, life, the planet, and the Universe.  For now we’ll skip over the Middle Ages and move right to the Modern Age. Wow. How did the population get so high so quickly? Things hardly changed in millions of years and in the course of a few hundred years it skyrockets.

This is known as an exponential curve. The exponential function is an interesting concept best summed up by this quote right here:

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponentional function.

Albert A. Bartlett, Physicist

And even though humanity has done a great job of demonstrating exponential growth with our populations and subsequently demand for resources, we as a race, rarely take it in to serious consideration. So what is this exponential function? What does it mean? And really the best source of explanation of that comes from the same man who gave the quote above. He has about an 80 minute video on Youtube aptly labeled The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See. If you truly want to feel the gravity of a blindsiding slap of what we as a species are doing to ourselves and the planet with very simple math, you should watch that video. Additionally if you want to understand why John McCain should not support drilling as much as he does – this isn’t political – it’s math – solid fact.But here is how Albert A. Bartlett brilliantly describes exponential growth (with my clever illustration to go with it).

He tells you to imagine a bottle with a bacteria in it that splits every minute, so that after an hours time the bottle will be full.

See the bacteria? He’s in there. The number along side the bottle? Bartlett decides this is the time in which we’ll put the bacteria in the bottle to watch it reproduce.

And there it is! The miracle of life! Where there was once bacteria there now is two. Now, at 11:02 both bacteria are going to split, so again there will be twice as many bacteria.

And there they are! All 4! Now, again, they double. And Again. And Again.

I like how they are stacking themselves up. It reminds me of a flea circus or something. But Bartlett asks this question: Using this method, at what time would the bottle be half full? My initial answer was probably similar to yours if you never thought about this before ” I dunno.” But the question is a trick because it was answered by the problem itself. If it doubles every minute, and after an hour it is full, it must be that at 11:59 the bottle was half full, as such:

Not as cozy and cute as the first 5 minutes. And in a single minutes time, we recieve this:

Even when you are expecting it, it is still slightly shocking, I must admit. For the simple reason that every single minute PRIOR to 11:59 you would’ve never guessed such a substantial growth rate. There is an old riddle whose origin and type of grain changes, but the story follows the same line. You start by putting one piece of grain on the first square, two on the second, and so on – before you reach halfway (or so) you’ve already used up all of the world’s known resources of grain. This is exponential growth – it sneaks up on you even when you know it’s coming. The next question Dr. Bartlett asks is If you were an average bacterium in the bottle, at which point would you realize you were running out of space?  I have taken the liberty to graph the bacteria experiment aforementioned above. Along the bottom is time and along the Y-Axis is the percentage of the bottle that is full (I have no idea how to tell Excel to stop at 100):

That is a fair question. Becuase certainly we can discount almost the entire history of the bacteria existence up until about 11:50. Bacteria at 11:50 have lived the whole history of their entire world, all 50 minutes of it, with a number that virtually amounts to 0. By 11:55 the bacteria are only taking up 3% of the entire bottle. 5 minutes until 12 – and the bottle is 3% full. What bacteria is going to naturally think that in 5 minutes the entire bottle is going to be full? Especially when the last 55 minutes have hardly incurred any growth at all?!

The beautiful thing about a man like Dr. Bartlett is that he thinks ahead. He allows the ability for him to be wrong by large proportions and still make his point. He first off allows the bacteria to “recognize” their danger when they are 25% full – or 2 minutes to 12, which is very generous as the average bacteria would say “There is still 75% of the bottle left to go.” So the bacteria recognize that they are running out of space at 2 minutes to 12 and they send out search parties across the world and they find 3 new bottles! Problem solved, right? Well, this leads to Dr. Bartlett’s 3rd question: How long can the growth continue as a result of the discovery of three new bottles; this quadrupling of the proven resource? Well by 12:00, the first bottle is full, by 12:01 2 bottles would be full, and by 12:02 all 4 bottles would be full, what does this mean?

It means that in this Bacteria-world, even though it took 59 minutes to fill only half of the first bottle (or 98% of the time), it would take only 3 minutes to fill 4 bottles (or 0.05% of the time). Now before I lose you, let me explain how this relates to people: This is why it’s bad to continue on the path of the exponential consumption of oil. Even if we found 3 times the total known amount of oil – we would still use it all up in minutely small amount of time.

You see – that chart I showed you with the rate of growth of the bacteria – it looks familiar. It looks like I’ve seen it somewhere before, where could it have been?! Oh wait, I remember! It reminds me a hell of a lot like the people graph I originally showed near the top of this entry – let’s take a look at what I mean:

So what does this mean? Simply – it means we are the bacteria in the bottle. Instead of bacteria in the bottle, it is humans on the planet. Just as the bacteria cannot survive outside of a bottle, we humans cannot survive outside of our planet. 12:00 is a metaphor – one that is almost cliched – it is a metaphor for our doom. And what time is it now for us? At the very earliest it is 11:59. And the problem for us, unlike the bacteria, is we cannot go exploring out in space and drag 3 other similarly identical planets back near us so we can populate them. We only have 1 bottle – 1 planet – that will sustain life as we know it – diverse and abundant. But every day the seconds tick by to our 12:00, human’s 12:00, in which maximum capacity has been reached and the only way for the population to go is down.

What Does The Population Going Down Really Mean?

Let me tell you what I’m not saying – I’m not saying every square inch of this Earth is going to be crushed with people – that is silly. But at some point this idea of “growth” that civilized culture so unwaveringly supports will not happen anymore. Why am I so certain? One neat thing to do is to take a look at this site that really puts you in perspective with the rest of humanity. Population: One shows what it would be like if each person on the Earth were a single pixel, with you being the first. If you did not click on that link, I encourage you to do it now. Each pixel you see there is a mouth to feed and a butt that poops. Each pixel you see there is someone who needs shelter, and potable water. Each pixel you see there is someone who needs resources to create what they desire, and each pixel you see there creates waste. Many of those pixels contribute to creating waste that does not turn in to something useful again for a long time – leaving less useful natural resources for the pixels to come… and they’re coming. Each of those pixels was once a precious indispensable human fetus.  The pixels are getting larger at an exponential rate – every day. If you would like to see it in real time (as well as many other jaw-dropping statistics) I suggest the World Clock. No matter how hard you try, you can never feel the full impact of what the World Clock is counting – it’s literally impossible as it silently calculates its statistics – yet it’s happening. Right now. Right. now.

At about 2 minutes to 12, or in 1798, a man by the name of Thomas Malthus was our bacteria that recognized the problem early on, when the world was still only 25% “full.” While he did not send tug-boat space ships to each corner of the galaxy to find us 3 new planets, he did prophesize that eventually food production would not be able to increase at the same rate as population. This has been known as the Malthusian dilemma. While some have ignorantly attempted to ignore the exponential function the Malthusian Dilemma is still a very valid and encroaching fear. A quote from Thomas Malthus:

The Power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce substinence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race

Premature death visiting the human race. That is probably the most eloquent way to put it – however in reality that means the creation of humanity’s worst nightmares. And yet we play blind and ignorant to this fact because it is taking on the responsibility of curbing the population of our entire species, which individually we all feel too small to do. And this is so counter-intuitive in thought as everything that we consider good, from medicine to peace all facilitate population growth. But the fact remains – our species will reach a point that if we don’t curb our growth, nature will. How?

Well one way is to look back up at my initial chart of the human race over the last 2.5 million years. There is something noteworthy that I breezed over initially. Between 1000 AD and 2025 AD the chart makes note of the only dip in our population – the black death. For any who choose to minimize the severe impact of disease on humanity, I encourage to click that link, and recognize the apocolyptic scenario we would be facing. In the span of about 6 years, 6 measley years, about half of the population of Europe was wiped out – so much that it even impacted the entire global population of humans (hence the dip on the chart). Today disease is even easier to spread with the simplicity of transportation. A disease that lay dormant for 24 hours, yet strikes like the black plague, could decimate our entire species in roughly the same timespan, if not smaller, than the black death.

And if the disease doesn’t get us and we continue to ignore our population growth – something else will. As we continue to team the planet, wars will be fought more frequently due to the dwindling amount of energy or fresh water sources, there is sufficient evidence to link the current Iraq War with the demand for the untapped oil resources that lay beneath the country. What other energy wars may occur in the future? And of course there is Malthus’ ever-famous famine that will occur if all else fails to diminish our population. There is only so much arable land on the planet and every year we lose more of it to the already voracious need for food in some places around the globe.

But let’s take a closer look at food. As it was the agricultural revolution that had sparked this population dominoes. A man named David Pimentel is quoted in this (boring, yet still relatively) informative slide show :

The populations of all organisms increase to the limit of their food resources

Let’s see. Are we an organism? Check. Well, that was easy, we’ve met all the criteria needed to increase to the limit of our food resource. Ever since we’ve been able to store food, we’ve been subconsciously increasing our population to meet the amount of food available. David Pimentel claims it in his study Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply. All too often we hear people cry out that in many places in the world people are starving and that we need to be able to make more food for them. WorldHunger.org refutes this by saying:

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.

Notice how they openly admit that we are currently producing more food than we ever have before, despite the 70% increase in population (in only 30 years). To make this point clearer, I am going to cite a portion from one of the most inspiring authors I’ve ever read, Daniel Quinn, in his book The Story of B (p. 261 – 262):

Imagine if you will a cage with movable sides, so that it can be enlarged to any desired size. We begin by putting 10 healthy mice of both sexes into the cage, along with plenty of food and water. In just a few days there will of course be 20 mice, and we accordingly increase the amount of food we’re putting in the cage. In a few weeks, as we steadily increase the amount of available food, there will be 40, then 50, then 60, and so on, until one day there is 100. And let’s say that we’ve decided to stop the growth of the colony at 100. I’m sure you realize that we don’t need to pass out little condoms or birth-control pills to achieve this effect. All we have to do is stop increasing the amount of food that goes into the cage. Every day we put in an amount that we know is sufficient to sustain 100 mice — and no more. This is the part that many find hard to believe, but, trust me, it’s the truth: The growth of the community stops dead. Not overnight, of course, but in very short order. Putting in an amount of food sufficient for 100 mice, we will find — every single time — that the population of the cage soon stabilizes at 100. Of course I don’t mean 100 precisely. It will fluctuate between 90 and 110 but never go much beyond those limits. On the average, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, the population inside the cage will be 100.

Now if we should decide to have a population of 200 mice instead of 100, we won’t have to add aphrodisiacs to their diets or play erotic mouse movies for them. We’ll just have to increase the amount of food we put in the cage. If we put in enough food for 200, we’ll soon have 200. If we put in enough for 300, we’ll soon have 300. If we put in enough food for 400, we’ll soon have 400. If we put in enough for 500, we’ll soon have 500. This isn’t a guess, my friends. This isn’t a conjecture. This is a certainty.

So that’s it. We have to come up with a global limit to food supply for the entire human race. With that food supply limit we may not all die of a terrible bubonic plague or a massive nuclear winter, but instead we would taper the population off and, down the road, attempt to decrease it.

It is at this moment in time that I would like to invoke my initial statements of this entry. I’m not supporting this decision because I’m cruel or think humans, especially starving babies, aren’t special and don’t deserve to be fed. I am only supporting this decision because to me, it seems like the least cruel outcome. But let’s face facts here: It’s 11:59 and Thomas Malthus did not send space ships out 1 minute ago to save us with 3 times our current resources. We are on the brink of population collapse, and assuredly extreme disorder – in a world that we have proudly polluted for centuries, especially within the last 10 – 15 decades.

I would also like to add this as well: Don’t have children. If you’re reading this, whatever your age, don’t have children. And if you already have had some children – don’t have anymore. I only beg this of you because I know most will not listen, and they have every right. I would never believe that the government, or any group, should have the right to punish you for baring children. To me that seems as cold as you can come – I cannot support population control with prison and babies thrown out to sea. But please take an active part in our 11:59 attempt at stabilizing and decreasing the population. Dr. Barlett used many amazing quotes with his presentation, this being one of them, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:

Unlike the plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases (which) we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution, but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and the education of the billions who are its victims.

Food production control and your own personal choice to not have children are not the only two things there are either. Let me make it a point that I’m a teacher of some of the most unloved children in New York State, and yet I still acquire many positive relationships with them. I try hard to make a personal connection and influence on all of my students who look even remotely accepting of any positive and progressive influence. Yet, as much as I love children of all ages, I will never have any of my own. Does this make me sad? Not really, I never let it enter my head as a true option because by the time I was adult-enough to understand the population situation, I had decided that it would be nothing less than selfish for me to be the one to create a child.

With saying that I am about to say some politically controversial things, but I believe given our circumstances, these should be nothing but common sense. First is sex education should be comprehensive and international regardless of religious beliefs due to our 11:59 situation. Within the sex education program abstinence should be promoted, if for no other reason than to stop the spread of disease. Additionally condoms and birth control should be completely free for anybody who wishes to use them – please take full advantage. So Catholics – this means you – as precious as life is, it’s okay that not every load blown is for the sole purpose of impregnation. Our sexual drive is too strong for that at this dire hour.

My other controversial belief is that abortions should be legal without thought of debate. Now I’m not talking about weird-ass late term abortions where a woman decides to kill a fully developed fetus on none-other than a whim (which my parents seem to think are the only kind of abortions going on). I believe early abortions for accidental pregnancies should be legal, not because I don’t think that child isn’t special, but because we really have too much on our plate right now to say, on principle, that a woman MUST bare her child if she becomes impregnated, regardless of rape-cases or accidental preganancies. A late-term abortion should only be allowed if the mother is endangered or a similarly good reason. I’m not promoting a murder-of-fetuses-for-fun-day or anything like that, but the fact that an individual should have the right to choose whether or not she wants to bare the life that is within her should be a non-issue. If it isn’t your body, it isn’t your choice in the matter, please if you are really intent on saving lives, focus on one of the many that are in need of you that currently reside on the planet and not in a womb. That is a serious request.

I would like to complete this entry with another quote used by Dr. Bartlett on his video that I implore you to watch. Also, feel free to comment on this entry below, I’m always happy to hear intelligent and thought-provoking responses. This is a quote from Asimov:

In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation.

Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation.

Convenience and decency cannot survive overpopulation

As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual matters.

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