How Many People?

75 new cities of a million people each. That’s what the world’s annual population growth adds up to. (Meanwhile rising seas, extreme temperatures, and a surge in natural disasters are reducing the amount of livable land all around the world.)

            “No problem,” some people think. “If we eliminate the big gap begtween rich and poor there will be enough to take care of everyone.” Nice talk. With no evidence, no data, no knowledge of demographics or ecology, and no thinking-through of their own. Just repeating something they heard or read in the corporate media.

            If you’re an American, kindly look at the map and think about where in the United States you propose to put those 75 cities of a million people each. If you’re a European, think about where in Europe you propose to put the 75. (Keep in mind that Europe is already very densely populated, and the less heavily populated parts of the U.S. are either a) inhospitable, like huge swaths of desert that have minimal water; or b) agricultural areas that are already part of the ecological footprint that feeds big cities—and that are getting poisoned fast by heavy use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers and by feedlot livestock piss and shit.  

            As it happens, the 75 million new people every year are spread out all around the world. So they’re not so disturbing to the U.S. and Europe (except for sending floods of economic refugees toward them), but they do contribute to hunger, hardship and extreme poverty in the world’s less industrialized regions.

            Oh, and there’s this: That 75 million is just in one year. There are the equivalent of 75 million new cities in the world every year between now and 2030. (Do the math!)  How could we be so mistaken and complacent about the effects of skyrocketing world population? There are at least three reasons. 

First, politicians and big business bosses everywhere keep telling us that we need more people and production to have the gloriously prosperous future we all want.

Second, the media keep telling us, “Birth rates are declining all around the world.” They forget to mention that since the world’s population keeps growing, the growth rate can drop but the total number of people keeps rising, because as the population base gets larger, the rate of growth can decline, yet produce a greater total increase, because the basis on which that rate is figured is greater. Confusing growth rates and total growth is a key error.

Third, very few people think about demographic momentum. Today there are so many young people that if every couple in the world had just enough children to replace themselves, it would take from 50 to 70 years for Earth’s population to level off. A young population has a built-in engine for growth because so many people are entering or soon will enter their childbearing years. Young parents live alongside their children and even their grandchildren. It can take a half century before they reach old age and start making large contributions to the death rate. So even if they all have just two children, they can more than double the population. A population that has been growing rapidly keeps on expanding long after its birthrate has dropped to replacement level.

To keep this from getting to long, I’ll just barely mention carrying capacity. Ecologists tell us that if everyone in the world had the same consumption level as the average American, it would take three more planets the size of Earth to support us all. Actually we have to think about the carrying capacity of each place in the world. In some regions it depends on foot. In some it depends on water. In the U.S. some folks might argue that it depends on how many cars there’s space for on the streets at rush hour. That’s another whole blog.

How can we possibly deal with today’s overwhelming population growth? I suspect that if the world diverted just one percent of its war machine spending toward that end it might be enough to accomplish it. Five percent? You bet.

That’s not a plot to have more white people and fewer others in the world. Everybody of all nations and colors will benefit by not having more and more people competing for increasingly scarce resources.

Except, of course, the big bosses  and other very wealthy folks who get rich off others’ misery. It’s extremely important to deal with that issue. It’s also extremely important to radically reduce population growth. The two agendas are not opposed. They go together.