Population Growth

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Our Population Growth

It is fitting that our discussion on “Environmental Pollution” starts with our population growth.  As far back as when the human population of the Earth numbered around 100 million, suggestions were made that “war” was a good thing as it prevented the population growing to a level of unsustainability. As hunters and gatherers we could have maintained our balance with nature by restraining our numbers to around 10+ million. Late 1500’s the great Italian thinker Giovanni Botero first recorded a warning to mankind that at 450 million people we would soon surpass the accepted level of population. Around 1800 Thomas Malthus indicated the Earth had now grown to 900 million and continued to express similar concerns but with an extended estimate of the maximum number the Earth could sustain. Malthus developed a systematic theory of population for which he gathered empirical evidence to show that human populations grow exponentially (ie. doubling at each cycle) whereas food production could only grow at an arithmetic rate (ie. by repeated addition of a uniform increment in each uniform interval of time). This Malthus theory flew in the wind of the long held belief that there were no real limitations to population growth and consequently many were critical of Malthus’ theory on population growth.  Ever since, people have continued to complain that our global population growth will soon outgrow our ability to feed and support our population.

Around the same time a scientific optimism of philosopher William Godwin squared off against Malthus arguing that the likes of the Industrial Revolution with its scientific breakthroughs and innovative ideas would enable mankind to overcome such apparent restrictions caused by our ever growing population expansion.   The view that our earth had some fixed carrying capacity was debunked as nonsense, for mankind’s quest to survive meant that we had to innovate or die out.   In a book “The Wizard and the Prophet”, Charles C Mann calls this the “duelling visions” of opposing views on “Population Growth”.  Mann attempts to take a neutral position.   He oscillates between the two instances (pessimism and optimism) and uses the stands taken English cleric Robert Malthus (a demographic doomsayer) and William Godwin to explain the two duelling points of view.   And in more recent times the same roles are played out by ecologist Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon.     

The most recent (1948) one notable duel occurred between ornithologist William Vogt and contemporary Norman Borlaug.   In Vogt’s book “Road to Survival” he claimed the the earth had a fixed carrying capacity and that our available soil would not be capable of supporting our failing food production.  Vogt determined that the over use of our soil was reducing the nitrogen levels in soil and thereby its ability to produce the necessary increased crop yields.  This would eventually impact upon our ever growth population.   His solution was coercive population control.   Vogt’s belief was that almost every big problem in the world today can find its roots in our uncontrolled population numbers.  In contrast Borlaug, being the eternal optimist, believed science, human ingenuity and innovation could transform humanities ability to feed itself, even to the extent of expanding our population to other planets (like Mars).  Borlaug “put his money where his mouth is” by using the recently discovered Haber-Bosh process to discover and breed into regular crops the genes that responded best to nitrogen.  By doing so he instantly tripled grain yields on millions of farms from Mexico to India. For Borlaug made nonsense of any notion of a fixed carrying capacity.  Today we argue that humans produce too much carbon in the atmosphere and that air pollution is causing the temperature of the earth’s climate to increase, thereby causing the excesses in our climate behaviour (like rising sea levels and storms, bush fires, etc).

Ironically, Vogt took his own life in 1968 believing his ideas had come to naught.  Two years after, Borlaug went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1970 and lived another forty years until his death at age 95.  This was sufficient time for him to see that his innovative ideas and man’s ingenuity had prevented Vogt’s nightmares from coming true – at least for now.      

We are now 600 times the original (Giovanni Botero) crisis figure.   Some miracle of man’s ingenuity must have occurred to enable us to get to this level. By sacrificing piece by piece of our Earth, we have somehow managed to survive. However, there is now compelling evidence from scientists that nature is beginning to fight back. The oceans are doing their bit to combat our accelerated global warning. The Pacific Ocean is churning its warming surface water down into the depths of its colder water. But it is now fighting a losing battle primarily because our rate of green-house gas emissions (CO2), being generated mainly from coal fuelling our power stations and from automobile exhausts), exceeds the rate at which nature is able to fight back. Irrespective of your views on global warming, common sense tells us increasing our air and water pollution cannot be good for our health nor the health of our planet and needs to be reduced.

We know that our planet earth and its resources are finite.  Earth cannot support an infinite population of us humans, especially a dominant species with its unique ability to reverse entropy.  Every day there are an additional 225,000 people joining our planet, adding to our hungry population.  All needing to be fed, accommodated and to be supported appropriately.  Yet equally our insatiable demand for economic growth to enhance our standard of living is somewhat dependant upon population growth (eg. demand for housing and increased food production). 

Controlling our population growth and its associated impact on our environment can only be achieved by empowering ordinary people with education in human health, human rights, and environmental preservation.  We have evolved as a species with again the ability and capability to continue to deliver solutions to this natural conundrum.  A continued solution to earth’s population growth is important to both the immediate and long-term benefits of ordinary people and the earth itself.  In this read you will discover there is a solution to this complex problem and we ordinary people are the main risk to the success of the solution.   Why?   Simply because of our inability to change many of our bad habits on a large scale.

So long as a market-driven economic principle of profit maximisation persists, it hard to isolate and consider other facets of the real holistic economy. As long as production is increased, it would appear little concern is given to its future cost to other resources: like the air we breath, the finite forests we distroy, the deseertification of the land and the harm done to biodiversity or the increase in pollution (water, air & land).  In a word modern business profit by calculating and praying upon only a fraction of the cost involved.  While this inequality in proft calculation continues to favour increased production at any cost (to the natural environment),  market decisions and outcomes will continue to be distorted and inequalities in opportunities and income returns will persist.  Agriculatural water in the Darling Murray area is not scarce, it is under-priced.  Flights are stacked up on runways because take-offs and landings are underpriced.   People are stuck in city traffic jams becuase road use is underpriced. People are dying pre-maturely from sulpher and carbon particles becuase air-polution is underpriced.  Becuase most counties puts little price on air-pollution perilous environmental problems are arising.  We appear to be living in a false economy biased towards profit at any cost (to a defenceless environment that cannot fight back because little value is placed upon it as a finite resource).      

Currently there are around 7.37 billion people living on earth.  Our fertility rate is running at about 2.5 births per women and each birth these days has a life expectancy of 70 years.  India, Canada and the US all have a population growth rate of 1.2%, whereas Australia has been more towards 1.8%.   Unlike many other countries, Australia needs more people to resource its growth and share in our vast amount of available liveable space, especially that outside our main capital cities.  In 2013 the Australian population grew by 400,000, in 2014 by 360,000 and according to the latest predictions in 2015 it will grow by 320,000.  So despite our total population growing, our combined growth rate is slowing (ie. child birth and immigration rate).

Despite major imbalances of hunger in our under-developed countries and obesity epidemics in our advanced countries, in the main we produce more than enough food to feed our current population levels. Yet the majority of the people on earth live beneath the accepted poverty level.  There are known imbalances in our food production.   Food wastage in our developed countries and problems getting available food supply distributed quickly in our under-developing countries (problems getting available food supply distributed quickly and effectively enough to prevent it becoming un-consumable) are the two main contributors to this imbalance.   In essence, population growth does outstrip the growth in food supply as Malthus predicted.  From a global perspective some say our growing world population is not a real problem and that we can really feed and maintain far more people on earth, almost indefinitely.  Why?  Because Malthus theory failed to take into account significant scientific and technological break throughs in improvements in world food production and distribution.  Today we know, through technology and scientific breakthroughs, humans have been able to produce better outcomes for our people with the food supply we produce. This has been especially true over the last 70 years of industrialisation and this success is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.  For example, when you consider that 50% of food production in the modern world is wasted and 50% of food produced in the developing world is lost due to poor distribution, there would appear to be plenty of scope for further improvements even in the immediate term. In other words, we could adequately accommodate our current population growth into the foreseeable future if we changed certain human habits and processes.  It is testament to what we humans can do in reversing entropy that has thus far proven Malthus to be wrong.

After World War II, human life on earth entered a relatively peaceful period where our population growth has increased from 3 billion to 7 billion in a very short period of time (70 years).  The most significant questions posed by the chart below is: “Can our planet continue to support a population of 10 billion by 2050?” and if not “What do we need to do to ensure the survival of our species in the meantime”.  

 World Population Growth

There is a claim that the Earth’s land and fresh water can only sustain food for a maximum of 12 billion people. Thanks to knowledge, free scientific thinking, technology and human ingenuity, not only does the world have the weapons to sustain us, we also have more freedom than ever in history to rectify much of the damage being done. But a mindset shift in the attitude of ordinary people towards unsustainable growth is required. We cannot continue along the current lines of using our precious air as a dumping ground for our waste CO2 and greenhouse gases and the pollution of our fresh water resources. Alternatives exist (albeit probably more expensive than current fossil fuel energy resources) like solar, wind, geothermal and even nuclear power etc. There is an imbalance in that nature cannot deal with the rate at which we take from the earth without us humans putting something back, reversing the amount of pollution we produce. Something has to give if we are to survive into the 2100 century.

As we consider the answer to these earlier questions, with further analysis it becomes clear that either way there are several big hard problems being brought about by the on-going increases in our global population, mainly associated with its impact upon our unique and precious environment:-

  • Scarcity of resources and difficulties in finding more finite resources such as fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal), metals (gold, silver), fresh water, fish and vegetable products and animal food dependent upon our limited arable land, etc.
  • Expansion of developing countries such as India, China and Brazil; all highly dependent upon cheap energy derived from fossil fuels which pollute our air with excessive generation of CO2 into our atmosphere and the deforestation of our oxygen producing wetlands.
  • Wars arising, between counties in need of these scarce resources (mainly oil & gas), which are threatening our social stability and civilisation itself; especially the threat of atomic warfare.

In earlier discussions on “Our Precious Life”, we discovered that climate change has been around for billions of years as have the litany of natural disasters from both within (volcanic eruptions, titanic shifts), above (meteorite invasions) and on the surface of the earth (ice ages and global warmings).   We are within a period when the earth’s temperature is naturally rising, ever so gradually.   Just as it has done so numerous times in the past.  But changes to our ozone layer brought about through excessive CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions are accentuating global warming and as a consequence the rate of climate change is occurring at rate faster than nature itself can deal with. The rapid increase in CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels is human self-inflicted and is therefore potentially self-correctable and self-preventable.  The primary adjustment necessary and likely solution is the greater use of renewable energy sources (like solar, wind, wave, geothermal and even nuclear power, etc.). It’s the combined human impact of our growing population that there is now a scarcity of earthly resources (arable land, fossil fuels, forests, vegetation, animal life etc.); increased air pollution (climate change, weather disasters) and water abuse (fish losses, polluted fresh water) that are all posing enormous problems across our globe.   For this reason, these (4) aspects of life on earth have joined our long list of big hard problems that elude solutions.   These problems are all associated with our population growth, are all self-inflicted and thereby potentially self-correctable and self-correctable.  But time is fast running out!  

If you recall, life on earth has been around some 4.5 billion years, yet we humans have only been around a mere 1.5 – 2 million years.  By all account conditions on earth should (with the emphasis on “should”) be capable of sustain human life for another 1.5 – 2 million years.   But the way we humans have been behaving over the last 70 years, this survival period is likely to be reduced dramatically unless we seriously change the way we are and have been behaving; behaving as both individuals and an intelligent society. 

The reasons for concern become quite complex because population growth needs to be discussed within the context of several other important interlinking considerations, such as:-

  • Capitalism and the need for commercial and market growth, employment, immigration, emigration, wealth distribution, etc.
  • Environmental eco-systems
  • Technology, science and medicine impacting aspects of life expectancy, food production, birth control, predictive forecasting, etc.
  • Human behaviour, like advanced countries’ wastage of food, over-eating, wealth distribution and developing counties’ high birth rate, poor food distribution, malnutrition, disease, addiction, materialism, narcissism and greed

Although many of these are the subject of other YSH “Awareness” discussions, they are introduced again here (with Population Growth) because they are all inextricably linked. Especially when you begin to consider the serious impact population growth is having on our environment (air, land and water) and our insatiable demand for growth at all costs to sustain our standard of living.  It also adds to the importance and complexities of what it takes to live a good life; a life ensuring solving one problem does not come at a serious cost to solving another problem.  For instance, more population growth is good for capitalism but it’s bad for our environment because of bad (or badly informed) human behaviours (eg. regarding air, land and water pollution).   Advances in technology, medicine and science are good for life expectancy and our quality of life but bad for population growth.  In the modern world having children is expensive.   And with materialism on the rise, most families are choosing to have fewer children (2-3), as in Australia.  Whereas in under-developed countries (like India, North Africa) families are choosing to have a larger number of children (5-20) in order to bring in more income from child-labour, even though less than half make it to adulthood.  As developing countries (like China, India and Indonesia) begin to shift their population out of poverty, their need for increased energy supplies is essential to their on-going economic growth and improvement of their standard of living.   Presently the cheapest form of energy comes from non-renewable fossil fuels (like coal, oil, gas).  But when burnt to support the growth in factories, transport, electricity generators and increased CO2 emissions, our air becomes more polluted (impacting our protective atmospheric layer and accelerating the rate of climate change). 

We one considers what are the viable solutions to these inter-related problems, it all adds up to be a complexity array of the inter-related solution(s).  By first identify those aspects over which we have little/no control, this complexity becomes more manageable; reducing it to those over which we do have control and potentially can viably manage.  Let’s start by identifying those few things that we humans cannot control and thereby must work within:-

  • The weather and the normal process of global temperature and affiliated climate change
  • The natural resources on earth which are finite (fossil fuels, minerals, water)
  • The amount of energy in the universe and constraints like the speed of light, solar energy delivered by the sun, winds, wave and tidal energy enable by earth’s moon
  • Our responsibility as the superior life-form on earth and only species ever able to reverse entropy
  • Our need to procreation, if we are to survive as a species

The good news is that because of our unique ability to reverse entropy (when we apply our best innovative  minds to the problem), there are comparatively far more aspects that we can control; not the least of which is our own population growth.  Had we remained as a species like our ape and chimpanzee DNA counterparts, we would most likely today be a global population of around 10 million.   Fortunately (or unfortunately some argue) our brain advanced in an unbelievable fashion; providing us with the ability to reverse entropy on a large scale and think quite differently to all previous species.  These survival capabilities have enabled our human species to growth to the 7 billion of us today. Due to our thirst for knowledge, innovation and inventiveness, we humans have also been able to devise effective methods of birth control and cutting down on infant mortality to a sustainable 2-2.5 fertility rate.  Greater use of various forms of birth control and sex education has been shown to work effectively, especially in more advances western countries like Japan, Austria, Italy, Germany, US and Australia.  These countries tend to supplement their population growth with emigration intakes from developing countries and refugees from under-countries in conflict.

As a nation we Australians are growing in population and living longer, despite our sparsely distributed population. The projected numbers for the next 50 years show our population increasing from 23 to 48.3 million in 2065, with 22% of the population being aged 65 or over. Given the Australian retirement age is currently between 60 and 65 years, it will not be possible for the working population to sustain our current standard of living, let alone pass on a better standard of living to our next generation. We cannot continue as we are!   We cannot afford to continue to allow such numbers to drift into retirement given the current projected life expectancy increase. The Greeks are upset at moving away from their retirement age of 50. Current predictions indicate that the first human to live to be 150 years old is alive and well in Australia today. The infrastructure required to support our current city-centric industrial model is failing already and our work productivity is not increasing sufficiently to continue as we are. Most concur, greater innovative technology (like humanoid-robotics and further genetics break through) solutions are required to tackle these tough strategic issues, not diversions such as creating more entertainment gadgets, as has been the case in more recent years of greed and obsession with instant gratification. These new solutions may well evolve off existing technologies but are likely to be implemented in entirely different ways; with an entirely different motivation and outcome in mind. This style of phenomenon is occurring along similar lines around the globe, especially in developed countries where all the hope for our continued survival currently lies.

While the population of Australia is growing at a steady rate, our rate of increase is slowing.  This drop in the rate of our population growth has enabled a relatively steady jobless rate (6% unemployed) and low economic growth (2.5% rather than the 3.5%).  Like all advanced economies, Australia is obsessed with delivering a surplus, rather than continue to run up economic-debit in a deficit economy already owing over $A360 billion (29% of GDP).   Yet Australia remains the envy of the western world.  Population growth for Australian is not a problem when compared to most other countries.  But Australia is part of the bigger global population growth problem, destined to reach 9 billion in 2050?  Countries like Japan, with strict immigration laws, are experiencing a declining and aging population and have problems attracting more capital investment because consumption (from a falling population) becomes limited.  Japan’s limited population growth is beginning to adversely affect economic development.  Without growth there will be a lack of investment and jobs, causing all types of social crises.  

So the conundrum – should ordinary people favour more or less population growth?  More population growth is good for capitalism because of the resultant increase in consumer demand.  But the risk in increased population growth is its impact on our environment and associated eco-systems.   Growth places more demand on our finite resources, potentially yielding conflict, war and the potential destruction of modern civilisation.  Less population growth is bad for capitalism because it can lead to a fall in our material standard of living. Without persistent population growth, the ability to expand markets becomes limited and, without growth, there is a drop in profits and capitalism can no longer persist. The solution will be about finding that better balance and knowing when enough, is enough. Multi-nationalism and global oligopalies are unsustainable just as current wealth distribution inequalities are unsustainable.  Promoting more greed and narcissistic behaviour is not the answer.  

Capitalism may not be infinitely sustainable.  Through advances in technologies, in environmentally friendly energy sources (like solar, wind, thermal and even nuclear energy) and power storage (like in advanced battery technology and even water damming), the impact upon our environment can be significantly improved by progressively moving away from non-renewable energy sources.  But the greatest risk of all is in our inability to change human behaviour (bad habits), especially on such a large scale!

The five (5) big hard human behavioural changes required towards effective population growth management are:-

  1. Unconstrained economic growth at all costs needs to progressively slow to an eventual freeze, implying a new form of capitalism has to evolve bottom-up; driven by ordinary people realising greater good and well-being arises from undertaking “good works” and “healthier living” than the current obsession of making more money for greater material gain and living a richer but unhealthy live style.
  2. Radical redistribution of wealth from the insanely rich to the poor and disadvantaged. A paradigm shift is required for the rich, who have enough, to distribute their excess wealth for the common good; like “good works” and “healthier living” for all, favouring the less fortunate, poor and disadvantaged.  This imbalance is becoming so pronounced that without a shift to a more altruistic and philanthropic stand, there is likely to be the real threat of further populous “revolutions”.  The peaceful revolution of ordinary people through social network platforms and participation correcting broken and corrupt democratic processes is far better than the alternative.   A return to People’s Revolutions (like the French & American Revolutions, the Russian and Chinese People’s Revolution) must be avoided at all cost.  The poor also needs to become involved in a paradigm shift; shift such as increased education for women, greater gender equality enabling reduced fertility rates, more employment opportunities and support in the reduction in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels through a shift to renewable energy sources, as is occurring in India and China today.
  3. Reduced Environment Pollution. Significantly reduced air pollution, primarily from CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, will prevent weather events becoming more extreme through rapid climate change. The solution to this problem is well underway across the globe, where ordinary people can play their role by favouring renewal energies, electric cars, stop smoking, etc.  Reduced pollution of our seas through the dumping of industrial waste (like un-perishables such as plastics), of our freshwater reserves from industrial chemicals, fracking and human sewerage run-off.  Both our oceans and freshwater rivers suffer from over-fishing and the decimations of our fish species.  Deforestation, reduced animal habitats and oxygen injection, over farming, over fertilisation and uncontrolled human expansion are all polluting our lands on an unimaginable level. 
  4. Changing Bad Habits of Ordinary People. Ordinary people need to be armed with tools and techniques that enable the reprogramming of their brain to accommodate delayed gratification and more positive pre-occupations working more for the common good, taking greater responsibility for their own health and well-being and that of our environment. To move away from all their self-inflicted big hard problems for which they are struggling to find solutions (obesity, addictions, pollution, materialism, mental dis-orders), these bad habits need to be replaced with more positive outcomes like taking greater care of themselves and of others inflicted with more circumstantial problems outside their direct control by becoming more involved in living a good life.  Like spending more of their time involved in volunteering, exercising, enjoying healthy food and drinks, living stress-free, enjoying out-door family activities, respecting the environment, and generally treating others as they would like to be treated.
  5. Population Growth stabilisation to a sustainable fertility rate. Western countries already have their population growth under control, so the emphasis turns to the less developed countries.  The solution lies with the developed countries making more and better education in birth controls available to less developed countries, increasing job opportunities and providing for other disincentives to child-rearing for economic reasons.  

In summary, while population growth as a problem it remains a complex issue.  But once broken down into constituent parts and their interrelationships, the opportunity for a viable solution becomes more possible and more viable.  At present there is enough (resources) to go around for our current population, with much opportunity for further improvements (wastage & equitable, effective distribution) and provided this can be better managed in the future, a slowdown in population growth is eminently possible and sustainable.  Capitalism as its current exists is not sustainable by being largely dependant on (population) growth at any cost.  It’s not sustainable for our environment which is fighting back but not at a rate sufficient to reverse the amount and rate of loss. The good news is that there are already economic changes afoot.    If the seminal shift towards more philanthro-capitalism can be sustained, there is every chance appropriate wealth redistribution can lift our less advanced countries out of poverty long before social revolutions are seen to be necessary where the wealthy are violently replaced with socialist-like regimes.   The good works of our wealthiest individuals (the likes of US’s  Bill Gates & Warren Buffet and Australia’s Andrew Forrest & Graham Tuckwell) are testimony of this shift towards more effective re-distribution of wealth. Similarly the global shift to renewal energy sources, despite the fact that existing fossil fuels like coal are cheaper and readily available, is again testimony to an economic shift to rationalism rather than capitalism, simply because the latter is not sustainable.  So this leaves the greatest risk of all – the inability of ordinary people to change their bad behavioural habits, especially on such a large scale!

Fortunately there are emergent technologies and techniques available (real behavioural disruptors) for changing the way ordinary people think and behave (in regard to their bad habits).  Rather than engaging in violent Social Revolution or damaging Industrial Revolution, ordinary people are able to participate in the current “Information Revolution”.   Not as is currently occurring with the successes of tactical IT gadgets and widgets but led by more strategic, mature social networking technologies and proven techniques like Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).  A life long journey of (behavioural) transformation is required.  The Yourself Helper website is a social network platform for empowering ordinary people, through information awareness and educational techniques, to replace bad habits with proven images of success.  And with support from specialist volunteers, the goal of bringing about a change in behaviour is possible; a change primarily from the current epidemic of materialistic, narcissistic behaviour to a more balanced humaine, altruistic way of behaving which empowers ordinary people to not only change their minds and behaviour but also their outcomes.  And when a sufficient critical mass of change has occurred, to change the fabric of western society for a sustainable future, then and only them will we all have a good life worth living.

As Gunnar Adler-Karlsson put it “We must have faith in miracles. They have happened before. For instance all of us now live, thanks to no less than three miracles”:-

  1. The miracle of life (mankind) – its continuance & the hope of re-birth.
  2. The miracle of evolution (genetics) – its imperfections have created the injustice (rich & poor) but lead to our incredible sustained creation.
  3. The miracle of culture – healthy diversity, accepting the latent mistrust between different cultures is often the trigger for wars.

“Mankind is not perfect and will never become perfect. We are therefore forced to live with the injustice of the rich and the poor. All members of mankind are DNA equal (99.9%) and thus worthy of equal human rights.”

This series continues with an increased awareness into the environment impact of “Population Growth” on our Air, Water and Land:-

To complete your “Awareness” of one of the above Environment Impact factors, simply “click” on one of the four associated “Pollution” buttons above.


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