Population: the hippopotamus in the room

When I was a child many of my teachers were ex-hippies. They taught us about the then current and worsening overpopulation problem. The things they taught us back then have haunted me to this day.

The overpopulation issue is at the core of every major problem, if not as a cause then as a complicating factor. It is ignored by progressive people trying to help the planet and conservative people alike.

Just like it is natural to want to over-eat but bad for us to have a weight problem, it is also natural for many (not all) people to want to have children even though the size of the planetary population is a problem. Nobody is a bad person for wanting to eat more. Nobody is a bad person for wanting to have children of their own.

Hat tip to Mala for sending me this article from the BBC. I found it interesting, because a prominent highly visible federal expert talked about overpopulation bluntly. A rare occurrence:

Dr (Nina) Fedoroff has been the science and technology advisor to the US secretary of state since 2007, initially working with Condoleezza Rice.

Under the new Obama administration, she now advises Hillary Clinton.

“We need to continue to decrease the growth rate of the global population; the planet can’t support many more people,” Dr Fedoroff said, stressing the need for humans to become much better at managing “wild lands”, and in particular water supplies.

What was also interesting about the article is that Dr. Fedoroff is a strong proponent of Genetically Modified (GM) foods. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with her. The opinion however is interesting. Just like the world is too strained to give everyone in the world a diet based on Michael Pollan-washed meat, the world may also be too strained to feed everyone off of organically raised crops:

A National Medal of Science laureate (America’s highest science award), the professor of molecular biology believes part of that better land management must include the use of genetically modified foods.

“We have six-and-a-half-billion people on the planet, going rapidly towards seven.

“We’re going to need a lot of inventiveness about how we use water and grow crops,” she told the BBC.

Again, I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with this scary and interesting opinion.

If you are considering having children someday please read this short post about why you should limit yourself to 1 – 2 children max

For the record, I’m not in favor of bashing people who have kids or who want to have kids.

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7 thoughts on “Population: the hippopotamus in the room”

  1. Various technologies have come a long way since the heyday of the ex-hippies, so I’m not sure it’s at all clear that they were right about the number of people the Earth can actually support. It *is* clear, though, that population growth can’t continue unchecked forever. In addition to limiting your own fertility, another valuable thing you can do is to work to reduce the number of people in the world who (1) lack access to or information about contraception, (2) lack any kind of social safety net (and are therefore forced to rely on their children to support them in their old age), and (3) are subject to high rates of infant morality (and so are forced to have many children in order to ensure that at least one or two survive to adulthood).

    On GMOs: I don’t think I’m opposed to them per se, but I am opposed to how much power their proponents have (and so I’m not at all surprised that somebody in the government, even in a Democratic government, would come out in favor of GMOs). And I’m highly skeptical that researchers at private, for-profit biotech companies will ever be motivated to find the optimal solution to what is, in essence, a poor people’s problem.

  2. That would of course be “infant mortality,” not “morality.” Stupid typos. πŸ™‚

  3. BTW, what most of the ex-hippies taught me are still true and have come to pass. The population issue isn’t just about keeping X number of people alive on the globe. It is also about kind of world you want to live in.

    I agree with the rest of what you said.

    Maybe the pro-GMO opinion is colored by industrial affiliations and/or a Pollanesque blindspot for thinking of meat based diet as THE DIET, one which would necessitate more crops.

  4. “The population issue isn’t just about keeping X number of people alive on the globe. It is also about kind of world you want to live in.”

    Totally agree. But for all the problems that we face in the world today, I do think that it is, overall, becoming more like the kind of world I want to live in, not less. For example, the number of people living in absolute poverty has fallen in recent decades, not just as a percentage of the total population, but also in absolute numbers.

  5. But it also becoming a world without virgin wilderness, or hardly any wilderness. As well as a world with less room for animals, at all, let alone in their natural habitat. It is also a more polluted world.

  6. True. Some things are getting better, and others are getting worse. Whether the things that are getting better are more important than the things that are getting worse is, I guess, a matter of opinion. But it seems to me that doomsday scenarios get a lot of attention, whereas a lot of genuine progress gets more or less ignored. I’m not a Polyanna who denies that there are big problems that need to be addressed, but I think there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic overall.

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