freedom of overpopulation?

June 11, 2009

US Population Growth from US Census numbers 1790-2000 and projected to 2025. (credit Wikipedia commons)

US Population Growth from Census Numbers up to 2000 and projected to 2025. (credit Wikipedia commons)

This issue of Scientific American is running a story by Robert Engleman about population control that’s informative and quite troubling. The essential message is that our global population is dramatically increasing and could hit 9 billion by mid century, and that growth seriously threatens our environment. While population growth in itself provides challenges, especially in developing countries, where adequate space and employment for all these people are often scarce, the real issue is the energy and other natural resources that they’ll use. I don’t think I need to go into why this is a big, big problem, even with the future efficiencies and cleaner technologies we hope to use.

The richest countries use by far the most energy per capita, making their population control all the more important (credit: Frank van Mierlo using IEA 2006 Key World Energy Statistics)

The richest countries use by far the most energy per capita, making their population control all the more important (credit: Frank van Mierlo using IEA 2006 Key World Energy Statistics)

While the US gained about 3 million people in 2007, according to Engleman, India gained roughly 17 million. So shouldn’t most of the pressure go on countries like India and China that contribute the most to the global population each year to reduce their population growth?

Absolutely not, the U.S. is the number one culprit. Here’s why…

According to the World Resource Institute’s Energy Consumption Database, in 2005 the per capita energy use for the U.S. was 7,885.9 kgoe (kg of oil equivalent). The per capita energy use for India was 491.0 kgoe. So, doing some rough math, the total kg oil equivalent used in 2007 for the U.S. is more than 2.5 times that of India.

Of course we must make global efforts to reign our population, but it begins here, and now we get into delicate territory. We love our “freedom” here in the U.S., and that means the freedom to decide how many kids we have. Eventually we’ll have to come to terms with the fact that having more than two children is, in some sense, environmentally immoral. I have family and friends who are members of more-than-two-kid households, so I appreciate how sensitive this issue can be. Like recycling, conservation, and green technology, the number of children we have must also fall into the category of environment responsibility.

I’m not saying we need to go the route of China’s 1 baby per couple policy yet, but it might benefit us to start thinking about some sort of incentive system for having fewer kids rather than more, especially since it’s generally known that lower-income families (or single mothers) tend to have more children than those in the higher-income brackets.

The obvious first step is much more thorough and comprehensive sexual education and availability of contraceptives and, yes, abortion providers. The second step must be an understanding that the more children we have, the more strain we’re putting on our–and their–environment.

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4 Responses to “freedom of overpopulation?”

  1. Monica Liberatore Says:

    “I don’t think I need to go into why this is a big, big problem, even with the future efficiencies and cleaner technologies we hope to use.”

    Ahhh, but, I think you do. I clearly remember a conversation we had over lunch in which you energetically defended GMO’s as our solution to the population growth problem. Drausin, can’t science provide the answer?!

    • Drausin Says:

      I don’t think I made the case that unrestrained population growth is a good thing, though, merely that when it happens, we’ll need something to feed all of those people, and conventional, 19th century farming techniques won’t be sufficient.

  2. Monica Liberatore Says:

    19th century? What happened to the industrial farm, which has led to historic surpluses of corn (and obesity)? And, if science has an answer, what is the fear?


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