For the better part of its long history, this planet was actually a complaint-free zone. No one questioned the way things were, shook their fist at the heavens, or grumbled about how hard Mondays can be. For several million years this miraculous ecosystem wasn’t even called the Earth, and was not the least bit bothered by not having a name. It was just a planet, quietly giving birth to one species after another without any need for accolades or any idea of what a complaint was.
Then humans came along, named the place dirt, and started whining about all kinds of things. We’re pretty certain the dinosaurs came and went without any of them ever bitching about how cold it was getting, and early versions of humankind were most likely communicating chiefly for survival purposes; it wasn’t until modern humans came along that complaining was born, and it looks like we may not hear the end of it until the last of us has gone.
Of course, our collective advancements are impressive. Humans have taken the raw materials presented to us and fashioned them into some pretty cool stuff. We may have woven some seriously fatal flaws into the systems we use to get things done, but we have made a lot of amazing trinkets for us to play with. And, hey…who needs leaders you can trust when you’ve got an iPhone?
Really, though, we don’t have as many problems as we may think. We might be running out of places humans can survive as we radiate the planet one hot spot at a time, pulling lifeblood from the ground just to turn it to noxious gases in the sky, and dumping toxic waste into the water we’ll be drinking someday; but none of these things are problems, in and of themselves.
If one person had invented the automobile and driven it all their lives, they could not have created pollution on their own. Maybe a few folks would have complained, and said the emissions were stinky; but even if that person had driven every moment of their lives, it would never have become a real and lasting problem. One car running for sixty or eighty years would have been a harmless anomaly, as far as the environment is concerned; and unless the driver had run over a pedestrian at some point, no one would have really been hurt by the practice.
Now, multiply that by a billion. We won’t dwell on the fact that about forty million brand new cars were made every year twenty years ago, or that the number has steadily climbed over time to seventy million; and we’ll even overlook how this statistic doesn’t include anything but passenger cars. Instead we’ll just consider the fact that over a billion cars are on the road today, and that we passed that number collectively way back in 2010. Somewhere between one and one billion, things started to get a little out of hand; and they don’t show any signs of getting better.
This example quite deliberately shows us an angle not often explored by politicians or environmentalists in our country, but virtually every problem we have can be examined in the same way. One person driving a car whenever they feel like has no lasting consequences, while a billion definitely does. Somewhere along the way, a certain number got passed up without really being considered; and that number is how many vehicles this environment can withstand without being adversely affected.
We don’t have a traffic problem, so much as we have a population problem. There is not a food shortage, but a surplus of humans. We can’t sustain these ridiculous numbers without factory farming, even if we all agree that the practice is unethical; and we can only keep fishing the oceans like we do until the fish run out, and then the only seafood available will be farm raised as well. As our numbers swell, scientists will have to continue figuring out how to make our food grow faster; at some point, even antibiotics and hormones won’t be able to keep up.
Many problems exist that we might find solutions to, whether we’re talking economic or social examples; but this one will continue to stare us in our collective face until something is done about it. The people making projections say the population growth will taper off, in their estimation; but that will take longer than we may have, even if those prognostications are correct. With the number of problems we have reaching a critical state, we are more likely to see starvation issues worldwide before we witness a self-correcting mechanism in human breeding habits.
Scientists like to argue about what the precise number of people the planet can sustain indefinitely is, but they’re trying to hit a moving target. A lot of people could have lived like the natives did and still do, without causing much harm to the environment at all. Even the pioneer days could have gone on indefinitely, with the entire population using a fraction of resources that same number of people would today. Yet each generation uses more stuff than the one before, and the trend doesn’t show any sign of stopping. Once we account for the jump from about a billion people to almost eight billion, in just a couple hundred years, it’s no wonder there just isn’t enough to go around.
Estimates often count on people to voluntarily stop living with what they are accustomed to, which will probably be about as effective as counting on folks to stop having so many kids. The more the population grows, the wider the gap between the haves and have-nots will get; it’s pretty simple math, unlike the formula for figuring out how many people our planet can sustain. As with most of the stuff scientists are just guessing at, those studies come back with a range of estimates from one billion to one trillion. About half of the studies say we have already crossed that line, and the other half are apparently being done by scientists who have never sat in traffic or tasted factory farmed food.
Very few issues exist today that can’t be traced back to the obvious overpopulation problem, but this is something very few people want to talk about. Some countries have tried to control their population growth, with pretty horrific results; and this conversation often drifts to their examples, or some kind of selective genocide. All we really have to do is stop having so many kids, though; and this problem can permanently go away. We can even do it on a schedule, so no one is picking favorites or rigging the system.
For ten years, no one has a baby; how about that? After about a half billion people have died naturally, over those ten years, maybe people will start to see how many problems go away when there aren’t too many of us. Perhaps they’ll start to look at the longterm good of the planet instead of their own lifetime’s gratification, and back off at least a little. If they don’t, we can have another baby ban once things start to get bad again. With five years on and ten years off, no one has to worry about missing their biological window; and no one has the opportunity to ruin it for the rest of us by extending their carbon footprint indefinitely in a dozen different directions. Also, none of us would have to listen to babies crying for ten years at a stretch. That’s almost worth doing it, right there.
Maybe there’s a reason we aren’t having this conversation every time a problem comes up, but we definitely should be. The number of dangerous people in the world goes up as the population rises, at least in the same percentages we have with less people. If overcrowding doesn’t cause more frustration and rage than plenty of room for everyone, then I guess I can’t make sense of the human condition at all; and if it does, we have more dangerous people in the world per capita than we would at a lower number. Perhaps only one in a thousand people are geared towards hurting others, no matter how many people there are; but even then, too many people means way too many dangerous people.
We could always colonize space en masse, or get on with the whole seasteading thing. I mean, I suppose some other solution to this problem exists; but since most studies estimate that Earth has a capacity of about one or two billion people, the implementation is a little past due. I don’t know, and I’m not saying I do; although I’ll admit I like the idea of not hearing any babies crying for a decade or so. My mission here is to discuss thoughts that hurt to think, not try to solve the world’s problems.
That being said, this is clearly the only problem we really have. All of the issues we’re trying to tackle one at a time can be put to rest swiftly by solving the population problem. Conversely…if we don’t solve this problem, we will see more and more issues that continue to pop up as a result of this situation. Like treating the symptoms instead of the disease, this approach will never bring lasting healing; and even if that’s how modern medicine treats many ailments, it really isn’t how we should be looking at this problem.
Of course, this may have happened before. It could have even happened many times. The history of the planet is a pretty long one, after all; and the human population has been decimated by natural disaster at least once in all that time. Maybe that’s when we learned to complain, after realizing the Earth had a backup plan in case we got out of control. Whether it was an ice age or giant meteors falling from the sky or a super volcano…perhaps necessity really is the mother of invention after all. I guess maybe the best course of action is to keep having all those babies; I mean, the human race is more likely to make it if we have sheer numbers on our side. Right?
And by all means, feel free to complain about Mondays.
The planet we named may try to kill us all again soon; so why not?
Thanks for reading!
All the best,