Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Overpopulation Myths

Myth: Population is already stabilizing itself. Birth rates are plummeting. We risk running out of people unless we convince people to have more babies.

Truth: We increase population by 80 million a year, about 10 New York cities, or about 200 000 a day, equal to a medium sized city daily. Global fertility rates have not fell substantially in the last 20 years.

Myth: We can solve population without talking about population.

Truth: We need an honest conversation with humanity about the need for population stabilization.

Myth: UN projections show population stabilizing by 2100.

Truth: Population needs to be stablized now. This projection is based off medium fertility rates, which is not assured. If fertility rates increase, population could be 16 billion by 2100. Population growth rates in poor countries are high still, despite falling rates in richer countries. The population problem will not solve itself without human intervention.

Myth: Only China reduced its population growth via its one child policy.

Truth: Many countries successfully reduced birth rates through voluntary family planning programs. Funding family planning education, and educating people on the need for smaller families, is the best method to stabilize population. Sex education on non-reproductive forms of sex is also important.

Myth: Population growth is due to poverty, so development is the best contraceptive.

Truth: Fertility decline drives economic development, not the other way around. Countries with a 4 child replacement rate fail to develop. Once countries get below replacement level, they develop rapidly.

Myth: Girls education is the key to ending population growth.

Truth: Family planning education is the key driver in population growth reduction. Girls education has a smaller, but non-negligible effect.

Myth: The human race could fit into a space the size of Texas, so there is no overpopulation.

Truth: This ignores the fact that we now appropriate 50% of the worlds habitable land for farming, and we require forests for lumber. We're also severely depleting the oceans.

Myth: Population growth is good for the economy. More people equals more innovation to solve resource constraints.

Truth: Population growth makes people poorer. There is less land, fish, resources, etc per person.

Myth: Don't blame the poor, their population doesn't matter because they have tiny footprints.

Truth: Each additional person requires a piece of land to farm, meaning more deforestation and soil erosion. If they eat fish, that means more fish depletion. If they live in a house, that requires lumber. If they have a pet, that's even more food usage.

Myth: Vertical farms and desalination using fusion power will save us.

Truth: Nuclear fusion has not been proven viable. Desalination requires many external inputs other than power. Crops require inputs other than water, and current vertical farms only grow lettuce type foods, not corn and wheat. In addition, how many vertical farms will it take to equal up to the enormous land area we now appropriate for farming. Vertical farm and desalination plant construction takes fossil fuels. In any case, we already have a fusion reactor: the sun. We already have a growth medium: the soil. We already have a source of water: rainfall from a stable climate. We already have a magical technology for turning air, water, soil and energy into calories: seeds.

Myth: We need more people to take care of the old people, and pay their pensions.

Truth: Needing more and more young people to take care of more and more old people is an obvious pyramid scheme.

Myth: The issue isn't overpopulation, it's underpopulation.

Truth: Human population is the highest it's been in the history of humankind. Population was 1.8 billion in 1920, and just 100 years later, its 8 billion. It also ignores the fact that we are now cutting down the world's forests, that we are appropriating much of the world's surface for farming, eroding the topsoil, overfishing the oceans, using up the world's reserves of fossil fuels and minerals, displacing and exterminating wildlife, depleting aquifers that took thousands of years to fill, that our pesticides are causing a bee and insect die-off, that we are overheating the atmosphere and acidifying the oceans, and we are polluting the oceans with plastic. Continued population growth can only make things worse.

Myth: 10 billion or more people is not an issue for food production.

Truth: We can only support the current 8 billion because of fossil fuel inputs that have dramatically increased the carrying capacity of earth, and by cutting down forests for fresh soil. In the absence of fossil inputs, and if we are not vegan, the world could support no more than a billion people. We should be saving food for the bad harvest years, not operating at the maximum level of humans. In addition, much of the world's soil is now dead, meaning there are no microorganisms and earthworms and insects, because of decades of pesticide application.

Myth: Talking about stabilizing population is draconian and reeks of eugenics. 

Truth: We can stabilize population through fewer births, or nature will do it for us by increasing deaths. We do not want population to crash, rather, we want to ensure that the current human population lives out a good life.

Myth: Malthus was wrong, therefore population can never be an issue.

Truth: Malthus was wrong on the timing, because of the improvements in farming and the green revolution. Norman Borlaug, the father of the green revolution, said that all he did was buy us time to stabilize population. Today, 800 million people are hungry, and this number is rapidly rising because of climate change and high fossil fuel prices. Each day, more than 25 000 people, including 10 000 children, die from hunger.

Myth: GMO drought resistant crops means climate change won't affect us.

Truth: There are limits to everything. In the absence of water, nothing grows. When there is too much water, plants drown. The Holocene provided us with a stable climate that provided optimum levels of water for crop growth. As climate changes, we will see more and more periods of drought and flood. For the vast majority of human history, the last 300 000 years, climate was unstable and not suitable for crop growth.

Myth: Future technology means there's no ceiling to human population, for example lab grown meat. We could also eat crickets, or lab cultured protein.

Truth: We shouldn't stake the future of humanity on some future technology that does not exist. As for lab grown meat, it has been described as tasting like the most low grade processed meat, and more damaging to the environment than beef. In addition, why not just use the sun and soil to grow plants that can make plant meats? Why use electricity and mineral inputs to grow a piece of food. And what makes you think people will eat lab meat now, when people don't even eat plants instead of animals, when that switch now could drastically raise the carrying capacity of earth and slow the destruction of the biosphere, and reduce animal cruelty? Again, who wants to eat crickets? As well, we could just eat the plants and fruits the crickets ate - that would make better use of the calories. Who will voluntarily make the switch from animal products to tasteless lab cultured protein, when plant proteins are available now? Why react to and wait for catastrophe, rather than taking action now? Cultured proteins may be suitable as pet food.

Myth: We could fit many more people if we all just reused, reduced, recycled, and shared.

Truth: But we're not, are we. We can't stake the future of humankind on some theoretical behaviour. Our economy runs on consumption and advertisements, meaning we can never attain those qualities. It's the same reason why so many vegetarians return to meat eating - they can't resist the meat in the store. As well, each additional person requires food, fuel, fish, lumber, cement, fossil fuels, etc.

Overpopulation Myths

Myth: Population is already stabilizing itself. Birth rates are plummeting. We risk running out of people unless we convince people to have ...