Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Unspoken Problem

Go to any news website right now and take a look at the problems which are occurring in the world. I am willing to bet that a good proportion of them are due to the same root cause, and yet it is a cause which is rarely discussed in any solid or serious terms. I am talking, of course, about people, and more specifically, about the fact that there are, in essence, too many of us.

I want to put forth the argument that expansion for the sake of expansion is not only illogical, it is also morally unjustifiable. First of all, there is a simple mathematics at work here. You have an area (or a planet) with finite resources, resources which are necessary to human survival. You also have a number of people who may potentially inhabit said area. The fact is that each human requires a certain amount of resources over the course of their life in order to stay alive, and even more resources in order to thrive (the definition of thriving varies from place to place, but I’ll ignore this consideration for now). Therefore, to live comfortably, the amount of humans in any one area cannot go beyond a maximum, or you find yourself with such problems as overcrowding, drought, starvation, lack of housing, and these problems lead to crime, war, and conflict.

Because the resources of any one place cannot be said to be infinite, we need to consider the amount of people who may live comfortably (or even uncomfortably) in any one area, by considering the amount of (existing or potential) water, food, housing, and other resources available to them. If we fail to do so, we invite famine, conflict, and general human misery.

This is not idle speculation. As I have said, these problems are already occurring, on not inconsiderable scales worldwide. It is therefore, in my opinion, not only illogical, but also irresponsible and arrogant to continue to pump out humans without taking these problems into account. A change in attitude is required in order for us to avoid or mitigate the aforementioned issues.

Other challenges loom. The way we operate as a species is now threatening, and has for some time, the existence of other species on the planet. We have already caused the extinction of species like the Dodo, the Moa, and the Tasmanian Tiger. Whereas in the past we may have been able to claim ignorance of our effect on these animals, in the future we will have no such excuse. Even when we do not directly hunt a species, we may still cause its decline by the way we operate, due to factors like habitat fragmentation and deforestation, as is evident in the jungles of south-east Asia, and the plight many of the threatened species there.

Let me be clear here: this planet is not ours. We act like we own it, but in reality, we share it. To allow other species to be destroyed, whether by action or inaction, as a result of our economic pressures or, more simply, our garbage and pollutants, is criminal. Furthermore, if the moral imperative were not enough, we are pushing the planet to the point where it will become much less suitable for supporting human life, as well as the life of other species. This is a problem which must be addressed.

Now, we have begun to change our ways. New technologies and new ways of thinking are beginning to solve problems, clean things up, and make living conditions better for millions of people, and other species. But it is my opinion that even if science can save us from ourselves, it still does not stand to reason that we should keep filling the planet up with people indefinitely. There is only so much space. There are environments and places we should keep free of human influence, both because they are home to other beings, and also because of their importance to the way the Earth’s ecosystems work. These places should not be destroyed or corrupted. Other forms of life would perhaps assert its right to exist in the strongest terms, were it capable of doing so. As it does not have such capability, we must speak and act on its behalf.

So, next is the question of what can be done. We have seen some experimentation (for lack of a better word) in this area, in the oft-quoted One Child Policy implemented in parts of China. The policy is not without its exceptions, controversies, and challenges, but it speaks to a reasonable concern among leaders that indefinite population growth is neither sustainable nor desirable. There will be no one policy suitable to all places and peoples, but I would say that, in a general sense, a change in attitude is required to avert both human misery and conflict, as well as global catastrophe. This I believe to be a logical extrapolation from available information, rather than scaremongering or general misanthropy.


The moral imperative lies with governments, and individuals, when deciding how to behave. In the same way that responsible leaders will need to balance the pressures of day-to-day life for those they lead, with the problems of environmental damage and the threats arising therefrom, so they will need to begin to examine attitudes to procreation, and the idea that more is better may simply have to be abandoned. This will not be easy. Attitudes are based on any number of things, from one’s own childhood memories, to religious or superstitious convictions, to social attitudes. Still, change must come, or change will be forced upon us by the simple pressures of resource limitation. We will either succeed, or we will suffer.

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