Ecologists often justify their research by suggesting that it will help save the environment. The justification always takes the same form:
Once we figure out how such and such part of nature works, then we can adjust our human activities to make sure it keeps working in the right way.
Sometimes this optimism is well-founded. For instance, when ecologists figured out that algae blooms in certain lakes were caused by a lack of big fish, they were able to get rid of the algae simply by enacting a "catch and release" policy for the big fish. Science at work!
Unfortunately, what usually happens is that ecologists identify an environmental problem and recommend a solution, but nobody actually does anything about it. Either the solution is perceived as too hard, or there's too much pressure to keep doing whatever it is that causes the problem.
That's how it is now with the shitty water quality in Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks. We know the water used to be clear, and now it's brown, because the land that was covered in water-filtering vegetation is now covered in farms and cities that slough off tons of dirt and crap into the Bay. The solutions that ecologists recommend are improving farming practices, upgrading sewage treatment plants, creating artificial wetlands, preserving green spaces, and reducing urban sprawl. That's all well and good, and IF we actually did those things we could reduce the amount of junk going into the Bay to about half of what it is now. Sadly, that would still be about three times as much scum as entered the Chesapeake in pre-colonial times. The upshot is that with 17,000,000 people going about their business in her watershed, the Bay is never going to be very clean, no matter how lightly we tread.
That brings me to the main point of this post. Saving the environment gets harder, to the point of impossibility, the more our human population grows. Even if we are very clever about reducing the impact each person has on the environment, there's always going to be SOME impact. When you times that impact by enough people, you get a wrecked planet (see formula below).
Total Impact = Per Capita Impact * Number of People
In other words, overpopulation of humans is a BIG deal; the biggest damn deal facing our planet, if you ask me. It may not be politically correct to talk about, but that doesn't change the fact that it's happening, and if we don't fix it, it will fix itself.
Overpopulation will fix itself? Isn't that good? Actually, no. It means human population will be suppressed by the same natural mechanisms that regulate populations of other animals; starvation, violence, and disease. As our numbers approach the invisible maximum known as "K", which is determined by limited resources, death and misery will increase and growth will grind to a bloody halt. Life near K will be hell on earth.
Of course, we can avoid nature's brutal enforcement of K if we preemptively STOP our population growth by reducing our birth rate to match our natural death rate. Reducing birth rate just means people having fewer kids, and / or delaying having kids until they're older. There is a kind, gentle, helpful, non-coercive way to make this happen: Put effective contraception in the hands of people who want it. I'm talking about free condoms and birth control pills on every street corner of the world.
We shouldn't wait until K is imminent to start managing our population, because the best life is one where there's still a surfeit of resources and wild, open spaces for each person to enjoy. Also, we don't know exactly where K is, so we should err on the side of caution. Some scientists and economists say that the global population has already passed K, but that the regulating effects (starvation, disease, violent competition, etc) are currently localized to poor regions like Sub-Saharan Africa. Another thing to be aware of is that the K threshold could move LOWER, dropping like a guillotine onto our necks; i.e. the maximum population that earth can support could decrease. This could happen in several ways: 1) If western habits that increase per capita resource use (i.e. eating a lot of meat) become widespread, then we will run short of resources even without more population growth. 2) If we run out of cheap fossil fuels (eventually we will) we won't be able to support industrial farming and our food production will go down, decreasing the number of people that can be fed. 3) If we mess up global ecosystems through climate change we could lose the agricultural areas and fisheries stocks that we now count on for food, again lessening the number of people that the planet can support. With sea level rise we may lose the habitable land itself!
In summary, it's high time we recognize that population growth is gasoline on the fires of environmental destruction and social disorder, and thus constitutes the number one threat to the quality of life on earth. We've got to address the issue TODAY, or face K tomorrow.
1 day ago