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One Billion People May Be Too Many
August 19, 2019
by William P. Meyers

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We need a science consensus on human population sustainability

In his Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin reports that in 1833, in a visit to the Falkland Islands, he found "The only quadruped native to the island is a large wolf-like fox (Canis Antarcticus) ... I have not doubt it is a peculiar species, and confined to this archipelago ... Their numbers have rapidly decreased. Within a very few years, after these islands shall have become regularly settled, in all probability this animal will be classed with the dodo, as an animal that has perished from the face cf the earth." Darwin's guess was correct. Renamed the Falkland Islands wolf or Dusicyon australis, this naturally tame member of the wolf family went extinct in 1876.

In 1833 the industrial revolution was under way, as was an agricultural revolution. Species extinction was accelerating. So was growth of the human population. Estimates of the earth's human population for 1700 are 600 to 679 million, for 1800, are 890 million to 1.0 billion, and for 1900 are 1.5 to 1.7 billion.

Which raises the question: is The Wonderful World of One Billion estimate for a sustainable global population too high? One argument would be that species were already going extinct in the 1800s, so a more reasonable first approximation for a sustainable human population goal is the global population in 1700, let's round it up to 680 million.

Of course we are so far from that goal post that we could just set public policy to start in that direction, and give scientists to work out a more exact goal and glide path to it.

The problem right now is not so much the final goal, as the people lined up against any plans to reduce population at all. It is quite a formidable lot. There are capitalists in general, religious cults, and nationalists. They even subsidize a cabal of left-wing writers and activists to lecture people, who otherwise want to protect the environment, that population reduction programs are inherently racist.

Technology has played a key part in increasing the human population and destroying the environment. This goes well beyond the burning of fossil fuels leading to global warming. A population of one billion would presumably burn much less fossil fuel and give us a much longer timeline to reduce emissions. Burning fossil fuels allowed advanced nations to replace human agricultural labor with machines. Artificial fertilizer production to keep the Green Revolution increasing in food productivity per acre is also based on using vast quantities of energy.

Birth control is not enough. Nor is solar or wind energy. We need to restore natural habitats. That means less acres farmed and paved over. Birth control must be combined with a desire to have small families. This has happened in several countries over time, including Japan, China, and the United Kingdom. What we need is to extend these social practices to all nations.

When The Beagle visited Brazil, Chile, and Argentina their populations were respectively (estimated) 7 million, 1 million, and 1 million. In 2017 their respective populations were 208 million, 20 million, and 44 million. Darwin's home nation, England, had a population of 12 million; today it is 56 million.

In our United States, in the 1800s Ohio was reduced from forest to farmland, the buffalo was nearly exterminated, and almost all native American Indian land was expropriated.

So far every technological fix to feed the overpopulated has resulted in a greater impending disaster. We are running out of clean water nearly everywhere in the globe. The arctic and Antarctic are melting. Soil is being destroyed to produce food. They are still clearing forests in Brazil to plant soybeans. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of species are tipping into extinction.

If someone says you are a racist for talking about getting the human population down to a sustainable basis, call them what they are: nationalists and corporate shills. How to reduce population in a fair and equitable manner, however, is worth discussing.

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