Sunday, March 11, 2012

Too Many People!

How many people have you heard make the statement, “There are too many people in the world?” I seem to hear more people echoing this sentiment all the time. Here’s my take on it. THEY ARE RIGHT!

Photo: "James Cridland"

Yes! I’m one of the people who believe that our world has too many people. No! I’m not just making some unfounded statement because I don’t like traffic and congested cities or any of the other off the cuff reasons. I make that statement on two levels. First, I am a pragmatic and reasonably logical person and I simply looked at some statistical facts and extrapolated that Mother Earth cannot sustain the continual growth of human population and the depletion of natural resources for very much longer. Second, I’ve read, studied and evaluated information from economists, environmentalists, scientists, anthropologists, futurists and others as well as international think tanks who are much smarter then I am in these matters.

To say all of these sources agree on any specifics would be a gross misstatement. They certainly don’t all agree. But, what they do agree on is that at some time in the future ranging from within the next 40 years to the beginning of the 22nd Century, humans will break the back of this world. That may be grossly pessimistic. My research indicates the world can sustain somewhere between 11 and 14 billion people before the possibility exists of no longer being able to feed everyone and the depletion of vital resources may reverse the quality of life on the planet.

Let’s face reality. We in the western, industrialized nations are over consumers of the Earth’s resources. To put it another way, we’re gluttons. One projection indicates that if China and India were to consume as many resources as the U.S. OR Japan currently use, by 2030 those two countries together would require the entire resources of a full planet Earth to meet their requirements. Whoa! What does that leave for the rest of the projected five billion of us on the planet to use?

It’s really not all that hard to put this together. Consider this; 10,000 years ago the population of the entire Earth was estimated to be 1,000,000 people. Move forward about 10,000 years to only a few years after the turn of the 19th Century and the Earth finally reached a population of one billion. It took only an additional 123 years to reach two billion, 32 years later there were three billion, 15 years after that there were four billion of us critters walking the face of this planet. Do you see a rapidly growing pattern here? Thirteen years later we reached five billion, add 12 more years and we’re at six billion and just 12 years after that in 2011 there were seven billion of us intelligent (???) bipeds of the human species on this planet consuming water, food, vast amounts of energy resources (especially of the fossil fuel variety), etc.

To put this into perspective for myself, it means that in just the last 53 years (79%) of my life (at this writing in March of 2012) the world population increased 235%. In other words, it more then doubled. Compared to the first 14 years (21%) of my life when the world population only increased by about 20%. That number is astronomical. The population of the U.S. doubled from 150,000,000 in 1950 to 300,000,000 billion in 2010, a mere 60 years.  It’s no wonder those of us born around the end of World War II and through the 1950’s are wondering why the world has changed so much.

What Does It All Mean?

So, what does this mean in a practical sense? Well, let’s look at only one absolute necessity for life (human or any other animal or plant) to exist – WATER. There is a new book titled The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman. In his book Fishman states that the Earth has exactly the same amount of water resources today as it did four billion years ago. Water can’t be created nor can it be destroyed, though it may change its form from time to time. In essence, we’re drinking the same water that dinosaurs drank millions of years ago.

Here's what is different and presents the challenge for today and the future. When the dinosaurs roamed the Earth there weren’t seven billion humans consuming water. And, when I say consuming water, I don’t mean just drinking it. Humans, as inventive as we are, use water for so many things that ancient life forms, prior to the human species, never used water for. Here are just a few examples:

Drinking water
Washing clothes
Cooling nuclear power reactors
Various metal processes
Fracking oil
Various manufacturing processes
Growing more food and other agricultural products then ever before
Watering golf courses
Water used in theme parks, water parks, resort hotels, all kinds of decorative fountains
Fighting forest and brush fires
Steam engines
Hot water heating and steam systems

This is only a very short list of obvious uses. Let's just consider drinking water. If every one of the seven billion humans on earth consumed ONLY one quart of water per day, that would be 1,750,000,000 gallons of water per day. But, when you count in Starbucks coffee, Coke, Bud Lite and all the other ways we consume water, I’m sure that number is exponentially larger. On an annual basis we are looking at 638,750,000,000 gallons a year at the one quart per person per day rate. Of course, it's estimated the average human needs two quarts per day making that 1.28 trillion gallons a year.

Let’s Wrap Our Heads Around These Numbers

The average single-family home uses 80 gallons of water per person each day in the winter and 120 gallons in the summer. Showering, bathing and using the toilet account for about two-thirds of the average family's water usage.

Water used around the house for such things as drinking, cooking, bathing, toilet flushing, washing clothes and dishes, watering lawns and gardens, maintaining swimming pools, and washing cars accounts for only 1% of all the water used in the U.S. each year.

Eighty percent of the fresh water we use in the U.S. is for irrigating crops and generating hydro and other means of generating electric power.

It takes about 6 gallons of water to grow a single serving of lettuce. More than 2,600 gallons is required to produce a single serving of steak.

It takes almost 49 gallons of water to produce just one eight-ounce glass of milk. That includes water consumed by the cow and to grow the food she eats, plus water used to process the milk.

About 6,800 gallons of water is required to grow a day's food for a family of four.

The average American consumes 1,500 pounds of food each year; 1,000 gallons of water are required to grow and process each pound of that food—1.5 million gallons of water is invested in the food eaten by just one person! This 200,000-cubic-feet-plus of water-per-person would be enough to cover a football field four feet deep.

About 39,090 gallons of water is needed to make an automobile, tires included.

So, you’re saying, what in the world inspired me to think about this? The Earth will not run out of enough water and all the other resources we’re currently using before I die. This is probably true (I hope) for most of us over the age of 45 or 50, but at the rate we’re consuming our planet’s resources, and the rate is accelerating, it may not be as true for those younger than 45 or 50. Various projections of population growth over the next 35 years indicate a global population of 9.6 billion people and a U.S. population of 401 million. More than 50% of the population will be over 65. One day in the future this planet will not be able to sustain life as we know it today. Is a dead planet the legacy we want to bequeath to our successors?

Less Freedom, More Laws

Here is the statement that really caught my attention as I was going through various reference materials on this subject. There will be “less personal freedom and more restrictive laws.” Indeed, the projected consequences of over populating the planet are many. Unfortunately, most of these consequences range from very negative to extremely negative and detrimental to human life, as we know it. While various scientific studies have indicated that the entire current world population of seven billion could be located within the borders of Texas with an approximate population density of New York City, the reality is, the infrastructure and resources to maintain 9, 10 or 11 billion people will absolutely require that the lifestyles of all humans will likely deteriorate significantly.

Most of this population boom is due to scientific and medical advances over the past century and a half. We’ve virtually doubled the longevity of most populations, thus, the natural attrition numbers have been modified significantly. Additionally, even though, in general, the reproduction rate has been declining, since there are more people living longer, we’re still adding more people to the world population every day.

I, as one person, surely don’t have the answers to this kind of challenge. But, I believe it’s a problem all of us need to be aware of and consider how each individual can do something to ease the problem for the future. While we, the current inhabitants of the planet, may not suffer the ultimate consequences, we’re already realizing the “less personal freedom and more restrictive laws” part of the equation. Living free is already very challenging. In the future, our future, it may become nearly impossible.

There simply are “Too Many People!”


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