One aspect of the modern world that contributed to my urge to write the latest novel was the issue of population. It doesn’t feature much in the story, more of an aside, but was definitely an underlying stimulus to the idea of the book.
In common with many people, my major concern has been the climate and environment for some decades. That the issue is finally coming to the attention of political and commercial leaders is a hopeful trend, but not one I expect to develop into anything meaningful in time to prevent the real catastrophe facing both humanity and many other species.
It would be wonderful to do an optimistic piece on this topic, but almost every aspect of it produces negative ideas and consequences. For those who are either sceptical or unaware of the staggering increase in the number of humans inhabiting this finite space we call Earth, there’s a rather terrifying website devoted to counting the population as it increases. Worldometers.info provides a live count on screen of our numbers. As I write this, at 12:30 BST, 6th October 2021, the count shows 7,898,168,789. I’ll give another count when I finish writing and editing this post.
Population has only recently become a factor to be considered by many in the coming climate crisis. Frankly, I’ve always been aware of its importance and basic responsibility for the coming dangers. We’re considered the most ‘successful’ species on the planet. So successful, we’ve managed the extinction of millions of other lives simply by using up their environment, habitat, food, or just their space. Success is an odd adjective to use about us as a species, perhaps?
Most of us with the means love to travel. We visit places many miles, often thousands of miles distant, to see for ourselves the sights considered worthy of our attention. And when we arrive, many merely take a selfie and move on. Is the ‘value’ of that snapshot really worth endangering the atmosphere and so many life forms that, along with ourselves, are dependent on its life-giving properties? And, of course, too often the sheer volume of visitors to a site negates the very qualities that made it popular in the first place.
The reality is there are simply too many of us. Historically, we self-regulated our numbers regionally by over-consumption of resources, which often led to war with neighbours, and resulted in reduction through death, starvation, and destruction of our immediate ecology. Of course, the ‘strong’ tribes merely moved on, invading lands used by other tribes, killing and/or enslaving the inhabitants of whatever area the invaders stole.
But we’ve largely removed the threat of world wars, and local wars, while causing multiple casualties, do little to effectively damage global population numbers.
When lack of resources or regional battles were unable to reduce our numbers, good old ‘nature’ stepped in and gave us lethal diseases to curb our excess. We, being so very clever, frequently defeated such natural outcomes, and removed this natural solution to our overpopulation. Similarly, infants born with serious defects were previously allowed to die rather than develop and pass on such coding errors to their own offspring. Medicine has removed many curbs on our numbers. Yes, I hear the screams of protest that I’m being too stark, unfeeling, and all the other emotional tags we apply to such logic. But I’m not condemning any attempt to sustain human life, simply pointing out that we, as a species, have created a situation in which natural curbs on our numbers have been rendered largely redundant.
The problem with such actions is that they haven’t been adequately balanced by methods of reducing our ever-increasing population. Little has been done to reduce family size and to point out the selfishness of those who create large families. We live on a small blue marble speeding through the vast emptiness of the cosmos. It’s a place with limited space and resources, but we behave as though this is of no consequence. We act, in fact, as though space and resources are limitless.
This utterly self-destructive, suicidal even, attitude is encouraged by many philosophies and traditions, many religious in basis, as a means of allowing each particular sect to grow and therefore dominate their rivals for attention. Those who espouse such faiths must accept their responsibility for the destructive nature of these beliefs.
Similarly, the world of medicine should perhaps look at its record of saving life and place it in the context of our rapidly increasing numbers. Stick a population of rats in a closed box with insufficient food and it will not be long before they’re eating one another. We’re not so far removed from these rodents and, when vital resources, especially fresh water, become stretched beyond capacity, the inevitable result will be war of one form or another. Whether that occurs as fighting or simply as ignoring the desperate plight of those in need will depend largely on what benefits intervening forces expect to gain from giving whatever ‘help’ they deem appropriate.
At this point I’ve finished the initial draft. I will edit it after lunch. The time now is 12:59 BST. And the population counter has risen to 7,898,173,043. That’s an increase in population of 4,254 in just 29 minutes. Something to think about, perhaps?
After lunch, and a 3 mile walk through our local forest as spiritual food and a source of mental and physical health, I returned and completed this post. The time now is 17:10, and the population counter is showing 7,898,211,759. That’s an increase in human numbers of 38,716 in just over 4 hours. It’s unsustainable.