Think of the earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every forty years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die.
On October 12, 1999, a baby born in Sarajevo was honored with being the six billionth person in the world. Although the rapid population growth of the world is overshadowed by Reverend Thomas Malthus’s prediction of doom in his “Essay on the Principle of Population”, studies from the U.S. Census Bureau show that there has been and will be a decline in the growth rate of the world population. This is all due to the innovations of human technology and it is the further development of these innovations that will keep Armageddon at bay. However, in the end, it will be up to humanity to save itself.
Malthus’s dire prediction of worldwide famine and poverty was made two hundred years ago. His prophesy was based on his believe that sheer number of people in the world will inevitably overwhelm the ecosystem and completely deplete the resources that are needed to sustain an acceptable quality of life. On the surface, the future of humanity seems to be heading in that direction. World population has growth steadily over the years and according to a report from Cornell University, that our current population of six billion is expected to double in approximately fifty years. In 1679, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek estimated that the world population would be limited to thirteen billion and current estimates seem to concur. If the numbers grow beyond that, scarcity will play vital role in the living standards of everyday life. Logically, this would mean that Malthus’s doomsday will arrive in a little more than fifty years, unless as he said, war, famine, disease, or moral restraint checks the population of the world. Although these factors to occur in the world today, they do not happen on a large scale, at least not enough to deter the rapid growth of the human population.
There are several reasons why humanity has been derailed from Malthus’s forecast of catastrophe, and they are not necessarily the ones he listed. The growth rate of the world population has dropped and on the average, each woman has only three children instead of six. This dramatic change is due to contraception and education. Another reason is the advancement in technology, which provides humans with more potential resources than ever before. As access to these benefits became available, the growth rate of the population started and will continue to decline, as indicated in the World Population Growth Rate chart. Indeed, by the mid-1960s, the global population had reached its peak.
In many countries all around the world, the introduction of contraceptives along with family planning has drastically reduced the average birthrate. The average Mexican woman has been giving birth to seven children before the wide scale availability of these services. Now that number has been reduced to two point five. Another success story is Bangladesh. Ten years ago, a woman would have on the average, four point nine children. It has then since declined to three point three. In the National Geographic article on women and population, a village health worker is quoted, “Many more women want contraceptives now. They see that if a mother has fewer children, she can give them better care.” Some men are also taking action in having vasectomies in order to give better support to a smaller family rather than give the poor support to a large family.
There is also a link of education to birthrates. Studies show that longer the education lasts, the later the woman gives birth to the first-born. In developed regions where women are in general more educated, such as in Europe, the birthrate has declined to a point where it is below replacement level. This means that more people are dying than the people that are being born. Since education is in direct relation to wages and employment, the more educated the women, the more likely they are to have control over their own lives. This control usually indicates lesser children in order to sustain a balance with employment and the up raising of the children.
The effectiveness of contraception, family planning and education can be seen in contrast in the developing regions of the world where these benefits are least available. These countries account for ninety-eight percent of the population growth worldwide. Thus, the employment of these methods are slowing the growth rate of the world population. Governments do not need to be enforcing these benefits for purely altruistic purposes. As population grows larger, chances that the need for employment, the potential for social unrest, and the inability of the government to provide social services will grow until the countries is plunged into poverty and famine. It would be much wiser of the governments of the world to curtail the population growth of their citizens ahead of time as many countries such as Mexico and Kenya are. There are enough economic and political incentives in these methods to see the worldwide adoption of contraceptions and family planning.
The other part of Malthus’s prediction is that the resources of the Earth will run out. This is where technology steps in. The transition of humans from being a hunter-gatherer society to one of agriculture jump-started the ability of humans to use the resources of the Earth more sufficiently. Not only has more lands become available since then, the innovations of the Industrial Revolution and so forth have been important factors in holding off Malthus’s dark predictions. Moreover, as the world population continues to increase, newer technology will be developed to support the people.
Although it seems as though the population problem is somewhat under control, the possibilities and chances that something could go wrong still looms in the horizon. There may be a wait, but Malthus’s forecast could still come true. The number of people on this planet is still growing steadily toward thirteen billion. Even now, it is estimated more than three billion of the six billion people are malnourished and live in poverty. In addition, the uneven distribution of wealth and the high consumption levels of developed countries puts pressure on developing countries and all the available natural resources in the world.
Solutions to the population problem might be a problem in themselves. Technology can make more food and create better and more abundant energy sources, but there could also be a downside to this solution. It is entirely feasible that agricultural technology will be able to provide food for a larger population. However, in changing the environment, there is the threat of losing biodiversity.
The sheer number and the presence of people on this planet jeopardize the surrounding ecosystems. As population increases, more living space is needed. Pollution, construction, and agriculture have overtaken the natural environment. In addition, as people venture into habitats that once belonged to animals and plants, the very same animals and plants face certain death. As of right now, humans are causing the extinctions thirty thousand species of animals and plants per year. However, it is these same plants and animals that help diversify the Earth and replenish important human necessities such as oxygen, food and medicine. Thus, in endangering the natural environment, humanity endangers itself.
All the methods of saving humanity from the disasters of overpopulation are laid out. The problem can be solved, whether it be family planning, contraception, or education. However, there is a race against time. As time passes, the problem worsens and then there will be a threshold of which there is a point of no return. Crossing that threshold means to destroy the miracle of life on Earth. Whether or not Malthus is right truly depends on whether humankind can wake up soon enough from its own self-destruction and start co-existing with its ‘host’, the Earth.