So you may notice I've been absent the past couple days. There is a reason for that: I had to swap computers. Over the weekend, my old computer crashed. Just straight crashed. Blue screen, please back up your files before you have to give the hard drive a total factory reset, that whole deal. And as it was getting old as it was, I opted to go out and just get a new one and transfer the files there.
Which I messed up because it meant having to wrestle with Windows 8 and the multicolored boxes for the first time, and it wasn't totally clear as to how to complete the file transfer. In the end I just had to hand it over to a local tech-support guy who actually knew what he was doing, and that took a couple days. But I'm back now, set up on the new one, and away we go again.
Well, I'm set up except for needing to re-buy Microsoft Office because it didn't come with the new computer, and putting all my bookmarks back because those didn't transfer. But anyway.
Today I bring up that old-but-seldom-mentioned proposal to fix many of the world's problems, namely, population control. In its more benign forms, this takes the form of suggesting mothers have fewer children or maybe even forgo having children; in its more sinister forms, it involves killing people until there isn't a problem anymore (never mind the other problems that would pop up). It's controversial at best, ghoulish at worst... but the thing that largely wasn't up for debate was that... well, yeah, you'd grudgingly have to agree that this would in fact bring down the demand on resources.
A study by the National Academy of Sciences (the original is behind a $10 paywall) is of the mind that even if you did that, it wouldn't much matter. As the summary of the study states, even if, in the middle of the century, you had 2 billion deaths within a five-year window- 2 billion, a number probably beyond anyone's ability to even comprehend- you'd still have 8.5 billion people on the planet come the year 2100. They extrapolated the two World Wars onto our current global population and it barely did a thing.
The population's about 7.125 billion now, for reference. A global one-child policy would put us anywhere between 5-10 billion (and we were fretting about this back at 5 billion, which we hit in 1987).
We hit 3 billion in 1959. You know 1959, right? That's the year Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union, Fidel Castro took over Cuba, Barbie and the Twilight Zone debuted, the Dalai Lama got asylum in India. Keith Olbermann was born in 1959, John McEnroe, Kevin Spacey, Simon Cowell, Weird Al Yankovic, Rahm Emanuel. If you're into gaming, that's when Nobuo Uematsu and Peter Molyneux were born too. All of those folks were born in a time when there were less than half the people on this planet that there are now. And there isn't really a short-term way to solve that anymore that doesn't involve something that would cause... well over 2 billion deaths, really. The point is that given the rate we reproduce at, we're going to find ourselves back at this point sooner or later unless we figure out something more sustainable and hopefully less omnicidal.
What is the suggestion? Short-term, there isn't one "short of extreme and rapid reductions in female fertility". We won't see anything come of anything we do in our lifetime, so just deal with it. The solution presented is much better family planning. Like, a whole hell of a lot better than we're doing. More birth control (by any and all means), more opting out of having children (maybe look more into adopting or just going without), whatever provides the end result of fewer babies. If we don't, well, the Earth isn't getting any richer in resources and someone's going to get squeezed out of partaking.
Is it a fun thing to say? Or think about? Oh heck no. Is it something people are going to consent to if they don't want to? Absolutely not, but that's the issue here. Earth doesn't care. Earth will give people whatever resources can be gathered, and no more, and if there are so many people using so many resources that the supply runs dry, well, Earth doesn't care. Nature is beautiful, but nature can also exact inhumanly brutal consequences for failing to properly mind it. There are families on this planet where one mouth too many can very easily condemn everyone to a slowly starving existence.
It's no fun to consider, but at least in certain parts of the world, what's fun isn't really the operative consideration. You do what the planet says you can do, or you pay whatever price it decides to exact from you.