Lifeboat Earth: 7 billion and counting

Jack Stevenson Contributing Columnist

April 30, 2014

During my lifetime, the population of our home has increased from two billion people to seven billion. The population of lifeboat earth is increasing by a million people every five days. We don’t know the maximum number of people that our planet can sustain, and we don’t know the ideal number. We seem to be conducting an experiment to discover those numbers.

We do know that supplies of fresh water, forests, and good quality farm land are diminishing. Ocean fish supplies are diminishing.

Stephen Emmott leads a scientific research program at Microsoft Research. Emmott believes that we have already exceeded the number of people that the earth can sustain, and that population will decrease by deliberate human design or by calamity.

Emmott reports in his booklet Ten Billion that 30 percent of the atmospheric pollution that we read about is caused by food production operations required to support seven billion people. Emmott and others confirm that 70 percent of earth’s fresh water is used for agricultural irrigation.

For countless generations large families were necessary to counter the losses caused by disease. Modern medical science made major strides in control of smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and polio. Modern sanitation processes reduced both maternal mortality and infant mortality during childbirth. The breakthroughs eliminated the need to produce large numbers of children to ensure that some would survive. Birth rates declined, but survival rates increased.

The introduction of chemical fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides increased crop yields, dramatically, allowing population to increase in countries where limited food supply had been a form of population control.

In some countries where central government is ineffective and police protection is unreliable, an extended family, a clan, substitutes for a police force. Big clans provide better protection. But effective government and trustworthy police would be a better solution.

Alan Weisman writing in his book Countdown indicates that “…around half of all pregnancies are unintended.” That is surely justification for contraceptives.

Each of the major religions that developed in Middle East, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim has an element among its members that is adamantly opposed to birth control, and that opposition has political policy consequences.

In some places where birth rates are exceptionally high, education for females is often deficient or non-existent. Education for girls and opportunities for women may be among the better birth control measures.

Emmott indicates that climate change conferences now routinely include not only scientists and government officials but also military officers. A competent military staff prepares for foreseeable contingencies. One of those contingencies is violent social disruption caused by hordes of unemployed young males and waves of hungry migrants seeking a better life any place they can find it.

All of us are players in this game; we cannot avoid the consequences of indifference.

Seven billion and counting.

Jack Stevenson is now retired. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).