Population: The Ultimate Price to a Sustainably Ethical World

Julian Wolfe
November 25th, 2010

There is a video that claims that the greatest mistake that mankind has made and continues to make is the failure to understand the exponential function. The video, readily available to be watched on YouTube contains 8 parts and can be found by searching for “The Most Important Video You’ll ever see.” It discusses how the exponential function predicts the size of anything at a constant growth rate such as economics and population. It also includes a detailed analysis into the population issue. This video discusses a few ways to control population, but each method seems to be and is sinister to consider. However, if population were to become a real issue, the maintenance of its size would be the least of our problems.

Part 1 of an 8 Part Series on The Importance of the Exponential Function in the Real World

With the environmental mess creeping closer and closer to our life as we know it, population and population control seems to be becoming a major issue. According to an article in Britain’s The Spectator, “the most sinister side of the environmentalist movement is the idea of an optimal population.” The quote may seem strong at first, but essentially what it is saying is the following. The idea of having an optimal (good sized) population is the most dangerous part of the environmental agenda.

“The most sinister side of the environmentalist movement is the idea of an optimal population.”
– The Spectator

It stands to reason that this statement be true. In Canada, the influx of new skilled workers doesn’t come close to matching that of the workforce of the baby boom generation and as a result, many jobs will have vacancies, our economy will slow down, and the weight of the massive amounts of retirees will break the back of an already ailing healthcare system. Therefore, in a country like Canada, and every country alike, an attempt to limit population growth in population will have repercussions on the economy and productivity as a whole. However, an important goal to achieve in our attempts to stop and undo the negative changes that we have made to this planet, population growth would have to be controlled because with the earth’s limited reservoir of resources, population cannot grow indefinitely. While our markets would crash as a result, suitable government reforms to the economic model known as capitalism and maybe even the creation of a new model will better suit the need for a smaller population at this time and remain sustainable in the future.

Reducing our population will require some rewiring in certain places, but should it rewire ethics? How would we reduce the population? At first, it would seem quite simple; tell the new generations not to reproduce… or not to reproduce as much. That kind of command is very vague, and if taken seriously has its own repercussions. With a lower growth rate, the replacement rate in jobs would drop and as a result the economy would slow down. The method that was and still is used in China is one of the most effective, yet unethical methods we have. If you have the optimal family in China, you will receive benefits from the state. If you don’t have the optimal family; on the other hand, you will be taxed severely. The Chinese children restriction policy is downright unethical – but without it, China would suffocate. With current population growth, resources are being used faster and in greater quantities. With the current population growth, many countries are headed for the same fate as China. Let’s face it, we cannot keep growing forever, eventually food and water resources will be gone and we will be in an awkward situation. The only way that the current world is able to deal with its population is through abusive industrial methods of mass production and harvesting. From an ethical perspective, what does this mean for human rights? Should people have the right to choose who lives and who dies? – Especially based on gender or race? Will ethics be sacrificed in order to secure the possibility of life on earth? If one thing is certain, without a planet, there won’t be any ethical issues to look at.

According to The World Bank, an organization that researches the development states of countries across the world, the rate of growth of the world population as of 2008 is 1.2% annually. Our current population is about 6.8 billion people. This would mean that if the global growth rate were to remain at 1.2% our population will be approximately 7.66 billion people in a decade. If the growth rate were to decline by 0.1%, the world population would be 7.58 billion people. The capitalist model feeds on this kind of exponential growth since profits too are exponential. However, in terms of the environment, this calculation based on current statistics is alarming.

P(t): Final Population; Pi: Initial Population; r%: Rate of Growth in Decimal Form;  t: Time in Years

With dwindling supplies of fuel and energy sources, with over-worked farm lands that will be worked to its peak of un-usability and a squander in the world’s fresh water availability, our current population is having a steep negative impact on the environment, what would happen if 860 million people more are born within 10 years, how steep will our already negative impact become? With resources in exponential decline to meet the exponentially growing population’s needs, one has to realize that population growth cannot continue indefinitely. When shortages in resources apply, wars will be created – man’s need for power will never change. People will die for the possessive obsession of the elite and power hungry. The overall demand for food will starve the healthy. Water will become a closed and bought source.

With the occurrence of change to the planet and all it has to offer and the destabilization of its equilibrium, it will attempt to regain a new equilibrium and the harder we pull on a spring, the harder it will retract. The formation of this new equilibrium won’t be pretty, and mankind, along with every other species on the planet will pay the ultimate price.

If we weigh our options, both results lead to disastrous conclusions. We can watch our economy collapse and human rights be abused in an attempt to save the planet that may be beyond saving, or we can ignore this aspect in the environmental movement and end up with worldwide famine and bloodshed.

It stands to reason that the “idea of an optimal population” is the “most sinister side of the environmentalist movement.” However, the creation of a sustainable economy based on optimal population size would be the best solution for the future. While the statement posted in The Spectacle is reasonable considering the consequences of reducing the population, but the consequence of climate change may be much more dire and devastating than an economic crash. With proper governance, a new economic model can be built to suit the current needs of the growing population. With the current strategies that are available, reducing the growth rate at an ethical rate with ethical policies is not very likely a method we will see, but where do ethics outweigh the value of life? Wouldn’t it be more ethical to save the planet and all of its species at the expense of our own rather than the opposite?

It remains safe to say that the population issue is controversial and while an “optimal population” is attainable, it would be attained at a cost of our rights, ethics, and depending on the measures used, possibly even our lives. One of the methods we could use can be considered as a paradox. In the film, war was mentioned, and if we assume that human nature will not change and that the rate of growth will not change and the rate of consumption remains constant, there will be war. War is no longer armies of people running at each other with spears. If the next war goes nuclear, the impact of that war alone will be much more devastating than our current polluting technologies which as of yet hasn’t completely destroyed the planet as we know it.

With a no win situation in our arsenal, should we heed the warning of the environmentalists on the issue of population, or should we ignore it and hope that by some miracle human survival instincts die within us? Should the industrialized countries scrap the concept of human rights to save a planet that might already be doomed? Is this idea of an “optimal population” really attainable? What further consequences are there of our ways?

While there are many questions to ask considering this issue, if one thing remains certain, without a planet, there is no economy or ethical ground to fight over.

Did the world dig itself an early grave? How much pain and agony will future generations go through because of our ignorance and lack of action? An “optimal population” is attainable, but at what ultimate price?

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   Categories: Environment, Population

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