It’s been observed that despite extensive rules and restrictions regarding mating, human population growth more closely resembles that of bacteria than any other species. Being compared to bacteria is never good and this comparison implies that just as unchecked bacterial growth can destroy a host body, humankind may one day destroy its host – the Earth.
Though populations are actually declining in Europe andJapan, world-wide the population is exploding. It took until 1804 for the number of people in the world to reach one billion, but by 1927 that number had doubled. There were 3 billion souls on this planet by 1959 and it’s more than doubled since, reaching an estimated 7 billion this past Monday. If nothing happens to stop this, the U.N. is predicting there could be 10 billion people here by the year 2083.
Sooner or later, though, population growth will have to stop – there are only so many resources on this planet, and while no one knows how long they’ll last, someday there are going to be more people than resources. True, food production has gone up dramatically in the past 40 years, but those increases are slowing. And finding water to grow crops may soon be a very serious problem – by 2025 1.8 billion people are predicted to be living in areas suffering from drought.
Around 900 million people are already malnourished, and nearly half the world’s population lives on $2/day or less. Food prices are already rising in many places and, though seldom acknowledged, have helped fuel the populist uprisings in Arab countries.
Experts point out that as incomes rise, birthrates fall. They say the development of a middle class inIndiaandChinawill ease the population growth of the world’s two largest countries. And these more affluent families will be better able to pay higher prices for food.
But what about the billions who will never rise into the middle class? How will they be fed?
Along with worries about population growth, there is also growing concern about the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth – not just between rich and poor nations, but within rich nations themselves. In this country the Congressional Budget Office just reported that since the late 1970s, the top 1% ofU.S.earners have more than doubled their share of the nation’s income. Their figures, arrived at through a rigorous analysis of IRS and Census records, shows that while the rich have gotten richer, the rest of us have gotten poorer.
Though those who have taken to the streets recently to protest this growing inequality are being dismissed as weirdoes, hippies, or “trust-fund Marxists,” the fact remains that more and more “normal” Americans are raising their voices against the growing disparity between the wealthiest 1% of Americans (a group which includes over half the members of Congress) and the remaining 99% (thus the name the “99% Movement” for the protests). And the rich seem to be taking note – security firms are showing record profits due to fears the protests may turn violent.
And while I hope that something legislative – rather than violent — can be done to foster a more favorable economic climate for the 99% of us making less than $516,000 each year, my biggest worry is what happens when the billions of people making $2 or less each day rise up. Americans comprise about 4% of the world’s population yet consume roughly 20% of the world’s resources. As the world’s population continues to explode, how long can this continue, and what happens when it can’t?