Is there is a global overpopulation threat? How serious and urgent is it? If so, is there anything we can do to prevent it? This article tries to answer these questions.
According to Wikipedia, “the world population … was estimated by the United Nations to have exceeded 8 billion in November 2022”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population.
According to Live Science, “most experts think planet Earth can support about 10 billion people”: https://www.livescience.com/16493-people-planet-earth-support.html. By then, we will be obliged to turn vegetarians because it will be too uneconomical to rear animals (livestock or poultry) for meat. The video says that if all the 3.5 billion acres of farmable land on Earth is converted to grow food for people, and we all become vegetarians, the planet can only support 10 billion people at most.
Confirming this, in his book “The Selfish Gene,” evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes,
“The present population of Latin America is around 300 million, and already many of them are undernourished. But if the population continued to increase at the present rate, it would take less than 500 years to reach the point where the people, packed in standing position, formed a solid human carpet over the whole area of the continent. This is so, even if we assume them to be very skinny—a not unrealistic assumption. In 1,000 years from now they would be standing on each other’s shoulders more than a million deep.” (p. 111)
1,000 years is not that far away: considering that, according to “Wikipedia,” we humans have existed for 300 times as long: “Homo sapiens … [is] the only extant member [of the genus Homo]. Anatomically modern humans emerged around 300,000 years ago in Africa”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human.
If, by any chance, some readers think that this problem of overpopulation is limited to the Latin American continent, think again. This is what theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking writes about the world’s future in his book The Universe in a Nutshell.
“If the population growth and the increase in the consumption of electricity continue at their current rates, by 2600 the world’s population would be shoulder to shoulder, and electricity use will make the Earth glow red-hot.” (p. 158)
Is there a solution?
I think there is a rather simple solution that does not require abortion or sexual abstention. In my opinion, abortion at any stage is the equivalent of murder because, once a human zygote is conceived, there is no way one could re-conceive that future individual. Although helpless, as a unique future person, it should be protected as a baby normally is. This is not the case if some form of ‘non-abortive’ contraception is used during sexual intercourse because the zygote is not conceived yet.
The formula for population growth, starting from a single couple, is as follows:
Pn = 2x[C(n-y+1)]x[Cy-1]/[C-1] (from In the Minds of Men by Ian Taylor, p. 440), where Pn is the population in n generations; n is the number of past and present generations = (elapsed time)/(average lifetime); y is the number of living generations (e.g., y=3 if grandparents live to see grandchildren), and C is half the number of children per female.
According to this formula, assuming an average of only three children (C=3/2=1.5) per female and people living an average of fifty-odd years, it will take approximately 30 years for the world population to grow from approximately 8 billion to about 10 billion. In other words, according to Live Science, we should be seeing a global population crunch in the next generation or so.
So what is the solution?
The interesting thing, in the above formula, is that if (C=2/2=1), there will be no population growth: it will remain relatively constant. Consequently, we must, voluntarily, limit the birthrate to two children per female using non-abortive contraceptives, without our trying to choose their sex either, because it creates other problems.
My (nominal) Church, the Roman Catholic Church, is very wrong in disallowing any use of contraceptives (apart from the rhythm method): I guess it wants more children so that it can grow numerically.
There are various temporary methods of non-abortive contraception: mechanical, chemical, and hormonal; the most common are the condom, a spermicide, and the pill respectively. There are also permanent methods of contraception: a vasectomy for men and a tubal ligation for women. To prevent global overpopulation, the important thing is that every female limits her lifetime offspring to only two births.
On the other hand, I think the Catholic Church is right in disallowing abortion. I’m sure there will be many women who will disagree with me here, claiming that they have the right to do what they like with their own body. The fact is, however, during pregnancy, besides one’s body there is another person involved: the zygote, embryo, or fetus. And when it comes to ‘choice,’ one doesn’t really have a choice to do something wrong. Not only that, but even those women who generally disagree with abortion object strongly to retaining the zygote, embryo, or fetus to its completion (birth) in the case of rape. However, fact is the unborn offspring is innocent as it did nothing wrong. Besides, “two wrongs do not make a right”: murder doesn’t fix the rape. Naturally, the newborn may be given up for adoption, once it is born.
I can almost hear some women retort that I’m saying this because I am a man; but, very often, one shouldn’t be emotionally involved to be truly able to discern what is right or wrong—albeit I understand the aversion of bearing a child under such repulsive circumstances, and I do admit it might be very difficult to come to terms with it. Of course, whatever decision the mother makes, God alone will be her best judge.
In my opinion, the only circumstance in which abortion is justified is when both the mother’s and the baby’s life are threatened, say during childbirth. In such a case one should usually make the decision to save the mother as she’s more important to the family than the baby: one sacrifices a life for another’s life. In that case, I think, God is asking the husband to make a quick decision, and not to wait for nature to take its course, as the Catholic Church suggests: that is, letting one of them die; it might then be too late to save the other. This is like grabbing and saving one of two children who are drowning: when one knows full well one cannot save them both—a life for another life. One doesn’t wait for one of them to die: that might be too late.
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Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene; New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc., 2006. (ISBN 9780199291151)
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell; New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2001. (ISBN 055380202X)
McGuigan, Martin. “How Many People Can Earth Support” in Live Science, last updated July 22, 2022: https://www.livescience.com/16493-people-planet-earth-support.html.
Taylor, Ian T. In the Minds of Men: Darwin and the New World Order. Toronto, ON: TFE Publishing/Creation Moments Inc., 1991. (ISBN 0969178840)
Wikipedia, s.v. “Human,” last edited November 27, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human.
Wikipedia, s.v. “World Population,” last edited November 27, 2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population.
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3 thoughts on “Global Overpopulation”
I think the decisions as described in your post about what is right or wrong are arbitrary. Reasons given for your opinions are based on pragmatic reasons. For instance save the mother because she is more valuable to the family. I agree with the decision generally but it may not be true in every case or situation. The argument could be made that it is of more valuable for the family, or humans, to use abortion to keep the population down. Greater good for the greater number. I believe abortions should be allowed for any reason for the first 90 days. That is the most pragmatic position. Many factors have to be considered before the final decision is made. What would be the most valuable result. To me, that us the way decisions should be made. What is the best thing to do under the circumstances. As an aside, once people are forced to stand up because of the increased population, it would be difficult to keep having children. Nature has a way of forcing certain outcomes.
Thank you for your comment. Abortion is a subject that is argued globally, so I doubt whether we shall ever agree. However, I must disagree with you that the reasons I give are only pragmatic and that abortions should be decided on practical considerations.
If we agree that we should treat others the same way we would like to be treated ourselves, then we agree that one should not hurt or murder (terminate the life of) another (except in self-defense or defending others). Breaking this ‘golden rule’ is the dividing line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’: as far as I know, all religions, including atheists, agree with this.
The concept of protecting the future of so-called ‘humanity’ by killing (or sterilizing) other people, leads to concepts like Nazism and eugenics, which have been proven evil. “The end does not justify the means.” In other words, whatever good one wants to achieve, one must adopt ethical means; otherwise practically any evil committed can be justified.
Now, whether the person murdered is strong, weak, or helpless, is immaterial: in my opinion, therefore, it includes a baby, a fetus, an embryo, and a zygote. I guess it all depends on how one defines as a ‘person.’ You seem to define at 90 days. I’m afraid I can’t see why. What if it’s 91 days? Not to mention that some embryos develop faster than others: in other words, some embryos could be more developed at 89 days than others at 91 days. The defining line is conception: there’s no doubt that prior to that point, there is no human (or rather potential human). That’s why I think abortion is wrong: it’s wrong for any reason except to save another life instead.
Not to mention that one cannot re-conceive anybody. Imagine aborting Albert Einstein’s zygote, there wouldn’t be another Einstein: and this holds true for any historical figure. Ordinary people are no less important when it comes to deciding between good versus evil.
You try to make your point by pointing to my suggesting saving the mother because she is more important to the family. I admit that is pragmatic, but that is not the main argument. Apparently, you missed my inclusion of the initial phrase “in my opinion” and the very important word “usually”; indeed you say that you would normally agree with it. You’re right, choosing the baby’s life would have been just as ethical; but, personally, something deep inside my being tells me otherwise.
Finally I come to the point where people have to stand up because of overpopulation. Those are two hypothetical scenarios given by two great scientists—not by me—only to show how serious is the problem we’re facing. Of course, you’re right: “nature has a way of forcing certain outcomes.” Nature’s way will be starvation and death when Earth cannot supply enough food; and it will happen long before this stage. My article shows how this can be avoided ethically: that is, excluding abortion—in my opinion.
As a short story writer, it’s alarming to see the potential consequences of global overpopulation outlined in this post. The idea of a future where the planet can only support 10 billion people and we are all forced to become vegetarians is a disturbing one. It’s clear that something needs to be done to prevent this from becoming a reality, and I hope that people will take the necessary steps to limit population growth through the use of non-abortive contraceptives. It’s our responsibility to ensure that future generations have a chance to live on a healthy, sustainable planet.