World on the edge

There are simply too many people on this earth. Why does no one want to say or do anything about it, asks Susan Erasmus.

Overpopulation is the pink elephant in the middle of the room that everyone is pretending not to see.

Let's face facts: there is only so much fresh water on this earth, and with the resources available, we are only able to produce a finite amount of food. We can refine agricultural methods only to a certain point in order to increase production. If there are more people than can be sustained by natural resources, millions will starve. Why are we prepared to let that happen rather than doing something to prevent this crisis?

The scenario is not pretty.

We are basically one bad harvest away from world chaos, says Lester Brown In his new book, World on the Edge.

He says mankind has pushed civilization to the brink of collapse by bleeding aquifers dry, overploughing the land and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. He predicts that things will start unraveling any moment now and that it's likely to start on the food front.

"When the waterhole shrinks, the animals look at each other differently", the saying goes. We know it's going to happen, and despite being at the top of the food chain, we are being astonishingly stupid and simply ignoring the reality of a burgeoning world population that will soon get to the point where there is simply not enough to go around. Let alone sustain other life forms on the planet.

Basically what we're busy doing is loading in more and more people while our life raft is sinking.

Population control
The alternative is problematic: limiting population growth by means of legislation.

Immediately eveyone's hackles rise, people jump up and down and have lots to say about personal freedom and personal choice.

Out come the arguments that population control is basically a war against the poor and against developing countries. And that Americans constitute 5% of the world's population, but consume 24% of the world's energy. Granted, that does seem very greedy, but in terms of sheer numbers they are far outweighed by birth rates in the developing world.

China's efforts with regards to population control are brought up. While it has certainly managed to limit population growth by enforcing a one-child per couple policy in urban areas, it is deemed that female infanticide has increased, as well as abortion of female foetuses.  It has been estimated, though,  that approximately 700 million births have been prevented by this policy.

Personal freedom and choice are all very well – while we have fresh air to breathe, food to eat and water to drink.

But what do we do when these things run out? What will follow is a lot more frightening than the thought of population control: food wars, water wars, famines and a total collapse of worldwide governments.

I am not proposing that we do anything to reduce the numbers of people who have already been born. That would be draconian to say the least. But it does lie within our power to reduce the numbers of coming generations. What would make sense is if each person did no more than replace themselves by the number of their offspring.

It seems exceedingly short-sighted to simply sit back and wait for the disaster to happen, because we don't want people to say that we have no respect for human rights.

What is disrespectful of human rights, though, is to allow a baby to be born into a world in which it can't survive.  What is disrespectful of human rights is to let the coming crisis unfold without lifting a finger to stop it.

It is a choice of the lesser of two evils, granted, but doing nothing is to set the scene for an apocalypse.

Don't for one moment think that because you have money or earthly possessions you are safeguarded from possible chaos: when the ship sinks, it goes down regardless of whether you are in the luxury cabin or not. And there are no life rafts.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, January 2011)

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