Monthly Archives: April 2007

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Population growth, governments and the media

After a two week break, a computer breakdown and the start of a new university term I am finally back online. I apologize for the long absence.

Every second, five people are born and two people die, for a net gain of three people each second. That means that 12 people were added to the worlds population in the time it took you to read the previous sentence. The world is adding about 78 million more people every year: the population of France, Greece and Sweden combined, or a city the size of San Francisco every three days. (from “The Environment” by Simon Ross and Joseph Kerski, 2005)

These are absolutely phenomenal numbers. I am ashamed to say that in my youth I had thought, “Great for human beings. It shows our strength as a species”. But today I know better than to think population growth has anything to do with a people or nation’s greatness. It is only culture, nationhood and species-hood that makes us think this way.

So you have to wonder why people think population growth is such a great thing. Headlines like “An Egyptian is born every 23 seconds“, the way in which the US Census Bureau keeps counting, or the panic Japan feels because the opposite is happening are all indications of an attitude which is egotistical and defies logic.

So how to understand population growth? Any population is regulated or controlled by its finite resource-based habitat. And human population does not stand outside this model. So looking at how population regulation and control occurs is useful. There are three ways (according to the Ross-Kerski book) in which population regulation can viewed.

Density dependent and independent
One is to see the density-dependent vs. density-independent mechanisms. An example of a density-independent mechanism is a flash flood which devastates an area. An ant colony within this area may lose ten members of its population or ten million. Therefore the flash flood is a density-independent. In layman’s terms it is all about chance. And a density-dependent mechanism is one where a population peaks because its supply of food (example: the predators’ prey) is finite. So due to this food shortage and certain number of the population die out. Density-independent events are unpredictable while density-dependent occurrences – to some degree – are. And the true model is is probably a mixture of both.

Intrinsic and extrinsic regulation
Growth and regulation can also be seen through the idea of intrinsic or extrinsic. An example of intrinsic regulation is spacing. Some animals prefer a certain area to be their own territory this inherent need to for space. This in-built characteristic means the density of an area is regulated by this animal’s need. Extrinsic regulation of this same animal will come from, for example, predation or fire. The distinction between the two at times can be difficult, since the need for space drives the animal to go beyond its normal boundaries in which it may perish due to accident. But this accident may not have occurred if the intrinsic mechanism did not push it beyond this limit. Therefore the death, though extrinsic, is a caused by an intrinsic incident.

Birth and death rate regulation
Crude birth and death rate, and population density is the third way in which we can look at population. As population increases beyond the means of an area to support it success of survival (death rate) decreases therefore regulating the population size. Birth rates are regulated also if the living population see the area and its density to population ratio as potentially not conducive of rearing.

How should we see global human population?
For the entire planet model looking at crude birth and death rate is the most common way to view population since we do not have increase from immigration or decrease by emigration. And the intrinsic-extrinsic model is seen as not applicable to the human species since he has all but “eliminated” his extrinsic influence. This I will argue because we may have rid themselves of predation, but in fact we are predators. This is why the density-dependent/independent model is a more accurate way of seeing population.

In the end the human species still depends on his environment for survival. We have reached a point we are using more than the planet can provide and no amount of technology can help. Producing more food per area of land may seem logical but really that can only happen by doing so need to bring in more resources from the outside to sustain such a model. Agricultural land simply becomes exhausted from the taxing methods we impose upon them.

So the reality is there will be a time when we will have food shortage. And when that happens the relative peacefulness the better half of the planet will use their power to secure their survival and the still poor will suffer for their actions.

We must change our view of population now. This also entails that we change our attitude from one that is economic-based to one that is non-economic. Money may seem to make the world go around, but in the end, whether there a single person on Earth to spend that money or not the planet still spins. It has done so for four billion years and it will do so for another four.