Today is World Population Day.
Theme this year is Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services and it is part of the Millenium Development Goals for 2015.
Apparently we are counting down (up?) to person-number-seven-billion expected to be born on 31 October.
Our population has increased at a phenomenal rate. We reached:
3 billion in 1960,
4 billion in 1974,
5 billion in 1987, and
6 billion in 1999.
And now – 2011 – we shall reach 7 billion.
Just how many people can this little planet of ours support? As John Feeney succinctly put it growth is madness. Why we should countdown as if it is a celebration is beyond me. And if the above pattern is anything to go by we should reach 8 billion by 2022.
Will we be counting down then again? Will we be thinking this is a momentous occasion?
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.
In today’s print edition of the Daily Yomiuri Hiroko Ota, Japanese state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, is quoted as saying on Wednesday, Japan must reform its labour market in order to continue growth and increase its productivity in order to compensate for its aging and low birth-rate society. The comments were made during a discussion with Edward Lazear and Matthew Slaughter, both members of US Council of Economic Advisors.
But really should not this be an opportunity to show responsibility for ecological sustainablility by not producing and consuming more, but rather to reduce? While I understand the concern that it is important to maintain the nation’s standard of living this should not be a time to increase it. There is nothing to say that a shrinking economy moving in line with a shrinking population means a lowering of the standard of living. As long as productivity per capita is maintained then increased productivity would be unnecessary and therefore should not be the aim.
In our time of need for global environmental responsibility the government rhetoric should reflect this in their goals and actions. A missed chance for leadership in this area. It is a shame, really. How silly to talk of growth when everything else in the country is shrinking.
I have just started a course on the understanding of the natural environment. In it we are to given firsthand experience in observing what nature not just in the photographs or in the classroom. The aim of the class is also to show how to make our own instruments for the observation of natural phenomenon.
After the class and during the long drive home I recalled a question that has been puzzling me for two years now – what is the natural environment? It seems to me that every time we talk about the natural environment we talk about it without us – human beings – being involved in it. But are we not a product of the environment? Are we not really just another animal within the animal kingdom?
Sure we separate ourselves from the rest of the animal world. The binary opposites we, humans, use is animal and human. And with these terms we pretend to be rulers of some sort. Our practices show that we feel we have the right to choose how animals live (or die). We simply rank ourselves higher than the animals over whom we believe we own. In short, the world is our slave and property.
This is not new of course. Animal rights as a movement has already pointed this out. Animal testing is a contradiction in itself – the use of animals is justified they are similar enough to us (humans) to make the results valid, yet they are different enough from us (humans) to consider it not cruel to do the types of experiments we wouldn’t do to other humans in the first place. So which is it?
Assuming we are just another animal within the web of life, not one that is at its pinnacle, but one that is only one part of it. So what are we doing to this web and what is our role within this system? If we are to take our present way of living as an indicator then we are like a cancer. Ecosystems generally try to reach a self-sustaining mode. But humans try to destroy as much as possible for the sake of things called economy and nation. Sustainability seems to be the last thing on the minds of economies and nationhood, seeing not the larger picture but choosing a narrow view of life.
One has to ask are we higher creatures or just shortsighted animals within a capacity to not only deceive others but ourselves also? Or perhaps this is nature’s way of culling planetary overpopulation, or if you are religiously inclined God’s sick sense of humour.
Teaching elementary school in Japan gives me an opportunity to talk about Australia, my home country, quite a bit. Mostly I like starting with the land mass of the two countries. Australia is roughly 20 times larger than Japan. Then move on to the population. Whereas Japan has 130 million people, Australia has 20 million. And this shocks the students somewhat.
Remembering my pre-teen years I too was a little naive and believed a country’s size would be proportional to its population. It is only natural that being human we are fallible to make such an assumption.
I also remember that it seemed to me back then that a country’s population was somehow equated to the greatness of a nation. The Chinese want to claim that. As does India. As an English teacher I also see how English speakers hide the fact that even after totalling the number of English speakers in the world we still only manage to be second and that they were actually third until only recently. By number English is still ranked second and they do not want to remind you of this fact. It only embarrasses them. Yet there should be nothing to be embarrassed about. Simply a large population does not equate to cultural superiority.
Population growth is not something to proud of. There is no logic behind it. People talk as though it is some achievement to see an increase in its nation’s population like it is the strength points in some video game. Furthermore no one ever bothers to ask when enough is enough.
If a nation’s population were like the human body then the world today could be seen as being obese. And perhaps we should population as the human body analogy because like all things there is a limit.
While the environment puts a limit on the system by checks and balances human being chooses to see it as though there is no limit. And this is where human understanding has failed or is flawed. While man is undoubtedly clever he is also foolish to thinnk that he can beat the system.
So let’s just hope that some time soon he will become the wiser and learn to live within the limits of a system that is made for abuses because no matter what it will catch up to us in the end. And hopefully we will learn that the ecosystem does not care whether the human species is part of its picture or not.