Monday, October 31, 2011

Seven Billion - Good Or Bad?

Or just...hype.

We're going on and on about the seven billionth human to be born, even though we don't actually know for sure that it is or is not. Furthermore, how do you define human? Do you include Neanderthals? Australopithecus? Some scientists even argue that we should recategorize chimpanzees and bonobos as members of genus homo.

And then there's, well, how many hunter gatherers in Ice Age Europe? We simply don't know.

Setting that aside, population growth is a concern. By many measures, there are too many human beings on the planet. There are especially too many human beings in certain parts of the developing world. On the other hand, a new worry is beginning to emerge.

People in the developed world can't afford to have children without wrecking their standard of living. Populations are starting to drop and the number of retirees is growing...without new workers to replace them. Many countries are facing the specter of raising the retirement age - which might make sense as people live longer and stay healthy longer.

Here is the real problem.

We do have too many human beings. However, we have economic and social systems calibrated for an increasing population. In the long term, dropping the human population to some reasonably determined carrying capacity is a good thing...but how do we do it without wrecking our entire society?

Especially as our society is already in so much trouble. Answer? I don't have one...yet. I do know that uncontrolled population growth is bad. So is uncontrolled population fall. Population stability will require that we rethink how our economy work.

The other alternative is to expand our range, but realistically, we don't yet have the technology to move large numbers of humans off this planet. Yet. I personally feel expanding our range is the true solution, but it too carries far too many 'hows' with it to be a feasible short term option.

So, once more, I'm leaving you with more questions than answers. I don't really have the choice, because I don't have the answers. Yet.