Overpopulation : inconvenience, and means to reduce it
The problem of overpopulation has been mentioned in a few essays.
For example, Does
Our Civilization Have a Destiny by Mark P Aldridge
"to establish population limits...
All right, but more concretely, if you determine that you can
support only 5 billion people on this planet, then how do you call
yourself to reduce your population naturally over time so as to
reach that number ? Just being wise and expecting others to be wise
is not enough: you can't control what others do in their bedroom, or
do you ? As explained in One Cannot Live
in the Cradle Forever by Robert de
a call for population growth restraint such that if we
determine we can support only 5 billion people on this planet in
comfort and stability, we reduce our population naturally over
time so as to reach that number. "
"But the greatest challenges may be political.
Overcoming the technical challenges may be easy in comparison to
using our collective power as a species wisely. If humanity were
a single person with all the knowledge and abilities of the
entire human race, avoiding nuclear war, and environmental
catastrophe would be relatively easy. But in fact we are
billions of people with different experiences, different
interests, and different visions for the future. In a sense, the
future is a collective action problem. Our species’ prospects
are effectively what economists call a “common good”. Every
person has a stake in our future. But no one person or country
has the primary responsibility for the well-being of the human
race. Most do not get much personal benefit from sacrificing to
lower the risk of extinction. And all else being equal each
would prefer that others bear the cost of action."
So concretely what did he propose ?
"Our species is the only one that fully understands
and CAN control it's reproduction. This may mean that some
people may have to wait 60 years before they reproduce; some may
never reproduce. The concept of guaranteed reproduction must of
necessity be ended. "
Well, I did not know about that concept of "guaranteed reproduction"
supposed to be still holding. Many people "guaranteed" to me that I
would find love when I reported that it was the vital need for me to
escape depression, however facts did not follow, and nobody ever
carried responsibility for the failure of this "guarantee".
Let's now have a look in Just Too Many
People: Towards a Sustainable Future Earth, at Alan M. Kadin's
method to reduce his population naturally over time so as to reach
the number "~1B" he determined that he can support on his planet :
Now in Israel Perez's essay Indeed, the
problem is quite complex...
"This transition will likely take several hundred years, but
it is important to start as soon as possible. This will
require reducing the effective fertility rate to ~ 1 child.
Given the biological and social pressures to encourage
child-bearing, can this be achieved without coercion? All
traditional societies and traditional religions have
encouraged large families, which is why there are now so many
people. Under these circumstances, is there any hope for a
sharp reduction in the birth rate? I believe that there is,
given that such reductions in fertility follow on population
trajectories that are already present in many developed
countries. Historically, women married young and started
having children immediately. Now the trend is for women to
delay marriage and child-bearing while they pursue education
and establish careers. Previously, children provided the
primary system of old-age retirement and care. This is
transitioning to a system of government-provided pensions and
elder care. Small apartments in expensive cities favor few
children, or none at all. Childlessness is becoming more
socially acceptable than it used to be. These trends are
likely to continue, and need to be supported by governments"
"So, we will consider that for a couple of decades
the global population remains steady and then starts to slightly
drop after 2050 (see Fig. 1). We believe that this is the most
probable scenario because we assume that the world will observe
the same trend as Europe (...)
Hum, quite speculative and unreliable I would say. Just because
developed countries happened to reduce their fertility rate, I don't
trust any idea of expecting this to automatically work for any other
country, for many reasons such as cultural reasons and genetic
reasons, that not all people around the world behave the same. Also,
I don't see any good reason to expect the raise of standard of
living (assuming it to automatically imply a reduction of fertility,
which I'm not sure of) to benefit any large fraction of the world
anyway, may it be because of lower levels of natural intelligence
that cannot support competition on the job market, or because of the
exhaustion of natural resources that any start of development would
To attain this, we need, again, a united world that
works under the same ideals. I think this is the most
The first step is then to agree what we want for our
And even if this natural decrease of fertility seems to work in our
times, I dot not trust it to work in the long term, because, just if
some genetic, cultural or other variation between kinds of people
provides exceptions to this "rule", these exceptions will have a
natural selective advantage and will therefore take over the world
in the long term.
Why smaller is better
Let us first examine the stakes : what differences are there between
histories (forms of world development) depending on the human
population number, assuming they are the same kind of humans with
the same diversity (say, comparing our population with a smaller one
of the "same kind" as obtained by taking a random sample), and that,
in each world, they keep their constant number in the long term (let
us not wonder how now).
An essential feature in this one: a larger population makes the
technological progress faster with respect to time, but slower
with respect to the number of human lives (time multiplied by
In scientific research, it often happens for major discoveries to be
independently made by several people at the same time. If these
people were living at separate times instead of at the same time,
the discovery would be made by the first one, then others would know
that this discovery was made and would not need to repeat it but
could work for further progress instead. Libraries would not be
overloaded by works which accidentally happen to repeat each other
because they were made independently. It would then take less work
to only contribute to the things that were not written by others
before. This smaller volume containing the same amount of knowledge
would be easier to browse through. And the easier it is to browse
through what was done without missing anything, the fewer risks
there are to repeat something already done because we failed to find
it already done.
Because more people at the same time means more possible sources
of innovation coming at the same time, however they cannot be as
fruitful when happening in parallel by a number of people living
at the same time, as they could be if done by the same number of
people living at different times. Because in different worlds at
the same stage of development, each person contributes according
to what he could find possible to contribute in the world which he
learned some roughly fixed number of years ago, which was less
developed if progress was faster to this point due to a larger
population, than if it came more slowly. Actually, a major burden
in this world, that consumes a lot of work by companies, instead
of their own work of bringing new progress, is the work of
adapting themselves to the progress provided by others. If
progress was slower with respect to time, then companies would
need less work adapting themselves to a rapidly changing world,
and thus would have more available resources to bring their own
contribution to progress.
You might say : in a bigger population there is a bigger incentive
for innovation because the market is bigger. Yes but the market is
only bigger at a fixed time ; this difference behaves no more as
such a difference if you integrate the usefulness over a period of
time, as the sales volume in a less populated world may be seen as
still somewhat big with a similar total number of customers coming
after each other instead of simultaneously.
For these future sales to also matter, if in a long time period
(>10 years), there needs to be a smaller real interest rate,
through a larger proportion of productive assets, which naturally
comes as the volume of capitals coming from savings is no more
wasted in more expensive ownership of land and housing.
Overpopulation causes inequalities of incomes in 2 ways :
As concerns epidemiology, a bigger human population induces bigger
risks for viruses to develop and adapt themselves to infect humans,
as they have a bigger experimental field for mutation and evolution
in a population not yet immune to them.
- The higher price of space (both lands for agriculture and living places in cities)
- The inequalities of income between creative people
(innovators), for example artists : in a world with 1 artist for
1 million listeners, he gets income for his creativity from
these 1 million listeners ; if there are 2 artists for 2 million
listeners, one artist may get all the fame and thus all the
income, while the other artist cannot find a public and thus
gets no pay for his creations ; this may come by sheer accident
or unfair marketing rather than quality difference, as in a too
big world it is nobody's business to review the whole space of
offers if they are too many.
As concerns the genetic evolution of humans, a bigger population
makes it more complicated for positive mutations to spread, as it
takes more time for each mutation to spread over the totality of the
population. As a larger number of positive mutations appear and are
partially spread in parallel, it makes more inequalities between
people, and it complicates the possibility for all positive
mutations to combine, especially in cases several mutations would be
located at the same place of the chromosome.
Thus here also, the progress may be faster with respect to time but
slower with respect to the number of lives.
In conclusion, if progress is conceived as a transition between a
time of low technology and a time of high technology that would
finally be stable and mature (solving its sustainability problems),
but that makes troubles in between, a world with smaller population
uses a smaller total of natural resources until it reaches its
maturity ; moreover it uses them in a longer period of time while
resources can regenerate themselves, and is thus less a burden for
Concrete means to limit population
Now that the stakes are clear, let us discuss the means. What can
lead many people to limit their fertility, even many of those who
would not spontaneously do so ?
Let us first consider the problem of reducing the currently existing
push to fertility:
Abortion looks ugly, however anyway, giving birth is somehow
criminal as any contribution to population increase urgently needs
to be reversed sooner or later, and most other available natural or
artificial means of reducing population are also tragic, so this one
is not so bad in comparison, when a woman considers that having a
child would be a trouble.
- Many people would like to use contraceptives but cannot access
these because of cost. Contraceptives and means of sterilization
need to be offered worldwide for free, for those who need.
- Many people have children just because social welfare is
offered for raising children. This should be ended.
- Many people have lots of children because of religious
preaches against the use of contraceptives. Such preachings
should be strongly opposed and denounced as evil.
- In some countries, especially in Africa, people have children
because working children are a means of income and pension
welfare. A reliable banking system should be provided to ensure
to people safe means of savings so they will be ensured to be
taken care of when old if they have no or few children.
- Abortion should be legalized.
Now to push more seriously to population decrease:
Again, if something here may seem ugly, I am curious to hear about
more decent and responsible alternatives.
- Death penalty may be accepted as a possibility, of course if
we first care to improve the fairness and reliability of
justice, to avoid killing innocents by mistake. Examples of
serious crimes that may be considered a ground for death
- Crimes against the environment (deforestation, hunting of
- Crime of lobbying against green taxes for the interest of
- The crime of spoiling the
life of clever people by influencing their parents into
pushing them to long, stupid, painful studies, when it is
clear that the academic environment is a torture for them
- Psychiatric crimes
(destroying the brain of innocent people in the name of a
pseudo-science made up by a mafia)
- Sterilization can be considered as an alternative form of
penalty for criminals, and considered as a penalty for the crime
of raising children in severe poverty, in addition to offering
children the opportunity to be adopted by more wealthy parents,
as there cannot be a right to keep and raise children in poverty
(sterilization must come before adoption, to avoid any
temptation for parents to just make more children to replace
those taken away).
- Charity can be offered under condition of sterilization, in
decreasing amount with respect to the number of natural children
- Make it easier for people to adopt children instead of having
their own, in conditions ensuring the absence of any traffic by
which charity to adoptive parents would be diverted as payment
to natural parents for the "job" of making children and
abandoning them. Genetic traceability can ensure this.
External link : Transition
Up : On humanity's
failures to steer itself properly