|The Five-Year Baby Ban|
|Friday, 02 December 2011 00:00 | Written by Steven Kotler | Commentary|
I’m about to ask you for a favor. It’s a big favor, maybe the biggest favor you’ve ever been asked for. Most likely you’re not going to want to grant it. Perhaps you won’t like me for asking. So before I begin, I’d like to tell you a little about why I’m asking.
A couple of years ago, I was talking to a friend about the $2 billion that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending to eradicate diseases plaguing the Third World. This number is not small change. The $800 million the Foundation donates each year for global health equals the total budget of the United Nations World Health Organization, comprised of 193 nations. “But you know the worst part?” my friend asked. “Most of that money is for fighting diseases in children. And unless something changes, we better hope they fail.”
This might sound like awful cruelty; it’s also sad truth. The world’s population now exceeds 7 billion people. Every day, another 350,000 are born; every day another 150,000 die. The net result is that every 24 hours, brings another 200,000 people onto the planet. The United States population is currently 305 million and growing. California adds another 60 people every hour. According to the Pew Research Center, the US will reach 438 million by 2050. And it’s worse elsewhere.
By 2050, Uganda’s population will grow from 27 million to 131 million. Niger from 14 to 50 million. Afghanistan from 30 to 82 million. In the next decade alone, Asia will add 500 million people. By 2050, India and China by themselves will have three billion—roughly the planet’s population in 1950, at a time when people were already beginning to worry about the planet’s overcrowding. By 2050, there will be 9.3 billion people. The worry will have long become fact.
Here’s why overpopulation is so important. In the past few years, scientists have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out the earth’s “carrying capacity.” How many humans can actually live here in a sustainable fashion? They have come up with a variety of numbers, but the best guess is two billion. And if all of us insist on an American standard of living, that number shrinks to 200 million. MIT’s Marvin Minsky believes it’s 100 million.
Even if we go by the most conservative estimates, there are still four-and-a-half billion too many of us.
Scientists arrive at this figure by measuring resources and comparing them to our “ecological footprint.” As computed by the internationally based Global Footprint Network, the average American has an ecological footprint of 23.3 acres. By comparison, the average Haitian uses one-and-a-half acres. The reason environmentalists warn of the dangers of exporting American values is that if the rest of the world wants to live as we do, we’ll need five planets worth of resources to make it happen.
The impact of population on our available resources is already apparent. Fifty percent of the world’s temperate and tropical forests are gone. Half of the planet’s wetlands are gone. Ninety percent of large predatory fish are gone, 75 percent of our marine fisheries are overfished or at capacity. Fifty percent of our coral reefs are gone. Species are disappearing at rates 1,000 times above normal. As Yale School of Forestry Dean James Gustav Speth recently pointed out, “The planet hasn’t seen such a spasm of extinction in 65 million years, since the dinosaurs vanished.”
This does not bode well for our future. Concurrently, much has been made about the impact of global warming, but lesser known is the pressure it puts on our food supply. For every one degree the planet warms, we lose 10 percent of our global rice, corn and grain yields. This is why, in six of the last eight years, world grain production has fallen below consumption rates, and why 786 million people now go hungry. Fresh water is an even graver concern. Four out of every 10 people on the planet currently do not have enough to drink. Every year we lose an area the size of Nebraska to desertification. According to the UN, by 2025, two billion people will be living in countries with an “absolute water shortage,” meaning they’ll lack the water needed for healthy, hygienic living. If nothing changes and global standards of living were frozen today (from 2008 figures computed by the Global Footprint Network, the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London), by 2030 we’ll still need two earths to provide what we need to survive.
So what do we do? In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King said: “There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is solvable by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.”
Which brings us back to that favor. It’s nothing anyone wants to say aloud. In fact, it’s something people have gone very far out of their way to avoid saying. But the time for that has passed, so here goes:
Stop Having Children.
Not indefinitely. Just for now. I call it the Five-Year Ban. For the next five years, let’s not have any kids. None of us. The whole freaking planet.
I’m calling it the Five-Year Baby Ban, but I don’t mean an actual ban. I don’t think we need a top-down approach. I don’t mean a literal government prohibition, forced sterilization or mandatory birth control. I mean a voluntary, populist moratorium on childbirth. A grassroots movement of responsible adults behaving like responsible adults in order to stem our ongoing population explosion.
Why five years? Because it’s a manageable number. Because it would mean a billion less people. Because a billion less people is a good place to start.
I’m a big believer in human innovation. But we’ve made a big mess, and working our way out is going to take time. Giving the earth a short break would be a way of buying some more time. It’s a bit of breathing room to try solving the most dire threat our species has ever faced.
Five years to jump-start an alternative-energy revolution, to stave off the resource wars most experts feel are coming. A billion less people. A good place to start.
“There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available.” That remedy is available. A half-decade to help us help ourselves. A billion less people in exchange for the future of our species.
Is that too much to ask?
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Written by JC Skinner , March 06, 2010Report abuse