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Debate: Should we endlessly assist population expansion?

I was intrigued by Magnus Larsson and indeed other TED talkers about helping with the desperate plight of people in Africa, for example the chap assisting with clean water and his 15nm filter.

But being a long view sort of chap, I immediately wonder if the best thing for the dirt poor isn't contraception. This may sound harsh, but I am no eugenics nut, this is not about picking cultures or races.

Also I wish no ill to any living people, they should receive aid, but the biggest taboo in modern science and political strategy seems to be overpopulation.

For anyone not knowing, please look at the world population figures for the past few hundred years, they cannot be overstated.

Simply working on keeping communities alive, finding renewable energies and looking to feed people is treating the symptoms, not the plague. And people, human beings are the plague.

Why is nobody asking questions like, just how many people do we want to support on this planet? Not even - how many can we support?

Now think of a world with 1 billion people. Or less. How's about several hundred million. Those people can live spread across the world according to available resources. We could still improve on our pollutions but decreasing the population seems to me to immediately fix most of the world's problems, and I don't see a down side. Why do those that want children need more than two? And really, why more than one?

Then the other counter to initiatives like Magnus' is, SHOULD we interfere with nature on the scale that he proposes? Do we really think we know the true consequences of something like that? Ask yourself, why is the desert swallowing green belt? Is it because humans interfered?

I have grave concerns that if you feed everyone, and provide their other basic needs through technology, without any cultural revolution, that overpopulation will simply and VERY rapidly throw up the next major problem, and that this may risk life on this planet.

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  • Oct 27 2012: Birth rates are plummeting in Africa and especially the Middle East now that contraception (partly due to efforts like you describe) and women's rights are starting to take off there. Young girls living there today won't have 10 kids.
    • Oct 27 2012: I would like to see your evidence John.

      According to stats I have seen, population growth is still accelerating (not just increasing) in central africa:

      http://www.google.co.uk/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=sp_pop_totl&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=region:SSA:MNA&ifdim=region&hl=en&dl=en&ind=false&q=world+population

      Also world wide, 7 BILLION and counting.

      In my father's lifetime the population HAS DOUBLED globally. Being just 3.5 billion around 1967.

      As of 2012 data, this trend continues.

      6.5% of all people ever alive on the planet, are alive right now:
      http://www.prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedonEarth.aspx

      Here's more, but this info is backed everywhere I care to look;
      http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/population/la-fg-population-matters1-20120722-html,0,7213271.htmlstory

      The figures from central africa are an AVERAGE of OVER 3 kids per woman, with many areas OVER 5.5 kids per woman;
      http://www.prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2012/world-population-data-sheet/world-map.aspx#/map/births

      Load the above interactive map, go to the "Births and Deaths" tab over the map, then choose the radio button over the map for "Total Fertility Rate".

      So on average, no not 10 kids per woman, but according to all the data I found, your assertion that "Birth rates are plummeting" is dead wrong, even in more developed parts of africa, but especially in the area in which Magnus and myself are talking about - central africa.
      • Oct 29 2012: You should not focus on what the birthrates are today, you should compare them to what they were 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. You will see that the birthrate has fallen even for places like Bangladesh.

        Your first graph seems to show nice exponential growth, except it doesn't: its gradient decreases, or in English, the population of 2010 divided by the population of 2000 is smaller than the same ratio for 2000 and 1990 which in turn is smaller than the ratio for 1990 and 1980 and that's happening even though people are living longer. See, if you start out with 100 million people who each get 1.5 kids after 30 years, who eacht get 1.4 kids after another 30 years you'll see the population go from 100 million to 150 million and then from 150 million to 210 million. The graph would look terrifying because 210-150 > 150-100, but the birth rate definitely has gone down and if the trend persists population growth will cease.

        Misunderstandings like this are why people in leadership positions really need to learn more math.
        • Oct 29 2012: After seeing Hans Rosling's TED talk on Religions and babies, I am rather less concerned about population strangulation.

          At least some, for then I have today seen Jonathan Foley on TED, with the Other Inconvenient Truth, that even if we cap at 9 billion, we have serious agricultural and thus environmental problems.

          I get the point of "who the hell are we to slam others for destroying nature", and there's not a natural square metre left in Britain (people think moorland is natural, they are wrong), however that damage is done. I do feel we should depopulate the west too, and try to restore something natural, get some forests back etc.

          But it's in the third world where inefficiencies meets ignorance meets population growth meets true natural environment.

          I think it's also important to differentiate between the ACCELERATION of population growth SLOWING and actual population DECLINE. Birthrates are only part of it, it's the totals that concern me.

          If every person needs 125kWh per day, as I half remember from another TED talk, and we at 7billion use crop land equivalent of all of South America, plus another area the total size of Africa for grazing our animals, then please ask yourself - how many people should there be on this planet?

          I cannot get an answer to this one simple question - even from religious nuts that espouse massive breeding INCREASES, and that is WHY? (Besides a "god" telling you to multiply and be fruitful) Why do we not want less people, why am I alone thinking that the world would MUCH better with 1billion vs 7 billion.

          Seriously, please someone tell me - why is more better? Because is doesn't mean you know more people, does it equal more creativity and ingenuity? Is that proven or even investigated? Or is it simply that many people want a house full of children? Does that sort of thinking come from Individualist thinking, and Individualist parenting?
      • Oct 29 2012: "I think it's also important to differentiate between the ACCELERATION of population growth SLOWING and actual population DECLINE."

        Italy, Germany and Japan once started out with only a slightly slower population growth but then the trend continued and now immigration and increases in lifespan are the only things keeping those countries from population decline. Who is to say the same won't happen for Africa? It is important to realize what a tremendous accomplishment it is that birth rates are actually declining now, after centuries of growth. The fact that we will level out this century is something that was by no means a certain prospect 50 years ago.

        "Seriously, please someone tell me - why is more better? Because is doesn't mean you know more people, does it equal more creativity and ingenuity? Is that proven or even investigated? Or is it simply that many people want a house full of children? Does that sort of thinking come from Individualist thinking, and Individualist parenting?"

        A higher population does mean having more geniuses and larger niche markets, but yeah, the environmental impact outweighs those advantages, in this we agree.

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