Why Population Growth is still a Problem

It’s the exponential principle!

Complacency about sheer numbers of humans overwhelming the planet’s ability to cope appears to be supported by this link:


For example, it states:

Historical demographers estimate that around the year 1800 the world population was only around 1 billion people. This implies that on average the population grew very slowly over this long time from 10,000 BCE to 1700 (by 0.04% annually). After 1800 this changed fundamentally: The world population was around 1 billion in the year 1800 and increased 7-fold since then.

I do not challenge any facts in this report, including the recent slowing of the birth rate, but I draw less reassuring conclusions..

It was around, or shortly after 10,000BCE that several human tribes, in different part of the world, abandoned hunting and gathering and started farming. In case anyone thinks this was a brilliant invention, this is what Clive Ponting says in A Green History of the World (Sinclair Stevenson 1991):

Agriculture is most definitely not easier than gathering and hunting. It requires far more effort in clearing land, sowing, ending and harvesting crops, and in looking after animals.

It does not necessarily provide more nutritious food, nor does it offer greater security because it depends on a smaller range of land and animals.

The one advantage agriculture has is that in return for greater effort, it can provide more food from a smaller area of land.

The explanation that best fits modern knowledge is increasing population pressure.

The population increase before 10,000 years may have beenl even ower than 0.04%. Bear in mind that during the preceding 740,000 years humans had expanded from a small; area in East Africa, to the rest of the world, but

that increase was almost certainly exponential with all that entails.

The fact that the increase was imperceptible would make it more deadly

A more familiar case of exponential growth is a bottle of milk. A few lactobacilli are in the bottle from the beginning, but the dramatic change takes place within a couple of hours, but not until several days later.

Lactobacilli double in a few hours, At 0.04% per annum, early human populations would only double eery 1300 or 1400 years. But the very fact that the change was imperceptible would render them completely unprepared for the crisis when unexpectedly, there was no room for expansion.

I also differ from the link’s equanimity about the recent fall in population increase rates. Although good news per se, there are alreqady far more humans than is good for the planet. The forced change to farming 10, 000 years ago is evidence that that is when world population first met the limits of the Earth’s carrying capacity. Progress since then has consisted of relying on technological advances to leapfrog further population growth.

Capitalism is a major example of this ‘progress’: excellent at taking advantage whilst growth can be taken for granted, but ultimately catastrophic when, suddenly. it cannot. Capitalism does not remove the need to reduce sheer numbers.



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