Friday, January 22, 2010

Extraterrestrial settlement

In the 1970s, Gerard O'Neill suggested building space habitats that could support 30,000 times the carrying capacity of Earth using just the asteroid belt and that the solar system as a whole could sustain current population growth rates for a thousand years. Marshall Savage(1992, 1994) has projected a human population of five quintillion throughout the solar system by 3000, with the majority in the asteroid belt. Arthur C. Clarke, a fervent supporter of Savage, argued that by 2057 there will be humans on the Moon, Mars, Europa,Ganymede, Titan and in orbit around Venus, Neptune and Pluto. Freeman Dyson (1999) favours the Kuiper belt as the future home of humanity, suggesting this could happen within a few centuries.[195] In Mining the Sky, John S. Lewis suggests that the resources of the solar system could support 10 quadrillion (1016) people.

K. Eric Drexler, famous inventor of the futuristic concept of molecular nanotechnology, has suggested in Engines of Creation that colonizing space will mean breaking the Malthusian limits to growth for the human species.

Many authors, including Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov have argued that shipping the excess population into space is not a viable solution to human overpopulation. According to Clarke, "the population battle must be fought or won here on Earth", The problem for these authors is not the lack of resources in space (as shown in books such as Mining the Sky), but the physical impracticality of shipping vast numbers of people into space to "solve" overpopulation on Earth. However, Gerard O'Neill's calculations show that Earth could offload all new population growth with a launch services industry about the same size as the current airline industry.

Education and empowerment

One option is to focus on education about overpopulation, family planning, and birth control methods, and to make birth-control devices like male/female condoms and pills easily available. Some 80 million pregnancies – nearly 40% of the total each year – are unplanned. An estimated 350 million women in the poorest countries of the world either did not want their last child, do not want another child or want to space their pregnancies, but they lack access to information, affordable means and services to determine the size and spacing of their families. In thedeveloping world, some 514,000 women die annually of complications from pregnancy and abortion. Slightly more than one half of thematernal deaths occurred in the sub-Saharan Africa region, followed by South Asia. Additionally, 8 million infants die, many because ofmalnutrition or preventable diseases, especially from lack of access to clean drinking water In the United States, in 2001, almost half of pregnancies were unintended.

Egypt announced a program to reduce its overpopulation by family planning education and putting women in the workforce. It was announced in June 2008 by the Minister of Health and Population Hatem el-Gabali. The government has set aside 480 million Egyptian pounds (about 90 million U.S. dollars) for the program.

Effects of human overpopulation

Some problems associated with or exacerbated by human overpopulation:

  • Inadequate fresh water for drinking water use as well as sewage treatment and effluent discharge. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia, use energy-expensive desalination to solve the problem of water shortages.
  • Depletion of natural resources, especially fossil fuels.
  • Increased levels of air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination and noise pollution. Once a country has industrialized and become wealthy, a combination of government regulation and technological innovation causes pollution to decline substantially, even as the population continues to grow.
  • Deforestation and loss of ecosystems that sustain global atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide balance; about eight million hectares of forest are lost each year.
  • Changes in atmospheric composition and consequent global warming
  • Irreversible loss of arable land and increases in desertification Deforestation and desertification can be reversed by adopting property rights, and this policy is successful even while the human population continues to grow.
  • Mass species extinctions from reduced habitat in tropical forests due to slash-and-burn techniques that sometimes are practiced by shifting cultivators, especially in countries with rapidly expanding rural populations; present extinction rates may be as high as 140,000species lost per year. As of 2008, the IUCN Red List lists a total of 717 animal species having gone extinct during recorded human history.
  • High infant and child mortality. High rates of infant mortality are caused by poverty. Rich countries with high population densities have low rates of infant mortality.
  • Intensive factory farming to support large populations. It results in human threats including the evolution and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria diseases, excessive air and water pollution, and new virus that infect humans.
  • Increased chance of the emergence of new epidemics and pandemics For many environmental and social reasons, including overcrowded living conditions, malnutrition and inadequate, inaccessible, or non-existent health care, the poor are more likely to be exposed to infectious diseases.
  • Starvation, malnutrition or poor diet with ill health and diet-deficiency diseases (e.g. rickets). However, rich countries with high population densities do not have famine.
  • Poverty coupled with inflation in some regions and a resulting low level of capital formation. Poverty and inflation are aggravated by bad government and bad economic policies. Many countries with high population densities have eliminated absolute poverty and keep their inflation rates very low.
  • Low life expectancy in countries with fastest growing populations
  • Unhygienic living conditions for many based upon water resource depletion, discharge of raw sewage and solid waste disposal. However, this problem can be reduced with the adoption of sewers. For example, after Karachi, Pakistan installed sewers, its infant mortality rate fell substantially.
  • Elevated crime rate due to drug cartels and increased theft by people stealing resources to survive
  • Conflict over scarce resources and crowding, leading to increased levels of warfare
  • Less Personal Freedom / More Restrictive Laws. Laws regulate interactions between humans. Law "serves as a primary social mediator of relations between people." The higher the population density, the more frequent such interactions become, and thus there develops a need for more laws to regulate these interactions.


Overpopulation has substantially adversely impacted the environment of Earth starting at least as early as the 20th century. There are also economic consequences of this environmental degradation in the form of ecosystem services attrition. Beyond the scientifically verifiable harm to the environment, some assert the moral right of other species to simply exist rather than become extinct. Environmental author Jeremy Rifkin has said that "our burgeoning population and urban way of life have been purchased at the expense of vast ecosystems and habitats. ... It's no accident that as we celebrate the urbanization of the world, we are quickly approaching another historic watershed: the disappearance of the wild."

Says Peter Raven, former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in their seminal work AAAS Atlas of Population & Environment, "Where do we stand in our efforts to achieve a sustainable world? Clearly, the past half century has been a traumatic one, as the collective impact of human numbers, affluence (consumption per individual) and our choices of technology continue to exploit rapidly an increasing proportion of the world's resources at an unsustainable rate. ... During a remarkably short period of time, we have lost a quarter of the world's topsoil and a fifth of its agricultural land, altered the composition of the atmosphere profoundly, and destroyed a major proportion of our forests and other natural habitats without replacing them. Worst of all, we have driven the rate of biological extinction, the permanent loss of species, up several hundred times beyond its historical levels, and are threatened with the loss of a majority of all species by the end of the 21st century."

Further, even in countries which have both large population growth and major ecological problems, it is not necessarily true that curbing the population growth will make a major contribution towards resolving all environmental problems. However, as developing countries with high populations become more industrialized, pollution and consumption will invariably increase.

The Worldwatch Institute said the booming economies of China and India are planetary powers that are shaping the global biosphere. The report states:

The world's ecological capacity is simply insufficient to satisfy the ambitions of China, India, Japan, Europe and the United States as well as the aspirations of the rest of the world in a sustainable way[138]

It said that if China and India were to consume as much resources per capita as United States or Japan in 2030 together they would require a full planet Earth to meet their needs.[139] In the longterm these effects can lead to increased conflict over dwindling resources[140] and in the worst case a Malthusian catastrophe.

Wealth and poverty

The United Nations indicates that about 850 million people are malnourished or starving,and 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Some argue that Earth may support 6 billion people, but only if many live in misery. The proportion of the world's population living on less than $1 per day has halved in 20 years, but these are inflation-unadjusted numbers and likely misleading.

The UN Human Development Report of 1997 states: "During the last 15-20 years, more than 100 developing countries, and several Eastern European countries, have suffered from disastrous growth failures. The reductions in standard of living have been deeper and more long-lasting than what was seen in the industrialised countries during the depression in the 1930s. As a result, the income for more than one billion people has fallen below the level that was reached 10, 20 or 30 years ago". Similarly, although the proportion of "starving" people in sub-Saharan Africa has decreased, the absolute number of starving people has increased due to population growth. The percentage dropped from 38% in 1970 to 33% in 1996 and was expected to be 30% by 2010. But the region’s population roughly doubled between 1970 and 1996. To keep the numbers of starving constant, the percentage would have dropped by more than half.

Opponents of birth control sometimes argue that overpopulation is unrelated to extreme poverty.

Population as a function of food availability

Thinkers such as David Pimentel, a professor from Cornell University, Virginia Abernethy, Alan Thornhill, Russell Hopffenberg and author Daniel Quinn propose that like all other animals, human populations predictably grow and shrink according to their available food supply – populations grow in an abundance of food, and shrink in times of scarcity.

Proponents of this theory argue that every time food production is increased, the population grows. Some human populations throughout history support this theory. Populations of hunter-gatherers fluctuate in accordance with the amount of available food. Population increased after theNeolithic Revolution and an increased food supply. This was followed by subsequent population growth after subsequent agricultural revolutions.

Critics of this idea point out that birth rates are lowest in the developed nations, which also have the highest access to food. In fact, some developed countries have both a diminishing population and an abundant food supply. The United Nations projects that the population of 51 countries or areas, including Germany, Italy, Japan and most of the states of the former Soviet Union, is expected to be lower in 2050 than in 2005. This shows that when one limits their scope to the population living within a given political boundary, human populations do not always grow to match the available food supply. Additionally, many of these countries are major exporters of food.

Nevertheless, on the global scale the world population is increasing, as is the net quantity of human food produced - a pattern that has been true for roughly 10,000 years, since the human development of agriculture. That some countries demonstrate negative population growth fails to discredit the theory. Food moves across borders from areas of abundance to areas of scarcity. Additionally, this hypothesis is not so simplistic as to be rejected by a single case study, as in Germany's recent population trends - clearly other factors are at work: contraceptiveaccess, cultural norms and most importantly economic realities differ from nation to nation.

Global perspective

The amounts of natural resources in this context are not necessarily fixed, and their distribution is not necessarily a zero-sum game. For example, due to the Green Revolution and the fact that more and more land is appropriated each year from wild lands for agricultural purposes, the worldwide production of food had steadily increased up until 1995. World food production per person was considerably higher in 2005 than 1961.

As world population doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion, daily Calorie consumption in poor countries increased from 1,932 to 2,650, and the percentage of people in those countries who were malnourished fell from 45% to 18%. This suggests that Third World poverty and famine are caused by underdevelopment, not overpopulation. However, others question these statistics.From 1950 to 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the world, grain production increased by over 250%.The world population has grown by about four billion since the beginning of the Green Revolution and most believe that, without the Revolution, there would be greater famine and malnutrition than the UN presently documents.

The number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished. In a 2006 news story, MSNBC reported, "There are an estimated 800 million undernourished people and more than a billion considered overweight worldwide." The U.S. has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world.

Percentage of population suffering from malnutrition by country, according to United Nations statistics.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states in its report The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2006, that while the number of undernourished people in the developing countries has declined by about three million, a smaller proportion of the populations of developing countries is undernourished today than in 1990–92: 17% against 20%. Furthermore, FAO’s projections suggest that the proportion of hungry people in developing countries could be halved from 1990-92 levels to 10% by 2015. The FAO also states "We have emphasized first and foremost that reducing hunger is no longer a question of means in the hands of the global community. The world is richer today than it was ten years ago. There is more food available and still more could be produced without excessive upward pressure on prices. The knowledge and resources to reduce hunger are there. What is lacking is sufficient political will to mobilize those resources to the benefit of the hungry."

As of 2008, the price of grain has increased due to more farming used in biofuels, world oil prices at over $100 a barrel, global population growth, climate change, loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development, and growing consumer demand in Chinaand India Food riots have recently taken place in many countries across the world. An epidemic of stem rust on wheat caused by race Ug99 is currently spreading across Africa and into Asia and is causing major concern. A virulent wheat disease could destroy most of the world’s main wheat crops, leaving millions to starve. The fungus has spread from Africa to Iran, and may already be in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain food security in a world beset by a confluence of "peak" phenomena, namely peak oil, peak water, peak phosphorus, peak grain and peak fish. Growing populations, falling energy sources and food shortages will create the "perfect storm" by 2030, according to the UK government chief scientist. He said food reserves are at a 50-year low but the world requires 50% more energy, food and water by 2030. The world will have to produce 70% more food by 2050 to feed a projected extra 2.3 billion people and as incomes rise, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned.