From GENE LOGSDON
One of the most frequent comments I hear in private conversation is that there are “too damned many people” on earth. Publicly however you will not win any popularity contests or get elected to public office if you say that. After all, if one believes there are too many people on earth, one should discourage more children and who wants to do that. Or if you think there are too many people, start the elimination process with yourself.
The plain fact of the matter is that hardly anyone, unfortunately, really believes that the carrying capacity of the earth is limited. We think that we will always find a way to increase that capacity when necessary. When one looks at the millions of acres out there not used for anything except lawns and roadsides and “recreational open spaces”, it is hard to disagree. But I think that “carrying capacity” should not be defined only in terms of actual amounts of food, fiber and fuel that the earth can provide. People don’t live on bread alone as we say. I think that humans can’t live in peace if they are confined too much. How much is too much no one seems to know, but when people get too crowded, they start killing each other just like rats will.
One of my favorite books is “Farmers Of Forty Centuries” because it shows how much more food can be raised per acre on small, organic, labor-intensive garden farms than with today’s chemicals, machines and genetic manipulation. What China, and Asia in general, has been doing for centuries in terms of what we call backyard food production is phenomenal. But what I failed to see, at first, was the dark side of this equation. The more food the Chinese produced, the faster their population grew. Increasing production did not solve the problem but only accelerated population growth. Their super-productivity in farming was always just one step ahead of famine. Chinese history is one horrid genocidal massacre after another in the last two centuries. In between the genocides, natural disasters killed millions more because of concentrations of population. This is why China finally tried to limit family size by law. Righteous people from all over criticized them, but the Chinese aren’t savage beasts who hate children. They have just, in desperation, concluded that there is no other way out of regular episodes of genocide and famine. They were such good farmers that their country kept starving to death.
Thomas Friedman had a thought-provoking article in the New York Times recently (Sunday, May 19) in which he suggested that the civil war in Syria is being caused more by drouth and the subsequent breakdown of traditional farming than by despotic government. The government gets blamed for not doing something about it but not even Assad can make it rain.
Freidman gives numerous examples and quotes numerous sources all of which point to the fact that there are too damn many people in the world, but he never says that and I can hardly blame him. Once you do say that, you can be accused of encouraging more genocide. You know as well as I do that there are a lot of people involved in the Syrian mess who are secretly saying that since people will not willingly quit having so many babies, genocide is the only answer to social stability.
Friedman points out how the breakdown of farming sent millions of Syrians off the land and into the cities. The unrest that exploded was as much about crowded living conditions, not enough jobs, and loss of cultural identity as about food shortages. There is a limit to how many people can live peacefully in the same place and part of the sustenance that we refer to when talking about carrying capacity is more than about food. It is about space. That’s what’s behind the worldwide issue of immigration too.
If you had to make a guess, how much space do you think a human needs to keep the kind of peace society needs to thrive? If every human had an acre of land to call his or her own, and population never exceeded that spatial requirement, would we finally experience peace on earth? I am being simplistic of course because an acre of rich Iowa farmland is different than an acre next to an Alaskan iceberg. And keeping a certain amount of space for everyone would quickly become a nightmare. So Mom and Dad have two acres. They have a child. That means they must have three acres. All their neighbors are in the same situation. Then what?