In recent issues, Analog editor Stanley Schmidt has been on a witch-hunt over overpopulation. Not sure what touched this off in his mind, but it seems that he’s bought into the Malthusian view that we are in immanent danger of exceeding the “carrying capacity” of the planet. Of course, Thomas Malthus was wrong. And so was Paul Ehrlich in the mid-twentieth century with his book, The Population Bomb.
If you do the math, you realize that if you give every man, woman, and child on the planet 1/8th acre of land, the entire world population could fit in the state of Texas, with room to spare, leaving the rest of the world untouched. Of course, that’s not a viable situation, but it provides a good view of just how rare humans are on this planet.
Of course, according to the United Nations, our population growth rate is declining, and has been since 1963. Some even predict that the human population on Earth will crest and start decreasing. And there is some hope for that, as this UN report predicts, by 2050, most countries will have started down the path of declining birth rates, with a large percentage of the world at or even below replacement rates. As cultures become more prosperous, initially there’s a population explosion as improved health and nutrition lead to longer lives, then the birth rate falls, ultimately to below maintenance levels. So world prosperity may save us from overpopulating the planet.
In the latest editorial in the May 2008 issue, Stanley raises the concern about wasting resources caused by increasing prosperity. He has some idea that some level of improved lifestyle is good for us, but at some point he thinks it becomes over-consumption. My question, who’s he to judge?
He also assumes that societies that consume more create more waste. That fits the rich liberal model, but does it fit with reality? The per capita production of solid waste is higher in Mexico than in the U.S. Why should that be? Well, lets look at something simple. When I go to the store and buy the “over-packaged” boneless chicken breasts, the factory that butchered and packaged the chickens, used those parts that are not edible for other uses, such as dog food, meaning it didn’t end up in the waste stream. Now in the third world country, when the family goes to the market and buys the live chicken–unpackaged–they butcher the chicken and the inedible parts end up in the waste stream, as they have no realistic way to make use of it.
Perhaps Mr. Schmidt needs to do some more careful research before running off on ideas emplanted in his mind back in his college days that may not have been accurate then, and are not accurate now.