We talk about rolling back our pollution production to 1990 levels, we talk about solving world poverty, we talk about reducing water use. Why don’t we talk about rolling back our population explosion? What if we rolled back the human population to 1960’s level of 3 billion? Might this not help us solve all of this? 1960 did not feel like an uninhabited world– what if we went back to that population level? I am not suggesting a war or anything, just a decrease in the same way we increased– naturally, but with determination.
It is possible that the world could sustain 3 billion people living on earth, and all of these people living the good life. Could we have the courage and the resolve to find a peaceful way to achieve this? First of all it takes discussing it.
So, for a moment, lets explore what the earth would be like with modern technology, but with 3 billion people. Lets explore what would happen if most or all of these 3 billion got to live “the good life,” or more exactly, got to live the life they wanted to live. What is the good life? Healthy food, clean water and air, good medical care, shelter, desirable professions and reasonable workdays. Time off for family and fun. I find the upper middle class life in the United States pretty desirable. What if everyone had the opportunity and choice to live that way? Could we make it work?
Reuter’s reports that the world’s middle class has not grown much since 1960, but the number and percentage of people in poverty has grown greatly. What if we could have the 3 billion people on earth be middle class and above. This would mean we would replace the haves-and-have-nots with the haves-and-have-mores.
With the current technology developments we soon will no longer need poor people to make the gadgets for the haves– we have robots coming online at a very rapid pace. I visited the Tesla factory a month ago and it is a sea of robots. There were lots of people there, but they were not doing the robot-like work– they were talking with each other and watching over the consoles. Soon our phones will also be assembled by robots, especially if the price of labor went up. People will work, but they will not have to work like robots.
We do not need poor people to toil in farms to feed us either. Some people will like to farm, which is terrific, but we will not need to import people far from their homes, pay exploitative wages and give them few citizens rights, just to grow the food for the good life. Already corn, wheat, and soy are tended mostly by machines. Fruits and vegetables can also be tended by machines if there were not people willing to pay a reasonable wage to people that choose to do this. With better technology we could illiminate most of the need for pesticides and destructive fertilizers. With better sensors we don’t need to use as much water. We can take care of the basics with machines, and leave the fun work for people, the work they choose to do. What we need to do is not have to keep growing exponentially to feed a surging population, each expecting better and better food.
Other low paid jobs can be replaced and are being replaced by machines: customer service, retail, taxi drivers, garbage removal, and the like. Good riddance. So people can live a good life without an underclass to serve them. If people want to have those jobs, they can, and they might just if people are willing to pay them enough so they could have a good life. The key is here, that they do not have to.
Why 3 billion? It is a pretty arbitrary number, but might have some things going for it. For instance, if we take the top-earning 3 billion of the current 7 billion people now, and look at the water, energy, land they use, that could be an approximation of what we might use if there were 3 billion people living the good life. We need to develop ways to conserve water and energy, and I am assuming these will continue.
World energy consumption has tripled to quadrupled since 1960. Since the population has about doubled since 1960, and the well-off use most of the energy, then we may not bring down our energy use much from current levels, but it would not rise above it.
World food production has grown since 1960, some unsustainably, and returning to 1960 level population means we would all be fed, and fed well. And we must do this with less strain on the Earth, and by having a smaller population would help.
The earth might be able to sustain 3 billion people living the good life.
How would we reduce our population?
First we have to want to. First it starts with a goal, and an explaination. This essay is my attempt to at least bring up the subject.
Each country could strive to get their population back to where it was in 1960. Each would come up with different ideas on how.
Then we need to have a way to do it. China implemented the ‘one child policy‘ in 1980 which has helped them bend their population curve. Indonesia did a program called “2 is enough” which has helped somewhat. We will need to continue these programs and spread them. Waiting for infant mortality or disease to sweep through is not a good future, we need to commit ourselves to a one child policy until we get the population back to where we think it can be.
This requires popular will and political will. Currently, most countries are not strong enough to even have the conversation much less implement it. China is the exception to the rule, not the rule. I think of what would happen to an American politician that proposed a one-child policy, or even a “two is enough” policy– probably nothing good.
So we need to start it at the popular levels, bring up the discussion. Get the meme rolling. Maybe 3 billion is not the right number, maybe it is 2 billion, maybe it is 4– but lets have the discussion.