Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ramblings on population growth

Global population growth has been a hot topic recently, for example, with this Economist article arguing that birth control should be considered an effective "green" technology.

I especially like this quote from the above article:
Sir Julian Huxley, the first director-general of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation when it was established in 1945, remarked that death control made birth control a moral imperative.

Getting back to the idea of birth control as a green technology, well, it's not new. I don't have the source, but some Chinese spokesman presenting at some UN environment protection conference has recently remarked that, of all world countries, China's contribution to environment protection has been the greatest, with its one-child-per-family policy preventing more than 400 million births since the 1970s. I'm quoting from memory, but it's a pretty darn good argument which should hopefully make all those people condemning China for insufficient attention to the environment a bit more humble. Compared to the kind of environmental impact that 400 million extra people translate to, we really have to admit that there's no other country which has done so much for the environment.

National Geographic ran a feature on population growth a few months ago -- it's a nice sensationalist topic to run a feature on these days. The problem is, everybody who writes on this subject says things like "in the next X years, we will need to increase food production tenfold to meet the projected demand". To give justice to the NG article, it does mention Thomas Malthus and his simple, brilliant idea that population, that grows exponentially, will always be limited by food production, which grows linearly or in the best case polynomially -- but it doesn't go into the grimy details of exactly what this means.

I mean, nobody wants to write, "in the next X years, we have to drive global population growth rate down to 0 and, potentially, negative numbers". It is much nicer to write with a troubled expression on one's face, "in the next X years, we have to increase food production tenfold". Yeah right, good luck with that, especially once you discover that by doing that you've just dug out an even bigger pit for yourself.

I say, we need to have a serious, non-emotional discussion about our global attitudes to reproductive policies and, having done that, abandon for good the cute-and-furry notion of "reproductive rights". There's no such thing outside the social context, and it's about time we start talking about it.


  1. Я предлагаю начать серьёзную дискуссию о введении обязательной эвтаназии санфранцискских пенсионеров, потому что увеличивающееся потребление ресурсов связано в первую очередь не с глобальным увеличением рождаемости (она-то как раз падает), а с глобальным увеличением продолжительности жизни. В первую очередь, эвтаназию надо вводить, конечно, в богатых странах. И надо бы отказаться наконец от прекраснодушного представления о "праве на жизнь".
    А если серьёзно - вот, рекомендую почитать
    и потом ещё
    И "Общую теорию роста населения" Капицы:

  2. Вместо написанного санфранцискских следует читать санфранцисских.