Post No.: 0574
On the subject of trying to predict what the world’s human population will be in the year 2100, we looked at one hypothesis in Post No.: 0565 that stated that it’ll naturally stabilise at around 11 billion people if global poverty rates continue to consistently fall…
But other research estimates that the populations of some countries will shrink and actually halve by 2100. This level of decline will only be in some countries, such as China, Japan, Italy and Spain; while other countries, mainly in Africa, will continue to see rising numbers. Nonetheless, would a rapid population shrink be good for the environment?
Economic growth is actually more adversely impacting upon the environment than population growth i.e. people consuming more on average per head more strongly correlates with a negative impact upon the environment than population growth – at least with the way the global economy works and how people live or want to live right now.
And we don’t want a rapid shrink in numbers because there’ll be a demographic imbalance and the problem of sustaining an economy with lots of elderly and retired people compared to young and working people; although people will live longer healthy years too and could work for longer before retirement. We also don’t want to reverse women’s reproductive rights and start forcing women to bear more children rather than concentrate on their careers if that’s what they want.
Fertility rates, death rates and migration determine an individual country’s population trend. Individual countries will vary, so some countries will continue to experience a population rise while others will see a shrink, if they’re not already. Net local emigrations and low fertility rates mean that some places in the world are experiencing a population shrink, but in this post we’re overall more concerned about the net global population and considering the environmental more than economic impact of a rise or shrink, for which migration will make no difference unless people are leaving the planet altogether! And that study published in The Lancet in 2020 suggested that the global population will still rise overall in 2100 compared to today. (It’s predicted to rise to a peak of ~10 billion people around the middle of the century but shrink to ~9 billion by the end.)
Well there could always be the possibility of a major worldwide population decline as a self-correction to over-population – if a population size becomes truly unsustainable then it must eventually collapse to a level that’s sustainable. If so, the way this will happen could be during a single major event, such as fresh water sources that normally sustain large populations suddenly depleting after an extremely hot summer, or a variety of factors adding up. It might happen relatively smoothly due to people having fewer children or it might happen violently due to competition or war for limited resources, or a pandemic or famine.
Yet an economic or natural disaster or war usually gets people to start having more children because uncertainty drives up fertility – couples generally want at least one or two of their own children surviving, and to increase those odds they’ll feel they need to have more children. However, times of uncertainty can instead drive down fertility – many young couples in the ‘Global North’ have been delaying having children under the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether this was just a short-term trend and whether it might even rebound and then some afterwards or not is currently unknown though.
Larger populations can create greater economies. As populations increase, the mixing and bouncing off of ideas and skills, the ability to work in larger teams and the economies of scale are amplified, often exponentially. But there comes a point when population sizes will become too much of a drain on limited planetary resources. When resources are stretched beyond their limits, a shrink or reduction in population size will allow those who remain to better prosper. This strategy is called ‘shrink and prosper’ i.e. limited resources don’t have to be spread out so thinly amongst a smaller number of people, hence a smaller number of people can have more to themselves each. This is why some believe that we should still actively intervene to directly control the population.
Or if we don’t reduce the human population – or concurrently with doing so – we might have to reduce our protein and calorie consumption per head. Some people consider this ‘reventropy’ or ‘reversing entropy’, as they call it, as a global mission. (As a note, entropy can be possibly locally reversed in an open system.)
Proponents of this mission argue that more massive people are worse for the environment than less massive people because they consume more food, space and other resources without offering more because they function the same in the modern world. Bigger people aren’t generally smarter or less smart, the correlation between obesity or height and being physically stronger is hardly reliable, they’re not generally kinder or less kind, better or worse people, and so on. But they take up more food, space and other stuff.
There’s no problem being lighter or smaller in the modern world – people can invent and use their brains to overcome any problems e.g. use a ladder! Smaller people can always use ingenuity to make themselves larger but larger people cannot trim their own limbs down to make themselves smaller. Brains definitely beat brawn overall – the current success of the human species is down to brains rather than brawn (and people will need to employ brains again to try to solve this environmental problem in a peaceful and productive way). There’s no problem being smaller even in modern combat because people don’t fight like cavepeople with sticks and spears anymore – not that people should fight at all. People basically shouldn’t think like cavepeople anymore because we live in a different environment and have learnt so much more since e.g. women aren’t the inferior gender despite being on average lighter and smaller.
Meanwhile, more massive people are heavier on planes and other vehicles, which uses up more fuel and increases tyre and mechanical wear. They need more farmland to feed, and produce more waste and pollution per head on average. Larger people are basically less efficient beings overall.
With just about every technology, we seek greater efficiency as we refine their designs, and this usually means making things smaller and lighter. Yet many humans want to be taller because they think this infers status (which is a superficial proxy for a deeper trait), or want to eat as much as they want hence rising obesity levels. Many men in particular would like to be more muscular, which obviously requires a lot of daily protein and calories. It’s another case of humans individually wanting more of something that’ll harm them all collectively in the long run. People want to live more inefficient lives because they want to personally hoard and use more resources (greed) and live more comfortable (lazy and luxurious) lifestyles.
Height is not only determined by one’s genes but one’s environment – especially the amount of nutrition one receives during the early years of one’s life. And how obese one becomes has a genetic component too but it’s far more down to one’s environment, upbringing and lifestyle. It’s important that no child goes malnourished though, and height can be an indicator of childhood malnourishment.
If we only had the resources to raise 120kg of humans then it’d be arguably better to have two 60kg people than one 120kg person – the former can together physically lift up to ~360kg above their heads at once whilst the latter can only lift up to ~240kg, if everyone were elite weightlifters. This is the effect of physics and why individuals working together usually become greater than the mere sum of their fluffy parts.
Okay, it’s not as simple as taking the same amount of energy and space to raise and accommodate two 60kg people compared to one 120kg person because it doesn’t – one 60kg adult male requires maybe 2,350 calories per day and one 120kg adult male requires maybe 3,600 calories per day, hence two 60kg people would consume about 30% more calories than one 120kg person. Albeit we shouldn’t forget that there are two people compared to one i.e. one 120kg person still consumes about 50% more calories than one 60kg person.
But if the two lighter people can together lift 50% more weight above their heads whilst only consuming 30% more calories than the one heavier person, it’s still a gain for the former. And it’s not just physical – two people also have twice the brains and thrice the options. There’s one person working alone, the other person working alone, and both working together; although you could also have both persons fighting each other too to cancel out the latter option(!)
Anyway, the point here isn’t about the preference of having two lighter people instead of every one heavy person but to show that one large person is less efficient than one small person. But even if the mathematics and theory makes sense, there’s still a question of how to make such a global mission work in practice? It shouldn’t really be about penalising people for being tall, or for even becoming overweight, but for everyone to not exceed their ‘allowed’ consumption of resources per head. Perhaps people in more active jobs will be allowed more rations? I’m not sure what advocates of reventropy seek for in practice or how it can be policed because it could turn out to be quite dystopian rather than utopian.
Some proclaim that it’s selfish to reach a certain age but not want children – but it’s counter-arguably becoming more selfish to have children in this increasingly over-populated world. We don’t need to be anti-natalist though – just more sustainable. And we don’t need to be discriminatory, such as contending that it’s the poor who must have fewer children. A family of 12 from a ‘developing’ country may still consume fewer resources than a family of 3 from a ‘developed’ country, hence it could be flipped to contend that, if it’s more ethical to cull the fewest number of people required then it’s more ethical to cull the richest and greediest consumers! So best to not go along the lines of discrimination or the logic might possibly work against you! And the poor aren’t ‘weak genetic stock’ otherwise they wouldn’t be alive despite living in such tough conditions – perhaps the rich need to be tested to see if they’re truly ‘strong genetic stock’ by getting them to live in equivalently tough ‘hard knock life’ conditions for at least a decade too?!
Likewise, to incentivise middle-class people to have more children because this ‘smart and go-getting’ demographic group are having less children than other groups (partly precisely due to middle-class women concentrating on their careers) would still be a eugenics-based stance because eugenics concerns attempting to shape who should breed more (positive eugenics), as well as who should breed less (negative eugenics). Eugenics isn’t only about wanting certain types of people to breed less.
However it’ll happen, the population size will naturally self-correct – but we’d rather it not be violently or tragically, but peacefully, civilly and cooperatively, which might mean some kind of direct intervention. But indeed, any plan to control population numbers from above could end up dystopian. Yet perhaps efforts to keep the global population stable don’t have to mean things like forced sterilisation programmes or one/two-child policies (which likely bring unspeakable side-effects such as selective infanticide) – it can mean things like improving education (especially for girls) and access to contraception.
Woof! By using the Twitter comment button below, you can share your thoughts about this very tricky subject too. Do you think ‘shrink and prosper’, ‘reventropy’ or some other deliberate action are worthy ideas? We can implement a desirable action through our own personal choice – but will we choose it ourselves?