I think, therefore I harm
How many humans could the Earth sustain? You may have heard that question often during your life, but have you ever heard the answer?
That question is not new. In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus, a British cleric and scholar, published An Essay on the Principle of Population. At a time when European population mainly perceived human civilization as being in perpetual improvement, his essay was received with controversy. But soon, it was considered an influential work, so much that the Census Act was enacted in 1800, leading to a census of the British population every ten years beginning in 1801. Today, 73 countries produce a census of their population, accounting for approximately 98% of the world population.
While the people generally saw an ever growing and ever improving civilization, Robert Malthus rather questioned the limit of our planet. He envisioned that the human race was deemed to grow, until a point at which it would exhaust the resources that the Earth could provide, and exterminate itself through famine and starvation.
Robert Malthus was not the first person to raise the question though. Around 200 AD, Tertullian wrote that we were pushing the limits of the world, as the people were already fighting for resources. He thought that hunger and war were necessary in order to prune the population and maintain it to an acceptable level. It is estimated that the world population back then was about 200 million.
Our species, Homo sapien, appeared about 200,000 years ago. However, for the largest part of our history, we were very low in number. Because of different circumstances, we only boomed at the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, at which point our population quickly rose to one million individuals. Nearly 500 cities today have a population of more than one million. The human population reached the first billion around in the early 1800s. By 1950, it had reached 2.5 billion, and it was estimated at 6 billion in 2000. As I write this, we have just reached 7 billion. So what is the limit?
Many modern scientists evaluated this question, and 10 billion humans appear to be a reasonable limit. This, however, considers a perfect world. We give up on meat and eat only grain, maximizing the little space left to grow food. It also assumes that we stop our current trend toward overconsumption and that we learn to make better use of our resources. I assume that this figure also doesn’t take into account the rest of the life representatives around us, sacrificing any flora and fauna that we don’t directly need. The fact is, we don’t know how many people our planet can sustain, but a mere glance at our world suggests that we have already outreached that limit.
Oh! we will not die off. Robert Malthus’ dark future, predicted for around 1950, will no occur. We have a strong mechanism in effect that will protect us from our own damnation: Nature. As the population of rabbits decreases, so does the population of foxes. As the number of predators is reduced, the rabbits go through a period of fast expansion and the foxes return. The same way, those of us who can’t eat will die, and there will be plenty of food again for the stronger ones. This cycle will go on, and on, and on, as it always did.
Our planet can only produce so much food, and can only produce such food off unpopulated land. Our economy have prevented us from growing over capacity. As the resources become scarce, prices go up, following the rule of supply and demand. As a resource becomes rare, the price for that resource increases, pushing the demand downward. We can let go of some resources, but who could argue being able to live without food? The rapid inflation in prices for food will prevent our species from dying off. Those remaining, however, will not be able to claim any comfort.
The United Nations recently proposed that our population would cap in between 9 and 10 billion individuals, and would then remain stable at that number. Unfortunately, this will not be without suffering. As the net population of the planet increases, so does the number of people dying of starvation. We claim to have risen above nature, should we really let nature be our monitor?
For too many centuries, and in the hope of gaining more power from a larger population, nations and religions encouraged quick and effective reproduction. We have to stop that trend.
I am not suggesting that we immediately stop procreating, nor that any currently pregnant woman undergo an abortion. As a libertarian, I would be the very last person to ever suggest that any government should intervene in our decision to procreate. I am proposing that we, as people, think a little more before putting new people into this world.
Do you really want to take care of a little baby? Do you have the means, both physically and financially, to raise a baby into a fulfilled adult? Then the question is really only your will. However, if your condition would make it a challenge, leave that to others. Don’t be egoist, think of the child’s happiness, not yours. By all means, do not fall for government or social pressure. You are a human, not just any animal, and procreating is not the meaning of your life.
Before you take the final decision to raise a child, please have a thought for the thousands of babies currently waiting to be adopted by loving parents, both locally and internationally. Adopting is not a failure, it is the most human-like decision that you could ever take. The steps involved may be painful, but between you and I, so is giving birth.