The Earth Cannot Support Six Billion People Essay

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The Earth Cannot Support Six Billion People

The United Nations Population Division estimates that the human population will number six billion on October 12th, 2000. For those of us born approximately a quarter-century ago, that colossal number is two billion more than the four billion that inhabited the Earth when we entered it. Moreover, it represents a doubling of the population in less than forty years.

Most of us, however, have little grounding for such mind-boggling numbers. Most of us literally cannot conceptualize numbers of this magnitude, when it's a struggle in itself to keep track of the number of digits. Most of us in our everyday lives have no need to conceive of such vast amounts of anything.

Yet
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Since disaster is not a commonly sought future, most people aware of the numbers recognize that humans have a population problem. In the 'developed' world, however, we seem to feel that we are not the source of the problem, and therefore have neither responsibility nor capability to alleviate this predicament. Most of us happily go on with our lives, believing that the problem is the rapid growth that is occurring in the 'developing' world.

And yet the predicament is twofold: a problem of numbers, and a problem of per capita impact. Granted, 'developed' nations--and some 'developing' ones--have greatly slowed their population growth. However, because of demographic inertia, even after couples start having only enough children to replace themselves, the population continues to grow for decades: this is because the number of people of child-bearing age will grow yearly until a full generation after the attainment of 'mere replacement'. If we are pushing the limits with the numbers we have now, we will be pushing them more after demographic inertia: we would be risking catastrophe to grow on top of that. Fortunately, in the 'developed' world, we seem to have learned this lesson, as many nations are at or below the fertility level for replacement (see http://www.undp.org/popin/popin.htm and http://www.census.gov/pub/ipc/www/idbnew.html).

But growth is only one side

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