Too many People
Americans are beginning to realize that the underdeveloped countries of the world face an inevitable population-food crisis. Each year food production in these countries falls a bit further behind burgeoning population growth, and people go to bed a little bit hungrier. While there are temporary or local reversals of this trend, it now seems inevitable that it will continue to its logical conclusion: mass starvation. The rich may continue to get richer, but the more numerous poor are going to get poorer. Of these poor, a minimum of ten million people, most of them children, will starve to death during each year of the 1970s. But this is a mere handful compared to the numbers that will be starving before the end of the century. And it is now too late to take action to save many of those people.
However, most Americans are not aware that the U.S. and other developed countries also have a problem with overpopulation. Rather than suffering from food shortages, these countries show symptoms in the form of environ- mental deterioration and increased difficulty in obtaining resources to support their affluence. . . .
Of course, population growth is not occurring uniformly over the face of the Earth. Indeed, countries are divided rather neatly into two groups: those with rapid growth rates, and those with relatively slow growth rates. The first group, making up about two-thirds of the world population, coincides closely with what are known as the "underdeveloped countries" (UDCs). The UDCs are not industrialized, tend to have inefficient agriculture, very small gross national products, high illiteracy rates and related problems. That's what UDCs are technically, but a short definition of underdeveloped is "hungry." Most Latin American, African, and Asian countries fall into this category. The second group consists of the "overdeveloped countries" (ODCs). ODCs are modern industrial nations, such as the United States, Canada, most European countries, Israel, the USSR, Japan, and Australia. They consume a disproportionate amount of the world's resources and are the major polluters. Most, but by no means all, people in these countries are adequately nourished.
Doubling times in the UDCs range around 20 to 35 years. Examples of these times (from the 1970 figures released by the Population Reference Bureau) are: Kenya, 23 years; Nigeria, 27; Turkey, 26; Indonesia, 24; Philippines, 21; Brazil, 25; Costa Rica, 19; and El Salvador, 21. Think of what it means for the population of a country to double in 25 years. In order just to keep living standards at the present inadequate level, the food available for the people must be doubled. Every structure and road must be duplicated. The amount of power must be doubled. The capacity of the transport system must be doubled. The number of trained doctors, nurses, teachers, and administrators must be doubled. This would be a fantastically difficult job in the United States a rich country with a fine agricultural system, immense industries, and access to abundant resources. Think of what it means to a country with none of these.
Remember also that in virtually all UDCs, people have gotten the word about the better life it is possible to have. They have seen colored pictures in magazines of the miracles of Western technology. They have seen automobiles and airplanes. They have seen American and European movies. Many have seen refrigerators, tractors, and even TV sets. Almost all have heard transistor radios. They know that a better life is possible. They have what we like to call "rising expectations." If twice as many people are to be happy, the miracle of doubling what they now have will not be enough. It will only maintain today's standard of living. There will have to be a tripling or better. Needless to say, they are not going to be happy.
Doubling times for the populations of the ODCs tend to be in the 50-to- 200-year range. Examples of 1970 doubling times are the United States, 70 years; Austria, 175; Denmark, 88; Norway, 78; United Kingdom, 140; Poland, 78; Russia, 70; Italy, 88; Spain, 70; and Japan, 63. These are industrialized coun- tries that have undergone the so-called demographic transitiona transition from high to low growth rates. As industrialization progressed, children became less important to parents as extra hands to work on the farm and as support in old age. At the same time they became a financial dragexpensive to raise and educate, presumably these were the reasons for a slowing of population growth after industrialization. They boil down to a simple factpeople just wanted to have fewer children.
It is important to emphasize, however, that the demographic transition does not result in zero population growth, but in a growth rate which in many of the most important ODCs results in populations doubling every seventy years or so. This means, for instance, that even if most UDCs were to undergo a demographic transition (of which there is no sign) the world would still be faced by catastrophic population growth. No growth rate can be sustained in the long run.
Saying that the ODCs have undergone a demographic transition thus does not mean that they have no population problems. First of all, most of them are already overpopulated. They are overpopulated by the simple crite- rion that they are not able to produce enough food to feed their populations. It is true that they have the money to buy food, but when food is no longer available for sale they will find the money rather indigestible. Similarly, ODCs are overpopulated because they do not themselves have the resources to support their affluent societies; they must coopt much more than their fair share of the world's wealth of minerals and energy. And they are overpopulated because they have exceeded the capacity of their environments to dispose of their wastes. Remember, overpopulation does not normally mean too many people for the area of a country, but too many people in relation to the necessities and amenities of life. Overpopulation occurs when numbers threaten values.
ODCs also share with the UDCs serious problems of population distribution. Their urban centers are getting more and more crowded relative to the countryside. This problem is not as severe in ODCs as it is in the UDCs (if current trends should continue, which they cannot, Calcutta would have 66 million inhabitants in the year 2000), but they are very serious and speedily worsening. In the United States, one of the more rapidly growing ODCs, we hear constantly of the headaches related to growing cities: not just garbage in our environment, but overcrowded highways, burgeoning slums, deteriorating school systems, rising tax and crime rates, riots, and other social disorders. Indeed, social and environmental problems not only increase with growing population and urbanization, they tend to increase at an even faster rate. Adding more people to an area increases the damage done by each individual. Doubling the population normally much more than doubles environmental deterioration.
Demographically, the whole problem is quite simple. A population will
continue to grow as long as the birth rate exceeds the death rateif immigration
and emigration are not occurring. It is, of course, the balance between
birth rate and death rate that is critical. The birth rate is the number
of births per thousand people per year in the population. The death rate
is the number of deaths per thousand people per year. Subtracting the death
rate from the birth rate, ignoring migration, gives the rate of increase.
If the birth rate is 30 per thousand per year, and the death rate is 10
per thousand per year, then the rate of increase is 20 per thousand per
year (30 - 10 = 20). Expressed as a percent (rate per hundred people),
the rate of 20 per thousand becomes 2%. If the rate of increase is 2%,
then the doubling time will be 35 years. Note that if you simply added
20 people per thousand per year to the population, it would take 50 years
to add a second thousand people (20 x 50 = 1,000). But the doubling time
is actually much less because populations grow at compound interest rates.
Just as interest dollars themselves earn interest, so people added to population
produce more people. It's growing at compound interest that makes populations
double so much more rapidly than seems possible. Look at the relationship
between the annual percent increase (interest rate) and the doubling time
of the population (time for your money to double):
|Annual percent increase||Doubling time|
. . . There are some professional optimists around who like to greet every sign of dropping birth rates with wild pronouncements about the end of the population explosion. "They are a little like a person who, after a low tempera- ture of five below zero on December 21, interprets a low of only three below on December 22 as a cheery sign of approaching spring. First of all, birth rates, along with all demographic statistics, show short-term fluctuations caused by many factors. For instance, the birth rate depends rather heavily on the number of women at reproductive age. In the United States the low birth rates of the late 1960's are being replaced by higher rates as more post World War II "baby boom" children move into their reproductive years. In Japan, 1966, the Year of the Fire Horse, was a year of very low birth rates. There is widespread belief that girls born in the Year of the Fire Horse make poor wives, and Japanese couples try to avoid giving birth in that year because they are afraid of having daughters.
But, I repeat, it is the relationship between birth rate and death rate that is most critical. Indonesia, Laos, and Haiti all had birth rates around 46 per thou- sand in 1966. Costa Rica's birth rate was 41 per thousand. Good for Costa Rica? Unfortunately, not very. Costa Rica's death rate was less than nine per thou- sand, while the other countries all had death rates above 20 per thousand. The population of Costa Rica in 1966 was doubling every 17 years, while the dou- bling times of Indonesia, Laos, and Haiti were all above 30 years. Ah, but, you say, it was good for Costa Ricafewer people per thousand were dying each year. Fine for a few years perhaps, but what then? Some 50% of the people in Costa Rica are under 15 years old. As they get older, they will need more and more food in a world with less and less. In 1983 they will have twice as many mouths to feed as they had in 1966, if the 1966 trend continues. Where will the food come from? Today the death rate in Costa Rica is low in part because they have a, large number of physicians in proportion to their population. How do you suppose those physicians will keep the death rate down when there's not enough food to keep people alive?
One of the most ominous facts of the current situation is that over 40% of the population of the underdeveloped world is made up of people under 15 years old. As that mass of young people moves into its reproductive years during the next decade, we're going to see the greatest baby boom of all time. Those youngsters are the reason for all the ominous predictions for the year 2000. They are the gunpowder for the population explosion. .. .
It is, of course, socially very acceptable to reduce the death rate. Billions of years of evolution have given us all a powerful will to live. Intervening in the birth .rate goes against our evolutionary values. During all those centuries of our evolutionary past, the individuals who had the most children passed on their genetic endowment in greater quantities than those who reproduced less. Their genes dominate our heredity today. All our biological urges are for more reproduction, and they are all too often reinforced by our culture. In brief, death control goes with the grain, birth control against it.
In summary, the world's population will continue to grow as long as
the birth rate exceeds the death rate; it's as simple as that. When it
stops growing or starts to shrink, it will mean that either the birth rate
has gone down or the death rate has gone up or a combination of the two.
Basically, then, there are gnly two kinds of solutions to the population
problem. One is a "birth rate solution," in which we find ways to lower
the birth rate. The other is a "death rate solution," in which ways to
raise the death ratewar, famine, pestilence find us. The problem could
have been avoided by population control, in which mankind consciously adjusted
the birth rate so that a "death rate solution" did not have to occur.