Countdown – Too many people to sustain long term

I watched a fascinating interview with Alan Weisman, the author of the book “Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth” the other day in which he said environmentalists are failing to talk about the major problem we face as a planet which is having too many people to sustain life. I have written before about how many people our earth could sustain and the answer varies based on how much we consume – if we consume like the average Rwandan we could support over 15 billion; however, if we consume like the average North American it is under 3 billion. With our current population of 7 billion, Weisman believes we need to plan our way down toward the smaller number. The following is a link to a Los Angeles Time article on the book.

He noted the big reason we have so many people is we have created chemically leveraged ways of growing more food. Yet, even with that people are starving. Further, the chemicals are now being seen as harmful to the environment and our resources. But, it is not just the food – it is the water which is the “new oil” per Steven Solomon’s book called “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” as well as our other limited resources. So, in his mind, we have to manage the decline of our population to survive.

He cites a good example in his book where Iran used extremely reasonable means to curb their population growth and did so in a non-coercive manner. The Iranian approach was even more effective than China’s one child per family mandate. After the revolution in 1979, Iran was soon invaded by Iraq. To stave off the Iraqis, more children were needed, so families were encouraged to have more. Once the Iraqis were pushed back, the leaders saw they had far too many people and that would cause unrest. So, the leaders convinced the Ayatollah of the problem so he issued a four-part edict that made much sense and has been successful:

1) Beyond a replacement number of offspring for the family, it is more than OK to use contraception.

2) Contraception was made readily available to Iranian citizens.

3) Pre-marital counseling on the cost of raising children was made mandatory.

4) Girls were encouraged to stay in school and get an education.

This last point is vital as data indicates the better educated the family, the fewer children they tend to have. He also noted in the area around the Vatican resides some of the more educated females per capita and they have a very low birth rate.

I have not read Weisman’s book yet, but look forward to doing so. But, I think his message speaks loudly to all of us. If we are going to sustain ourselves on this planet of ours, we need to factor in population planning along with our environmental planning. We need to have a more manageable and sustainable population.