The Population Explosion—How Much of a Threat?
WHAT has caused a population explosion in this latter part of the 20th century? It is due in part to a worldwide decline in the death rate as a result of improved medical care and economic and social conditions. Consequently, fewer babies are dying and more people are living longer. Particularly in the less developed nations, despite the decline in deaths there has not been a similar decline in births. Therefore, apart from the obvious sexual motivation, we again ask the question: Why do people have children?
● Children satisfy the innate need for parenthood. Many couples feel that their marriage is incomplete unless they have children. Children satisfy the psychological needs to have someone to love and to be loved by.
● Some religions encourage their adherents to have big families.
● In many lands children provide economic benefits to the family. They become workers in the field. Parents often rely on them for security in old age.
● Children are regarded as an extension of the parents. They carry the family’s name and cultural heritage to future generations.
● Children, in some societies especially sons, afford a social status to the family.
Obviously, then, for most people the bearing of children is an instinctive part of life.
Why the Sudden Population Explosion?
“God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it.’” Ever since this divine mandate was given, humans have been multiplying and slowly filling the earth.—Genesis 1:28.
From the earliest of times, many considered children a gift from God. Fertility and reproduction provided the basis for human welfare and security. Sons and daughters helped not only on the farm and in the house but also in legally defending the family interests. (Psalm 127:3-5) The barrenness of a woman was often regarded as a reproach and an affliction.—Genesis 30:1; 1 Samuel 1:4-11.
Therefore, population growth served as the foundation of past human progress. But now it is one of the major problems and threats to the future of mankind. Demographers (population analysts) describe the present population growth rate as the population explosion. Why?
The root of the problem lies in the way the population expands. It does not increase by simple consecutive addition (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.) but by exponential growth or multiplication (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.).
This exponential growth rate for population is a potential danger. Why? Professor J. Forrester of M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) explains: “Exponential growth is treacherous and misleading. A system variable can continue through many doubling intervals without seeming to reach significant size. But then in one or two more doubling periods . . . suddenly seems to become overwhelming.” But how does this affect world population?
Since humans began inhabiting the earth, population increased very slowly over a long period of time—until this century. For example, after 4,000 years of recorded human history in the Bible, the earth’s population grew to an estimated 300 million people by the time of Jesus Christ.
World population did not reach a billion until the early 1800’s. Now note how it escalates. By 1930, about a hundred years later, the population had doubled to 2 billion. Then, within 30 years, another billion was added to the population, reaching 3 billion in 1960. More alarmingly, by 1975, only 15 years later, the population had grown to 4 billion. And now the estimated world population stands at more than 4.6 billion. (See chart, page 8.)
What Could Happen
A modest projection indicates that the 5-billion figure will be reached by 1987. And before the turn of the century our small planet could be accommodating over 6 billion humans.
However, the annual rate of population increase since the 1950’s averages about 2 percent. At this present rate of growth, the population will double in 35 years. Thereafter, the increase in numbers would be progressively more rapid, and, if it continued, would reach perhaps 50 billion by the end of the 21st century. The entire land area of the earth could become one giant city.
If it were possible to reduce the population growth rate from 2 percent to 1 percent, would this solve the population problem? At a growth rate of 1 percent, the world’s population would double in 70 years instead of 35 years. But the problem would not be solved. It would merely be postponed.
Some demographers predict that the population will stabilize at about 15 billion (others suggest 10.5 billion) by the year 2110. They hope that improved world population control can accomplish this. Such a prediction, however, is speculative. Many complex factors and variables are involved.
For example, in highly industrialized nations, such as the United States, the overall growth rate has been lower than in nonindustrialized nations. However, recently a new baby boom began in the United States. The February 22, 1982, issue of Time magazine reports:
“Indeed, the U.S. birth rate is the highest it has been in more than a decade. After dropping as low as 14.5 (babies per 1,000 population), the rate climbed to 16.2 in 1980 and is expected to hit 17.1 this year. Such a rise is more than just a blip on the demography charts. It has portentous overtones.”
But the overtones are not just “portentous” for the United States; the world population explosion represents a threat because of its multiple effects earth wide. What are some of these effects?
Effects of Overcrowding
Many laboratory tests on animals show that when their population density is low, their numbers increase rapidly. But as the animal density increases beyond a certain point, abnormal behavior becomes apparent. Eventually their social order breaks down.
For example, the tests performed by Dr. John B. Calhoun on Norwegian rats are informative: Even though the rats had sufficient food and medical care, as their cages became increasingly crowded, some males became more aggressive in behavior, such as engaging in sexual overactivity and even eating the young, while other males became completely passive and withdrew from the colony. In the female rats there was a sharp rise in abortion and death during pregnancy, and some failed to nurse their young or to take care of them.
Such pathological behavior of animals when their population density is increased causes some to speculate on human behavior under similar circumstances. They feel that there is a higher incidence of mental disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime and suicide in overcrowded areas. This pattern was also observed in certain housing areas, refugee camps, factories, classrooms and the like where conditions became overcrowded.
Today about 75 percent of the world’s population live in the underdeveloped nations. About 40 percent live in extreme poverty. In addition, the less developed countries have the highest birth rates in the world.
Can we expect a dwindling in the number of people living in poverty? No, according to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. It predicts that by the year 2110 about 90 percent of the population will live in what are now the underdeveloped countries. What does this portend?
As the population explosion continues, political and economic pressures may rise enormously in many nations. A population that multiplies to the point of famine is faced with starving to death or being forced to migrate or to invade someone else’s territory. This could invite political instability and increase the chances of revolution, aggression or armed conflict.
Already there is a new wave of international migration from the poorer countries to the more affluent. This poses many dilemmas for the governments involved. The recent expulsion of hundreds of thousands of aliens from Nigeria illustrates this point. Yet can people be blamed for migrating when they know other countries have food or resources they themselves lack?
It is reported that a person born in the rich industrialized countries will consume during his lifetime 20 to 40 times as much as a person born in Africa, Asia or Latin America. This not only puzzles but also irritates many deprived people. They desire a share of the wealth seen in developed countries. So it appears that the powerful migration waves are certain to continue.
Disturbing are the conclusions reached by a team of U.S. experts. Their recent explorative study of the present world situation states: “If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits of growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.”
No Easy Solution
Solving the thorny problem of nuclear weapons seems easier than finding the correct solution to overpopulation. Mutual fear of destruction may deter nations from starting nuclear war, but who can stop people from having children?
Would the fear of food shortages, lack of housing or economic crisis discourage them? Today, the population increase is the highest in the nations where food is scarce, housing limited, economic activity stalled and sanitation pitifully lacking.
Some may propose that, in order to relieve the pressure, older people should not live so long. Yet what child would willingly put his parents or grandparents to death for the sake of world population equilibrium?
The editors of Great Decisions 1973 raise further questions in the search for a remedy: “Is it true that growth must end sooner or later on this finite planet? . . . If it is, do we have the political will to initiate and accept the tough decisions required to achieve equilibrium? . . . If survival is at stake, can decisions be left in private hands? If not, is world government the answer?”—Italics ours.
An editorial in the Belgian newspaper La Nouvelle Gazette on how to avoid a nuclear war also presents a clue to the solution for overpopulation. It states: “The only remedy would be a major relinquishment of sovereignty by each country . . . in favor of a world government.”—Italics ours.
Is one world government for all the earth really possible? Who could be trusted to form such a government and to administer it successfully? How can we be sure it would provide a fair solution to the problem of population explosion? The following article answers such pressing questions.
[Graph/Picture on page 8]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Modern growth in world population
[Picture on page 5]
Earth’s entire land area could become one giant city
[Picture on page 6]
Overcrowding may lead to abnormal behavior
[Picture on page 7]
The population explosion contributes to famine