Sunday, August 14, 2011

The “Population Explosion”

Hunger often has more to do with political factors than the sheer number of people.

The early Christian theologian Tertullian, who argued 1,800 years ago the world’s “teeming population” was overly burdensome, and pestilence, conflict and other deadly events were a useful “remedy” to prune the overgrowth.

At the end of the 18th century, Thomas Malthus, an English clergyman and scholar, theorized population expansion would inevitably outpace society’s ability to feed itself, meaning famine and disease would sooner or later bring the boom to a halt.

Paul Ehrlich, the Stanford University biologist whose 1968 book, The Population Bomb, became an unlikely bestseller. The swelling ranks of humankind would lead to “hundreds of millions” dying of starvation by the 1970s

In 1973 the movie Soylent Green imagined a dystopic, over-populated future where authorities feed the masses a mysterious substance that turns out to be made from other people, sacrificed for the common good when they get old.

Today, Lester Brown, founder of the environmental group Worldwatch Institute, says population growth, coupled with climate change, threatens to bring an end to global civilization unless corrective measures are urgently taken.

Global average death rates have dropped to eight per 1,000 per year, from 13 in 1970. Life expectancy has soared from 56 years to 67. Fertility rates are also dropping to below the replacement level of two children in much of the industrialized world and in emerging economies such as Brazil and China. Other regions are hovering just above that level. The problem is so bad in Russia, which may shrink by 25 million people in the next 40 years. The entire world's population could fit in the state of Texas with a population density similar to that of New York City? Granted it would be crowded, but it would leave the rest of Earth unpopulated.

A 2008 report by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization says feeding nine billion people by 2050 can be done, but would require annual private and public investments of US$83-billion on developing-world agriculture.

Joel Cohen, head of the laboratory of populations at New York’s Rockefeller University says enough grain is produced globally to feed 11 billion mouths The problem is a third is eaten by cows, pigs and other livestock — helping sate the rich world’s craving for meat— and a sixth is used for fuel, other industrial applications and seed. He advocates an end to U.S. farm subsidies that divert much of the country’s corn crop to ethanol production. “The world chooses to feed its machines and its domestic animals before it feeds its people”

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