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October 16, 2006 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Tomorrow morning at 7:46am, the US Population Clock will hit 300 million. As the world population continues to grow at a similar rate to ours, perhaps its time to start asking some questions. After all, if you can read this post, chances are you don't live in Africa, where "more than 2,500 children are dying each day," simply for lack of access to fresh drinking water. Its so easy not to worry about when you're not the 1 in 5 who can't get a clean drink. But there's lots of ways you can help.
posted by allkindsoftime (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
There is plenty of water. It just has salt in it.

Cheap power=cheap desalination=plentiful water. We're almost there.

I would consider the salty oceans sufficient reason to deny Intelligent Design. Why would God cover 75% of the earth with water that his prized creation (man) can't use?
posted by Ynoxas at 9:26 AM on October 16, 2006


What an awesomely massive derail. I bet this thread goes great.
posted by ChasFile at 9:31 AM on October 16, 2006


The rest of the world does not continue to grow at a similar rate to America. North America is expected to have about 105% our current population in five years, and most of that is in Mexico. Africa is expected to have about 111% the current population. Asia, 106%. Europe, 99%. The connection between problems in the developing world and population in the developed world is one of sharp contrast, not similarity.
posted by scottreynen at 9:32 AM on October 16, 2006


You know, there seem to always be a lot of different impending catastrophes to worry about. Makes you wonder how we ever lasted this long.

I sure hope there is never a movement where the underlying principle is that there are too many brown people and some of them should just disappear somehow, and a world government should be in charge of who gets to drink water.
posted by b1ff at 9:33 AM on October 16, 2006


Obese people outnumber the world's malnourished.

Sure looks like a Malthusian crisis to me.
posted by stbalbach at 9:37 AM on October 16, 2006


Previously:
Why does nobody take population growth seriously?
October 4, 2005 12:26 PM

The Global Baby Bust
December 28, 2004 7:00 PM EST
The Baby Bust thread is great!
posted by Chuckles at 9:42 AM on October 16, 2006


Isn't the USA the only major, western nation that can maintain it's own population through domestic births? I think pretty much everyone else needs immigrants to keep their numbers level, much less growing.

The real question is why the USA is the only country in the world that doesn't follow the trend of increased enducation leading to lower birthrates. Seriously. Germany and France would love to know what the heck y'all are doing.
posted by GuyZero at 9:49 AM on October 16, 2006


Overpopulation is a completely solved problem. Educate people, particularly women, and they stop having so many babies. That's it. That's the solution.
posted by Justinian at 9:59 AM on October 16, 2006


And I see GuyZero already mentioned that. Damn you, my nemesis! Damn you!
posted by Justinian at 9:59 AM on October 16, 2006


chasfile: my apologies. I didn't mean it as a derail, just an aside.

Fresh water availability is of course a huge concern, but the secret is not supply, as there is enough water in the oceans to last even aggressive demand for millenia.

The trick is to work on providing cheap/reliable/renewable energy to drive the desalination plants.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:32 AM on October 16, 2006


Overpopulation is a completely solved problem. Educate people ...

We'll see if anyone figures out how to actually apply that solution while it's still possible to grow enough food for everyone. Global grain stocks are now at their lowest level since 1981, in part due to the drought in Australia.

Speaking of renewable energy: The 2007 corn harvest in the US now estimated to be around 11.1 billion bushels, but between 20 and 25 per cent of the US corn crop will be consumed by the ethanol industry and up to 35 per cent in 2008, which will put growing upward pressure on prices.
posted by sfenders at 10:51 AM on October 16, 2006


GuyZero: Germany and France would love to know what the heck y'all are doing.
Actually, France is enjoying some sort of baby boom right now, with a fertility rate much higher than those of other EU countries (Ireland excepted).
posted by elgilito at 11:11 AM on October 16, 2006 [2 favorites]


Because Ynoxas, God filled the oceans with his tears.
posted by Flashman at 11:12 AM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Talking about overpopulation is a total diversion from real problems, like overconsumption and inequality. It's what Justinian said:

Overpopulation is a completely solved problem. Educate people, particularly women, and they stop having so many babies. That's it. That's the solution.

Speaking of real problems. Water supply: NOT the real problem --
* too many people => not enough water

Water supply: YES, the real problems --
* agriculture using water inefficiently
* more profit from irrigating export crops than from giving people drinking water
* industries using lots of water (semiconductors, eg)
* pollution of water sources
* the poor always getting screwed
posted by salvia at 11:36 AM on October 16, 2006


Great link elgilito! The article implies some very interesting things about modern western society.
posted by Chuckles at 11:50 AM on October 16, 2006


Overpopulation is a completely solved problem. Educate people, particularly women, and they stop having so many babies. That's it. That's the solution.

Errr ... not really, no. Education is certainly correlated with reduced birth rate, but it's not a causal relationship. The cause for both is increased social complexity.

The First World is vastly more complex than the Third. It takes twenty years of education, both formalized and non-formalized, to take a child from birth and make it a viable member of First World society. This includes not just marketable skills, but the basic knowledge to be conversant in our society. We teach high school kids Shakespeare not because they'll necessarily need to recite the Bard working on the factory floor, but because we want to have a basic expectation that a literary allusion like Lady Macbeth washing her hands will be basically understood. The more complex a society becomes, the larger the body of "basic expected information" becomes. When a child does eventually become viable, as part of a neolocal society, they separate and go off on their own as soon as they start bringing in a return. So in purely economic terms, children in the First World are expensive, and the return is almost entirely sentimental.

Compare this to the Third World. With less complexity, a child is economically viable at an extremely young age. At three or four, a child can help on the farm. He's no longer an economic burden, but an asset. It takes less to educate that child to a viable level in that society. The cost is much lower. At the same time, these are patrilocal societies. The kids stay at home, and continue providing for the family. The return is extremely high. Children are good investments. In places so poor, that kind of good investment can be the difference between eating well, and starvation. In Mali, the richest men are the ones with the most children. Educate kids in the Third World, and all you've taught them is how important it is for them to have a lot of kids—unless, of course, you're educating them to join a more complex part of society, say as professionals. Then, again, it's not the education, but the complexity. You've reduced the return a child brings.

Now for the kicker. Our level of complexity is dependent on theirs. You can't just raise the whole world to American levels of complexity. We can't pay for the full cost of our society. That's why we externalize our costs. We exchange corn and wheat grown in the Great Plains, and in return, we turn the Third World into a big cash crop field to grow our coffee, cotton, and everything else we need to live the way we do. If we made the Third World as complex as us, we would have nowhere to externalize our costs, no one to pick up our tab. We'd need to give up our own way of life. In short, we'd just switch places.

If you want to reduce population, you need to reduce food supply. Population is, was, and ever shall be a function of food supply. Everything else is just a question of allocation: where will the food come from, where will the population grow, and how will it get from point A to point B.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:58 AM on October 16, 2006


Also, oh man, that BBC link brings up the Ogallala Aquifer, the one under Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas. In 1995, for geology class, I read some planning document from the 80s about that reservoir. They specifically said "we know we are using water faster than it replenishes, so we have to pick a date for the water to run out. Let's pick... 2020." This alarmed me at the time. But now I'm embittered. I don't want to hear any whining when those three states run out of water in 2020 because that was the plan they decided on. It was the most ignorant, short-sighted, stupid thing I'd ever heard, especially when you know how inefficient some agriculture irrigation practices are -- but remember, no complaining, no acting surprised -- the plan is to run out. No more groundwater for the central U.S. as of 2020. From then on, rain only.

Meanwhile in California, agriculture uses 80% of the state's water, and alfalfa irrigation alone uses one out of every five gallons of water. And farmers in the Central Valley Project, their per gallon costs for water are 2% of urban water drinkers'. So, at least here, drinking water supply is not the problem -- it's the decisions we make about how to allocate that water.
posted by salvia at 12:02 PM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


...and just yesterday, my dad was talking about how Mexican immigrants were out-breeding 'us'.
posted by LordSludge at 12:05 PM on October 16, 2006


Speaking of renewable energy: The 2007 corn harvest in the US now estimated to be around 11.1 billion bushels, but between 20 and 25 per cent of the US corn crop will be consumed by the ethanol industry and up to 35 per cent in 2008, which will put growing upward pressure on prices.

I am curious if the combines and tractors used to harvest this renewable energy are themselves running on E85 ethanol. Are the trucks carrying tanks of E85 to the station running on ethanol?
posted by mattbucher at 12:16 PM on October 16, 2006


I, for one, welcome my other 299,999,999 brethren.
posted by hal9k at 12:23 PM on October 16, 2006


Quick, back of the envelope, guesses on how to fix agricultural output:

* ban popcorn in movie theaters, thereby having more corn for other purposes while also ending the problem of noisy popcorn munchers in theaters.
* ban cigarettes, thereby making it smart for tobacco producers to grow other stuff and stopping cancer production which can lead to extra health care dollars that can be spent on
* pour Gatorade on all of our farms.
* not protest against agri-business which exist to raise crops.
* try free markets.
posted by dios at 12:39 PM on October 16, 2006


jefgodesky - Needless to say, your view on societal complexity and the necessity, desirability, and inevitability of reducing societal complexity and abandoning agriculture is, shall we say, a radical minority viewpoint. But you know that. You sound very certain, but your certainty doesn't make it any more likely to be true.
posted by Justinian at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2006


not protest against agri-business which exist to raise crops.

Lost me with that one. Just because a business produces a necessary and marketable product they're beyond reproach?

This sounds like an "end justifies the means" position: they produce something we need so they are inherently beyond criticism, irrespective of how they do it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:56 PM on October 16, 2006


By the way, jefgodesky's site Anthropik is quite interesting and thought provoking. In the end the conclusions are mostly bollocks, of course, but it's interesting and thought provoking bollocks.
posted by Justinian at 12:58 PM on October 16, 2006


* pour Gatorade on all of our farms.

BRAWNDO - it's got electrolytes. It's What Plants Crave!
posted by mattbucher at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2006


dios, you left out appeals to the Rain Gods. Hardly anyone does proper rain dances any more; at the same time, there's more places where there's not enough water to go around. Just a coincidence?

the necessity, desirability, and inevitability of reducing societal complexity and abandoning agriculture is, shall we say, a radical minority viewpoint.

Um, he didn't actually say anything about its desirability there, as I read it. Perhaps on the website. I suppose it could be taken as implied that reducing the population by means of reducing food production is inevitable in the long run, but given that most people who've looked seriously at the problem think we're already past the long-run sustainable level of human population, that's closer to common sense than to a radical minority viewpoint.
posted by sfenders at 1:14 PM on October 16, 2006


we're already past the long-run sustainable level of human population

Actually, that's somewhat complicated. The non-controversial statement I was thinking of is that we're well past the sustainable level of aggregate consumption of natural resources. Whether there is some way of changing that through conservation and technology to support the projected larger population in a hundred years, and whether that will actually happen even if theoretically possible, are more controversial questions.
posted by sfenders at 2:06 PM on October 16, 2006


Isn't the USA the only major, western nation that can maintain it's own population through domestic births? I think pretty much everyone else needs immigrants to keep their numbers level, much less growing.

Nope, not according to the numbers from the CIA World Fact Book. That's true for Germany and Italy, but not for France, the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, or Australia.

I checked Canada and Australia because I suspected that the population density might have something to do with it--the United States is much less densely populated than western Europe. From the countries I looked at, these seem to support my hypothesis (though not conclusively, what with such a small sample)--the growth rates, excluding immigration/emigration, in the US, Canada, and Australia are higher than in any of the European countries I looked at, although the US is still well ahead of Canada and Australia.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:37 PM on October 16, 2006


why are they measuring population with a clock?
posted by Miles Long at 3:28 PM on October 16, 2006


Miles Long : "why are they measuring population with a clock?"

Their population thermometer broke.
posted by Bugbread at 3:47 PM on October 16, 2006


sfenders: Yes, the bit about the desirability of getting rid of agriculture and, indeed, all of civilization is on the website I linked to rather than the comment in this thread.
posted by Justinian at 3:54 PM on October 16, 2006


DevilsAdvocate, perhaps you want to look at Australia one more time. from yoru link: Total fertility rate: 1.76 children born/woman (2006 est.)

Given that you need about 2.1 children per woman to replace, no, we're only growing through immigration.
posted by wilful at 5:01 PM on October 16, 2006


the United States is much less densely populated than western Europe.

Unless you cut out the square states....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:41 PM on October 16, 2006


Needless to say, your view on societal complexity and the necessity, desirability, and inevitability of reducing societal complexity and abandoning agriculture is, shall we say, a radical minority viewpoint. But you know that. You sound very certain, but your certainty doesn't make it any more likely to be true.

And that is why our population is not going to go down voluntarily. Which brings us to involuntary methods, which I admit are much more likely--even though voluntary methods would be much preferable. But the history of civilization is full of mechanisms by which we make choices that benefit no one. From arms races to "food races," so much of the pattern of civilized history can be explained in terms of the Prisoner's Dilemna.

By the way, jefgodesky's site Anthropik is quite interesting and thought provoking. In the end the conclusions are mostly bollocks, of course, but it's interesting and thought provoking bollocks.

Uh huh ... thanks?

Um, he didn't actually say anything about its desirability there, as I read it. Perhaps on the website.

On my website, I talk a lot about population, complexity, and agriculture, and why agriculture puts us into an ever-escalating positive feedback loop of more and more complexity that ultimately breaks down due to diminishing marginal returns. I also argue that this is one of the better possibilities, compared to the consequences of continuing that pattern. But suffice to say for this thread, population and education are both functions of energy, as mediated by complexity.
posted by jefgodesky at 5:57 PM on October 16, 2006


More is Different.
posted by Chuckles at 8:18 PM on October 16, 2006


Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

Please, please, please, stop making new people. That site addresses most reasons you'd think of to do otherwise. I don't know how this could be any more obvious.
posted by phrontist at 10:36 PM on October 16, 2006


On the other hand, I encourage y'all to have babies. As long as you can take care of them and aren't assholes.
posted by Justinian at 12:40 AM on October 17, 2006


It's normallly about now I suggest what we need is a 'flu virus to wipe out a quarter of the world population.

It's normally about now that someone calls me a heartless bastard and tells me my wife or kids may be in the 1/4...
posted by twine42 at 4:36 AM on October 17, 2006


DevilsAdvocate, perhaps you want to look at Australia one more time. from yoru link: Total fertility rate: 1.76 children born/woman (2006 est.)

Ah, excellent point. I was simply comparing the birth rate (12.14/1000 population) with the death rate (7.51/1000 population), but you're right that the fertility rate is meaningful as well, since comparing the birth vs. death rate would only give you an estimate of population growth for this year, and doesn't take into account projections for future years based on demographics.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:54 AM on October 17, 2006


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