This I Believe

Scott - Seattle, Washington
Entered on August 25, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65


I believe we are doomed. We are doomed because although there is one underlying cause for all our very serious problems – global warming, pollution of air and water, depletion of resources (most notably water and oil) – that underlying cause is off the table for discussion. The problem is over population of human beings. We have been warned of this before. We are being warned now, but no-one is listening.

Our opportunity to do something about it has come and gone. We can still diminish the effects of the coming catastrophe, but we won’t. There are many reasons why we won’t. Culture, religion and tradition favor or demand that their followers produce large families. Common sense does not have a chance of overcoming dogma. Even impending disaster will not convince people to change. In a free society people cannot be forced to practice birth control and to suggest it would be political suicide for an elected official. In a totalitarian society it can be mandated, but only China has ever done so and even China is now relaxing the one-child requirement.

Many people believe we can be saved by technology. Most do not know that we already have been once. In 1898 Sir William Crookes warned of impending famine and challenged the scientific community to find a way to produce nitrogen, the vital element in fertilizer. A few years later a pair of German scientists, Fritz Huber and Carl Bosch developed a process which led to the modern chemical fertilizer. Wheat crop yields went from 12.5 bushels per acre in Crookes’ time to four times that now. It is estimated that fully one third of modern agricultural production relies on chemical fertilizer. That was a remarkable increase and one that we almost certainly will not be able to reproduce. Even if we did it would not matter because the increasing human population is stressing the limits of water and land resources and may well have exceeded them already.

If the human population were one tenth of what it is today we could all be driving Hummers and the Earth would be able to process our output of garbage and pollution. There would not be mass extinctions of other species. The oceans would not have huge and growing dead zones. The water tables would not be falling in agricultural areas. Inevitably the population will decline, but without a proactive response the cause of that decline will undoubtedly be very unpleasant.