Late this month, some human baby will be the 7 billionth living human on the planet, according to U.N. researchers. Maybe there are just too many of us and we're doomed. Some think so. Others take a more nuanced view, even while recognizing that humans have caused climate change, mass extinctions and soil and water depletion.
Thinking about population increase reminded me of when I first encountered discussions of its implications for human society. In the early 1960s I read economist and historian Robert Heilbroner's account in The Worldly Philosophers of the Rev. Thomas Malthus' dire 1798 predictions human misery arising from our unstoppable instinct to procreate. Heilbroner's summation is still interesting:
By that last, Heilbroner is suggesting that recognition of the paradox of disastrous excess abundance (ill-distributed at that) led to the visions of early socialists and eventually of the communist experiment.
Malthus' recognition that all this growing productivity -- a capitalist society that allows a higher fraction of born humans to survive and consequently to disrupt all existence on the planet -- leads straight to our current need to realize we now live in the Anthropocene. It's up to us humans to organize ourselves and our environment -- for survival or for destruction.
As is often the case, the online magazine Grist, whose logo for a population feature I've cribbed above, offers some of the most thoughtful commentary on our predicament. Over and over, its authors insist that bringing human population numbers into harmony with the planet's carrying capacity is all about empowering women. Here's Laurie Mazur:
Yes, forward is the only way we have. Check out the entire Grist feature on surpassing 7 billion humans.