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Posted by on Mar 23, 2009 in Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 9 comments

Is Population Control Even Possible?

Over in the U.K. there are ideas being floated regarding reducing the nation’s population to roughly 30 million, roughly what it was during the Victorian era. Unfortunately, the argument is made in terms of environmental impact.

JONATHON PORRITT, one of Gordon Brown’s leading green advisers, is to warn that Britain must drastically reduce its population if it is to build a sustainable society.

Porritt’s call will come at this week’s annual conference of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), of which he is patron.

The trust will release research suggesting UK population must be cut to 30m if the country wants to feed itself sustainably.

Porritt said: “Population growth, plus economic growth, is putting the world under terrible pressure.

The “unfortunate” aspect of this is that as soon as you mention anything to do with the environment you invoke the ire of certain Right wing elements. For one example, Cassy Fiano at Right Wing News refers to supporters of such ideas as “environmental moonbats” but then goes on to actually ask one of the more pressing questions. How does a nation accomplish such a goal even if everyone agrees that it’s required?

How would they do such a thing? The first thing that comes to mind, obviously, is to kill off the excess. But maybe they aren’t that bloodthirsty, and so they do the next most despicable thing. They go for forcible relocation. Half of the residents of Britain would be forced to leave, all for the good of Mother Earth.

As a brief side note I’d like to ask one question. How did the GOP become the anti-environment party? I understand that there’s a lot of disagreement about the cause and effect of climate change, but these days it seems as if you can’t even mention things like not dumping your trash on the side of the road or ask if it might be good to reduce smokestack emissions without being classified as the enemy. That’s one battle of optics which the Democrats won without having to take the field.

But back to the question at hand, population control is yet another third rail in politics across the industrialized world. Is it ever something that’s desirable? And if so, is there any way short of China style draconian measures to bring it about? The planet currently supports at least ten times as many human beings as it could in the pre-technological era. In times past, you could only have the number of people which the land could support in any given area. We weren’t able to grow all that much food on any given area and transporting it over great distances in large volumes was impossible. Keeping a city the size of first century Rome running was a massive undertaking which frequently resulted in widespread famine.

Today we use technology and cheap fossil fuels to overcome those limitations and stuff massive numbers of people into urban areas. But if that vast machinery breaks down, even briefly, the cities would empty and death would stalk the land again. But as Fiano asks, how does one accomplish that goal? History has shown us that public education and the good will of the citizens certainly doesn’t seem to do it. But what person in their right mind (at least in the Western world) would want to even consider the kind of government regulation and tyranny required to impose a directive from the Federal government?

The population used to correct itself periodically. The black plague wiped out roughly one third of the population of the known world (read: Europe and Western Asia) as it swept across the land during the dark ages. The flu knocked out as much as ten percent as recently as the early 20th century. Crop failures and cyclical cold snaps starved people to death across wide regions prior to the industrial revolution.

Perhaps that’s the only thing which could reduce the population today as well. But do we need to? Some problems are probably too large for us to wrap our heads around.