The population explosion – the problem that is kept secret

A népességrobbanás - a titokban tartott katasztrófaBelow is a chapter from the 2009 book written by Hungarian-Swedish risk analyst and billionaire László Szombatfalvy (1927-2022) about the fatal risks of overpopulation.


The population explosion – a problem kept secret

As has been previously mentioned, the earth’s population is currently growing by 1.2 percent annually, an increase which, if it continues, will double the number of people in two generations – or in 58 years to be exact.

The population explosion is one of the main reasons behind climate change and it also accelerates the process. For example, growing population increases demands for energy and food production, which means greater need for farming land and pastures, resulting in deforestation, which causes increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Other environmental damage, the second of our megaproblems, is also affected by population growth. For example, when population increases there is automatically less per person of already over-utilized renewable natural resources. There is the threat of famine, and more severe water shortages. Other consequences of a greater population will be greater pollution, more damage to nature and faster depletion of biodiversity.

In addition, a sharp increase in population can transform normally useful and desirable advances into negative or dangerous changes. This could mean that technological developments and improved living standards – both of which are generally viewed as most advantageous – could increase demand for more energy and natural resources. If these normally positive developments occur simultaneously with a great increase in population the consequences can obviously be serious environmental damage.

Sharp population growth also increases hostility between ethnic groups and nations, as they clash over diminished resources. This would contribute to the weakening of political stability and lead to greater risk of political violence. The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 is a terrifying example.

The final point in this brief inventory: the population explosion is the most important cause of poverty. Poverty and population growth together create a vicious cycle. A small family farm can possibly support one family, but when land is inherited and divided up by several children, each with his own family, it can no longer support everyone. The result is worse poverty in the farmlands or in shanty-towns outside large cities. Measures against poverty are offset by greater population, which, in some nations – especially in southern Africa – result in a decrease in the percentage of poor while the actual numbers of the poor continue to increase.

It should be emphasized that most problems do not grow proportionally with the increase of population but much faster. For example, if there is a 10 percent water shortage in an area to start with – that is, water supply is 10 percent below that which is needed – then a 50 percent increase in population would mean the water shortage climbs by 500 percent to 60 percent.

What is the reason behind the obviously detrimental population explosion and why have we not taken serious measures to stop the growth (with the exception of the actions taken in China)?

One of the most important reasons for the rapid increase in population in poor nations seems to be poverty in itself, with its resultant low education level and non-existent family planning, due to ignorance and/or traditional and sometimes religious reasons.

Lack of equality between the sexes in many developing nations can also greatly contribute to high birth rates. Many young women become pregnant against their will, and parents may place greater value on sons than daughters, with births continuing until the desired number of sons is reached. High unemployment rates among women in developing nations also contribute to high birth rates.
At the start of this discussion, we noted that three closely linked critical explanatory factors are behind mankind’s four mega-problems. The population explosion – the invisible, rarely discussed basic villain in the drama – illustrates this thesis. Lack of understanding of the problems, faulty deliberations and flawed judgment are the main reasons why political leaders have never seriously attempted to halt the extremely rapid growth of population in a number of nations, despite the fact that it has created many severe problems.

To be more specific, we can point to some plausible reasons:
• The public underestimates the significance of population growth. Some even view it as positive. Some see the increased number of people primarily as a growing market for their products.
• Many believe it is not politically correct to demand and take measures to limit population growth. Some seem to believe it is a human right to bring as many children as possible into the world.
• Politicians seem to consider population growth as a natural phenomenon that mankind should expect and that nothing can be done about it.

Even the present world political system with sovereign national states contributes to population growth since the system can effectively stop any outside attempts to influence growth. All nations today can insist that population developments and high birth rates are matters of internal state affairs.

Obviously, nobody knows today how many people can live on the earth and enjoy decent living standards in harmony with the environment. This depends, among other things, on developments in agricultural technology, future energy and water supplies, what is meant by “decent living standards”, and, not the least, on the effects of climate change. But we do know that based on existing knowledge and technology the earth cannot in the long term support today’s population enjoying standards that the “wealthy” nations’ inhabitants are accustomed to and which all others try to attain. This means that the only rational development would be to try to adjust the number of people in relation to existing and foreseeable opportunities. Allowing wishful thinking or being resigned to the situation to guide decisions in this question means inexcusable risk-taking.

If allowed to continue, the population explosion can very well be a main cause for mankind’s devastation by enormous catastrophes.

What can be done about rapid population growth? Indeed, the key to the solution is obviously the general public’s understanding of and attitude to the problem. Therefore, in the near future, the worldwide public must be conscious not only of the dangerous consequences of the population explosion described earlier but should also know:
• that the rapid population growth is not any one nation’s “internal domestic affair” but something that can harm humanity’s most important interests,
• that it cannot be considered a human right for a woman to have more than two children,
• that the earth’s resources are not even enough for the existing population if all were to enjoy industrialized nations’ living standards – and that the situation will be much worse as early as within two generations if the world population has increased by several billion,
• that we cannot count on people in the poorest nations continuing to accept living on so much fewer resources than people of industrialized nations,
• that a “normalization” of average life expectancy to that of industrialized nations would in itself mean that the number of people on earth would increase from today’s 6.8 billion to 8.0 billion.

It is unrealistic to believe that such an educational campaign would be undertaken by political initiative, given the nonchalance with which this problem has been treated so far. Instead, the public must first be clearly aware of the great risks connected to the population explosion and demand counter-measures before the matter finally gets priority on the political leaders’ international agenda.

Only then can we hope for an action program worth the name; that negotiators from the rich nations agree with colleagues from the fast-growing nations to adopt the most effective efforts in education, improved health care, greater employment for women, family planning and other measures to curb the birth rate.

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