By now we got a pretty good taste of what bubbles can do to our economy and nation. Everything is wonderful until they burst. The last one proves just how far we’ve come in our quest for a global economy. I believe we’re in line for another bubble-- a population bubble. Only this time when it bursts, it’ll be even more consequential than a financial crisis. Consequential enough to land us in 3rd world status.
There isn’t one major issue unaffected by population growth. Environment, energy, health care, education, jobs, taxes and so on. And yet population growth is seldom talked about as a cause or solution to our myriad of problems.
But what can you effectively say about population growth? There are too many people and too few resources? That seldom works as there are lots of people who think smart growth and technology will let us overcome any negatives of population growth.
I read about the promise of new technologies and can’t say there won’t be some fantastic breakthroughs, but I don’t see them being the answer. Every little bit helps but then there’s the bubble coming and we’re not trying to stop it and any thought of preparing for it is half-hearted or half-assed. But I don’t think we can fully prepare for it anyway. Not this time. I know doom and gloom about population has been predicted before and technology and the green revolution have come through for us (mostly). But this time, preparing for a population boom when we’re already at our limits is like preparing to catch all the raindrops during the next hurricane.
Let me back up. The world population hit one billion in the year 1800 and it took 130 years to reach 2 billion. Now it takes about 14 years to add another billion in population. The world population is now about 6.6 billion and it’s predicted to be over 9 billion by 2050. That’s just 42 years. Our population is slightly over 300 million and if we keep up with our current growth rate, it could reach about 450 million in that short time.
Can you imagine any of our problems getting better simply because there are more of us?
I could pick any issue and relate how important I believe stabilizing the population is, coming up with a sustainable number and then working towards that number is. But as far as the bubble goes, the most important issue very well might be something we're all very fond of, f-o-o-d. Safe clean food. Affordable food.
THE FUTURE OF FOOD
Believe it or not, there are already constraints on our capacity to grow food. Right here in the United States we're losing over a million acres of agricultural land every year to housing developments. We're also using water in aquifers faster than it is being replenished. All while we grow by another 4 million a year. (Every 4 years that’s a population the size of Florida to feed.) It’s even worse in the rest of the world. (It grows by a population of the size of the United States every 4 years.)
But that’s just the outer bands of the perfect food storm. There’s more to it than that. The list is long and could probably fill a book-- albeit, a pretty dull book. But the list is important and worth thinking about, so I'll post it next time.
Part 2 of this article will appear on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 and Part 3 will follow next Wednesday, Dec. 10th, 2008. Thanks again to LDouglas for bringing thoughtful and insightful conversation to the Beach House.