In his definitive essay on population, Tragedy of the Commons, published fifty years ago, Garrett Hardin wrote, “A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero.“ He goes on to assert that Bentham’s principal axiom to achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number” cannot be realized because it is not mathematically possible to maximize for two (or more) variables at the same time. Secondly, Hardin points out that for humans to maintain life, sustenance of 1600 kilocalories a day is essential (providing one just lie on their back and gaze into the sky). If one is expected to do any activity; work, play, etc. additional calories are required. Yet we, as a purportedly educable species, believe we can ignore these undisputed math and scientific facts and that through technology and, even worse, religion, we can continue to breed, occupy space and utilize finite resources.
In the recent letter to the editor (CNR July 18), Beau Grosscup made the argument that expanding populations are only a problem due to food being restricted by the capitalists to those who are starving. Hmmm, interesting concept. So, let’s look at two countries of equal area, Somalia and France. Somalia’s arable lands are less than 5% of the land base and mostly relatively unproductive due to drought, lack of natural water and over-grazing. With a population of 15 million, today over 2 million are in peril of immediate starvation yet Somalia’s birth rate remains over 6/woman. Conversely, France’s population is 4X that of Somalia, however, 33% of its land base is arable land, unaffected by drought. Starvation is unheard of. And, France’s birth rate is less than 2/woman. Is Beau is proposing all would be well if France was sending its agricultural surplus to Somalia so that they can continue to exponentially increase their population?
In 1985 in a paper, The Heresy Trial of Richard Lamm, given to the Globescope National Assembly, Dr. Richard Lamm, then Governor of Colorado, speaking on population control stated, “I live in a world as I find it, not in a world as I wish it to be. I urge solutions not because I want to, but because I have no other choice. A world without vision leaves only tragic choices. Truly, where there is no vision, people perish. Whether or not ethics are relative, it is clear that solutions are time specific. The house fire that initially can be put out with a garden hose or even a pitcher of water cannot be put out by the entire fire department ten minutes later.”
Both Hardin’s and Lamm’s predictions resulted in tired yawns from the general public. Even the environmental community buried these truisms under a barrage of politically and scientifically solvable issues such as saving California condors and desert vistas in Utah. The proverbial three wise monkeys of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” continue to rule the day because addressing this as an issue might be contrary to someone’s frail religious beliefs.
I maintain the laws of physics will continue to prevail no matter what the politicians and evangelists say and it will continue to be physically impossible to put a gallon of glass marbles into a quart jar. But I guess I can find solace in the probability that the “adjustment” is unlikely to occur during my lifetime.