Is Population a Problem?

As best we can tell, anotomically modern human beings have been around for 200,000 years reaching behavoural modernity 50,000 years ago. Human prehistory spans a long period when human beings lived as hunter-gatherers. Throughout this very long period we can tell, from the bones left behind, that human population was not excessive relative to available resources and most people were tall, healthy, and relatively free from disease.

Human history began only a few thousand years ago, following the development of the agricultural lifestyle. This period can be characterized by technological, organizational, and financial advancements that greatly expanded the ability of humanity to utilize resources. Human population grew, enormously. While populations thrived during this period, the bones they left behind tell a story of many stunted and diseased individuals.

The greatest technological revolution happened during the mid-twentieth century. This was when we learned the art of turning fossil fuel into food. Why then, in spite of enormous scientific and technical advances, do we have twice as many people living in poverty today as there were people in existence one hundred years ago?

Paul Colinvaux (Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare) demonstrated the answer to the above question in 1978. Ecology's first social law should be written "All poverty is caused by continued population growth".

In short, human history is a story about turning technological advancement into increased population.

I come from a culture that believed that each generation would leave a better world for its children. My grandparents worked for that, and they succeeded. My parents worked for that, and they succeeded. My generation has faltered because it, and previous generations, failed to properly comprehend the consequences of excessive population. I can't fool myself, it is too late to make life better for the next generation. The best we can do is to begin to talk honestly and to strive to set a good example.

I hope that the Homo sapiens of the future will become sufficiently wise so that they can turn technological advancement into increased human well-being.