Yesterday evening, my niece Heidi - an RN in Arizona- sent me a link to a video that must be seen to be believed. It shows 'rush hour in Dhaka at the time of Ramadan' (2 1/2 months ago) but could equally be a preview of what our world's largest cities will look like - in NORMAL periods- in 40 years when the population tops 10 billion. You can see the video here:
Richard Attenborough, in his BBC documentary entitled: 'How Many People Can Earth Hold?', pulls no punches in his assessments. He observes that every current major societal, environmental problem- from clogged highways, to overflowing hospital ERs to crowded schools, as well as scarcity of commodities (reflected in their much increased prices) to fouling of our water and atmosphere, can be laid at the feet of too many people on this planet - each needing food, air, water and energy from the time it's born.
Of all the resources, the most critical is water because no one can live without it for very long. Even now, 1 billion people live in water-stressed conditions, meaning that renewable water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic meters per capita. One notable ‘State of the World’ report (2000, pp. 46-47), warned that the ever increasing water deficits will likely spark “water wars” by 2025. The situation is likely to be exacerbated by the fracking mania which is rendering millions of cubic feet of water useless for humans after it's been used for releasing natural gas and oil from underground deposits.
Attenborough reinforces this observation by noting the water intensity of the various beverages, foods we produce. For example, merely to produce one cup of coffee requires the consumption of 120 liters of water. To get a single can of beer requires 150 liters, and to obtain that 'Big Mac' or quarter pounder takes some 8,000 liters! All of this is water that could be put to better use, if changes were made in our highly consumptive diets.
Can this world be averted? This is an especially apt question given the most recent UN Climate Report noting that it is a near certainty that humans are the primary causative agents for global warming. It is even of more pressing concern, giving the enhanced effect of CO2 absorption by the oceans - converting them into carbonic acid (H2 CO3). This is even now dramatically affecting the viability of sea life, including corals, crustaceans and varieties of fish.
What steps can be taken?
Attenborough brings up the "one child only" law in China. While people may seethe at such a law, it enabled China to achieve economic superpower status within a generation and now compete directly with the U.S. As Attenborough notes, if that law hadn't been enacted China would now have 400 million additional people and still be at the mercy of famine from too few grains, foods or ability to import them.
The U.S. doesn't need such draconian methods, only minor changes for example in its tax code. Taking away the child tax credit, or having a sliding scale of increased taxes when people have more children, while giving credits when they adopt more kids in need. The problem is, the U.S. is already overpopulated in terms of the resources it can deliver for 315 million people.
We also need to target and fight against the spurious arguments that we need to have more people in order to pay for what the Right called "entitlements". No we do not, we need more judicious use of our existing economic resources and their allocation. A good start would be to cut the Pentagon budget by 50% and use that money to shore up Social Security and Medicare. The only reason these huge budgets remain is because certain communities - like Colorado Springs- have become dependent on the federal tax teat at the expense of other communities (the majority) which lack military bases.
There is still time to alter the course toward a nightmare world, but it isn't infinite. If we don't begin to act now, we will pay dearly later - all of us - even if we don't live in the most densely populated areas or cities. We will experience the shortages of food, fuel, much higher prices, as well as shortages and blackouts, attendant on a population beyond carrying capacity.