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To Breed or Not to Breed?

World with paper dolls join hands

Is human population expanding? Or dwindling? Should we neuter ourselves at the SPCA? Or multiply like the Octomom? The answer is… both?! Yes. Depending on your GPS coordinates, human numbers are wiggling UP like sperm in an unprotected vaginal canal, or swirling DOWN like a condom in a flushed toilet. Humanity is simultaneously exploding and imploding.

Who’s always pregnant? Niger is Fertility Champ with its women producing an average of 7.19 children each. Malaria removes 20% of the tots, but Niger’s population still expands at a 3.49 annual population growth (PG) rate, good for 6th place behind Liberia, Burundi, Afghanistan, Western Sahara, and East Timor. Liberia’s population will double in 16 years, in Niger it’ll drag out to 20.

Notice the anti-intuitive equation? Poverty + War + Disease = Booming Population. Bloody, poor, sick nations often reproduce the fastest. We think everyone’s dying in the genocidal Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it’s #9 in PG rate because “war babies” are churned out at a 6.7 fertility rate. Other top PG rate nations with recent conflicts are Eritrea (7th), Uganda (8th), Palestine (10th), Somalia (16th), and every nation in the Top Five listed above.

However, war/poverty/disease isn’t really the catalyst that pumps PG rates. The actual cause is rurality/repression/religion. Peasant women trapped under the male thumb of fundamentalist religions are often denied education, equal rights, job opportunities, and birth control. Large families are also seen as a benefit in the boondocks because children provide free farm labor.

Meanwhile, where’s India in the overpopulation picture? China? Pakistan? Indonesia? The Philippines? The United States? Ethiopia? Egypt? Nigeria? Bangladesh, drowning under the weight of its multitudes? These large, dense nations have PG rates smaller than the premier baby-makers, but their enormous base numbers make them the primary contributors to the global increase. India accounts for 21% of all children born, and around 60% hail from the ten nations listed above. Earth’s current population of 6.8 billion is definitely increasing, but experts suggest different forecasts—the United Nations warns of 8.9 billion in 2050, while The Quaker Economist suggests only an incremental 7.0 billion peak by 2040.

Will hordes of dark-skinned illegal aliens, bred in madrasses, overrun the Western world?

Even if we accept a high estimate, is 30% more in 40 years an “Explosion”? Or is it just a final weak aftershock from the Giant 20th Century Population Bomb that vaulted the earth’s population from 1.65 to 6.0 billion? Every nation had a high fertility rate back then. Perhaps even your parents or grandparents had Niger-sized families. But now—do you know anyone with even 2.1 kids? The number needed for ZPG? What about everyone with no spawn at all? Where are we headed?

That’s right—it’s implosion time. At the bottom of the TPG charts you’ll find numerous… shrinking nations! Japan and Russia are contracting, as is Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine and every other nation in Eastern Europe. Peek just north of ZPG and observe the rest of Europe barely keeping its numbers, with Japan followed down by its neighbors Taiwan and South Korea.

Fertility rates have been in a global free-fall for decades: Thailand dropped 50% since 1950, Colombia 60%, Hong Kong 75%, Brazil 50% in the last 25 years. By 2050 implosion is predicted in at least 39 nations, with histrionic forecasters claiming 75% of nations will exhibit decline. (The variability of estimates is due to United Nations graphs that exhibit a wide range between high and low projections.) Russia, Japan and other current shrinkers may lose 14%-40% of their citizenry. 104 million Europeans might vanish, dropping their continent to a mere 7% of the world total. Canadians and Latin Americans will halt or decrease. China, with its one-child policy, could lose 20% or more of its populace. Even India might stabilize; the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu already dropped below ZPG in 2003. The only populations assured of expansion in 2050 are the Middle East, Africa… and the USA, where immigrants and their offspring could buoy America 25% to approximately 420 million.

World - AfricaExplosion and Implosion
So what should we do? Move to Minsk and breed with Belarusians while commuting to Africa and dispensing free condoms? Or is none of this really a problem?

First, let’s examine the “Explosion.” Eco-worriers say our resources aren’t sustainable; they claim we’ll perish due to water/food/land/ozone/energy/fish/democracy/wealth/oxygen shortages or epidemics/pollution/terrorism. My advice is to ignore these Luddites because they disregard technology’s potential to solve human problems. Malthus was wrong in 1798, Paul Ehrlich was ludicrous in 1968. But still, if you’re concerned about ballooning numbers between 2010-2040, I offer a short to-do list:

(1) Get the whole world online. Internet access improves education, health, wealth, and democracy—leading to zero population growth. We need satellites soaring over Africa so villagers can log on with donated laptops.

(2) Help alleviate global water shortages by promoting desalinization and compost toilets. Cleaned-up ocean water is needed in China, India, and Australia, plus thirsty cities like Los Angeles, Mexico City, Katmandu, Khartoum, Lima, Damascus. Compost toilets save 1.6 gallons per flush. If you flush four times daily, that’s 2,000 gallons a year. (Not that I need to know.)

(3) Support in-vitro meat research. Healthy, cheap laboratory-grown protein will feed malnourished people and bankrupt cattle ranches where methane farts holes in the ozone. Reclaimed land can be given farmers who will grow ten times the food in plant matter. When we do this the vegans will be so happy they’ll wet their hemp underwear.

(4) Encourage urbanization. Rural areas are infested with caste violence, religious superstition, societal taboos and sexism, plus they lack birth control, schools, and career options. Urbanity breeds non-breeding.

ImmigrationNext, let’s open up the “Implosion” box. Is lowering our numbers an actual problem, or does it only damage real estate speculators and baby-food manufacturers? Fewer humans provides more resources for the rest of us, right? We’ll obtain lovely vacation homes due to myriad vacancies. Unfortunately, there’s a growing horde of implosion paranoiacs—many of them Christian jeremiads who blame it on abortion—who fear that Earth will become a giant, filthy, impoverished convalescent hospital ruled by ancient parasites that produce nothing except votes for continued senior citizen benefits. Transhumanists need to squish the scapegoating of future elderly—Max More’s essay in "The Longevity Meme" [see Resources] succeeds at this stunningly. Implosion-haters also have “immigrant nightmares.” Will hordes of dark-skinned illegal aliens, bred in madrasses, overrun the Western world? I offer two tips below if you want to work at calming yourself:

(1) Be an active, visionary oldster! You’ll be the Dominant Demographic. By 2050, the age group 65+ will be more than 50% of the population in many parts of the world. We’ll be the wisest, most astute policymakers in history, maybe smart enough to hand leadership over to ethical robots (but that’s another topic).

(2) Support “friendly” mass immigration. For every mullah demanding sharia law, there are dozens of commendable refugees seeking liberation, like Taslima Nazrin and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Perhaps Europe can purchase “sex criminals” from the Middle East (i.e., teenagers caught kissing, homosexuals, adulterers, and rape victims), rescuing them before they get their noses cut off, or they’re stoned to death, or punished in “honor killings.”

Explosion. Implosion. Let the challenges gestate in your mind, but stay optimistic.

Hank Hyena wrote columns for Salon.com ("Naked World"), and SFGate.com ("Odd Barkings"), plus he’s producer of "Atheist Film Festival," and "SF Utopia 2012."

32 Comments

  1. Wow. Quite the bashing of Christians in this article. Not surprising because Christians bash trans humanism.

  2. Hank,
    Great article. Some of the facts here really surprised me. Great job

    Jay

  3. Great article Hank! Your sense of humor and intelligence are always so fresh. I agree that education and derepression of women is the key and while improving the quality of life for the poorest is the right the thing to do, not sure if that’s a direct contributing factor to decreasing population, other than by freeing up people to educate and derepress their women. It’s a fascinating conundrum that the achingly poorest countries reproduce at teh highest rates.

    It’s so nice to hear news of you!

  4. The picture isn’t as simple as you paint Hank.

    In 1st world countries, we NEED young people so they can work and pay to support the older folks.

    But the problem is that because of technology, automation and outsourcing/offshoring, there are too many people in most 1st world countries and not enough jobs. Now, if we ever get those robots that can do simple blue-collar work like house painting, road building, window cleaning, janitorial, leaf blowing, gardening, school crossing guard, etc., then there will be even less jobs.

    With ever decreasing jobs and robot workers (that’s part of the “technology” you refer to), why will we need uneducated immigrants (legal or not) from 2nd or 3rd world countries? We won’t!

    So we have a dichotomy. OOH, we need younger workers to provide for an older, aging populating. OTOH, there aren’t currently enough jobs for everyone now (young and old) and there will be ever decreasing jobs in the future.

    The problem is that every major economic system extant today requires ever increasing growth in people, in jobs, in spending, etc. to survive. But nothing can grow unlimited with out eventually destroying the host. Think cancer. Perhaps 2012 really will be the end of the world as we know it! [lol]

    • HI Jojo — I appreciate your comments — what nation are you from? European? Let me know and I will research your particular predicament and get back to you with suggestions. Meanwhile, stop worrying about the end of the Mayan calendar — you are too smart to worry about this inane 2012 superstition.

      • The 2012 allusion was meant as joke Hank. Sorry you let that little joke distract you from the main message of my post.

        BTW: I live in the USA, California specifically.

    • Wikipedia says 2012 is a pseudoscience dismissed by Mayanist scholars, and I agree with that. It sounds about as idiotic as astrology. Sharpen your mind by reading better material, and it will help you solve the real problems.

    • i cant say i see why things should expand forever, especially in face of increased automation.

      with increased automation, more can be done pr person, if one look at it abstract enough.

      the only thing thats “forcing” a drive for eternal growth is the system of lending that is currently in use, as its basically set up to print money.

      this means that the value of each unit of money drops as more is introduced, and unless more production is also introduced to compensate, the zeros will just keep adding to the end, without any real meaning. Wheelbarrows of cash anyone?

      there are technically more then enough resources to take care of those old and sick, if automation can free up the manpower needed (as its the one area i do not see automation helping much, the direct interaction and aid of the sick and elderly) and one stop the banks from eroding the money value by their lending.

      this then gives us this:

      state pays people to care for sick and elderly, people use said money to pay for food and other automatically produced goods, state gets payed taxes by the owners of the automated factories that produced the goods.

      the only “ripoff” one can observe is probably the tax related one, as what is one “buying” from the state. Heh, maybe one could toss the state, and have the factory owners pay the people directly? But then comes the question, would the factory owners then prioritize their own family, and say to hell with the rest?

      heh, i guess we may well soon find out…

    • I disagree. As the market is now, yes, more automation will lessen the amount of jobs. However, if we just expand the white collar jobs, such as things in the science and the technology fields that are expanding rapidly, that will make up for it. It’s all about the balance. And not to be mean, but once the Baby Boomers die off population in much of the world will not be an issue anymore… at least not in the same way (but rather in the opposite manner).

  5. Fine writing, mate. Spot on, and I chuckle at your suggestions — though you didn’t include the detail that many EU nations are now paying… “bribing”… their citizenry to breed. Not much success with that, seems bonkers to me.
    For people concerned about over-population , I think, sadly enough, impoverished people don’t consume much. Its the lucky rich that burn jet fuel and eat herds of bovines. Hopefully, they’re educated enough to either change their habits or discover new resources.

  6. geez, people. stop taking this stuff so seriously. h+ isn’t a peer reviewed journal, it’s an entertainment site. most of the authors use ‘zany’ pseudonyms… isn’t that a clue? perhaps the same type of people who nitpick the ‘scientific rigor’ of shows like mythbusters frequent here.

  7. Bad article with lot of promises and weak argumentation.

    There is no way to predict population grow, rates of technological progress, climate changing and decreasing biodiversity just because there is no good mathematical models for all those processes. Hi just says – believe me – population will stabilize soon. Oh, really? You promise? Ok, suppose it is true but will it fix all problems? Today there is gold billion who live in developed counties wich consume most of resources. What will be if all 6-7 billion will live like them? Does he sure that it won’t happen?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8338880.stm
    “Out of the 47,677 species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 17,291 were deemed to be at serious risk.
    These included 21% of all known mammals, 30% of amphibians, 70% of plants and 35% of invertebrates.

    “In our lifetime, we have gone from having to worry about a relatively small number of highly threatened species to the collapse of entire ecosystems,” observed Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation programmes at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).”

    Doesn’t this is a sign of that our population is little bit bigger than modern technology can handle?

    • Hi Beo – my article was about human beings, not amphibians. And YES, there are very simple ways to predict population growth or decline, the United Nations looks at each nation’s Fertility Rate and PG to see if it curves up or down. Anyone with 6th grade math skills can understand this — global population is moving towards implosion in the majority of countries, and it is equally easy to determine why, for reasons I have mentioned in the article (women’s education, secularization, etc.) You have swallowed the hysteria about over-population that is often perpetuated by environmental non-profits who solicit donations with their fear-mongering. I have fact-checked my analysis past United Nations officials and it is accurate. Please brush up on your math skills and your reading comprehension, especially your spelling.

      • Hi Hank.
        Overpopulation is not just a number of people on earth. It is population / available resources. Are 4 billion too much for 1900? And for 2000? So my point is that 7-8 billion is way too much. Even 6 is too much – because we already have all those problems i pointed out in previous reply. Besides you and UN official can’t predict economical, political and ecological situation (which affects PG rate and degree of overpopulation) around the world up to 2050. What makes your extrapolation good only at short periods of time. And sorry for my bad English.

  8. I know this whole article is a little tongue-in-cheek, but I can’t quite tell how much is really intended to be serious or not. Really my only beef with the arguments made here is that human overpopulation is as much, maybe more, of an environmental issue as it is a human issue. Sure, technology might allow us to keep 20 billion people on the planet. That’s not the problem. The problem is the cost of doing that. We’ve already lost so much biodiversity in such a short period of time. If we pack as many people on the planet as we possibly can, we’ll be living in a world that’s greatly diminished in many ways, and one that’s much more fragile in terms of climate, resources, etc. I have no doubt that technology will allow us to expand our numbers much further than we would be able to otherwise… and in fact that’s the problem. I hear the same arguments being made about using petroleum products. People will say that we don’t need to worry about alternative fuels, because technology will always allow us to access more and different sources of oil. Just like the population issue, this is ignoring the real problem, which is the environmental effects of using the petroleum at all. The technology argument in both cases addresses a purely technical question, whereas the real question that’s usually being asked (or at least that SHOULD be asked) is an ethical question… not can we do it, but should we? After all, what’s the benefit of having a larger population, anyway? Isn’t 7 billion enough?

    Saying that technology will solve our problems is like saying, “Screw it, I’m going to eat as much as I want and smoke 5 packs of cigarettes a day, and when I get to be 400 pounds with cancerous lungs, I’ll just trust medical science to fix me back up.” Maybe that will work, but wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to keep your weight down and stop smoking, and avoid the future medical treatments and all the consequences that come with them? Compare the costs of keeping the human population in check, versus the costs of dealing with all the problems that a constantly expanding population would present, and I think you’ll find that preventative measures make as much sense in this case as it does in medical matters. Then, all of those great advances in technology can be used to help a controlled population have an even smaller footprint on the globe and maybe allow ecosystems to recover a bit, helping to solve problems other those presented by a huge population.

    Mind you, I don’t have a grand master plan for actually keeping the population from expanding, but the article does actually have a few good points… education seems to help a lot by giving people the information they need to make good choices, and concentrating the population in urban areas rather than sprawled out everywhere is more efficient and would go a ways towards minimizing our impact.

  9. Hi Hank:

    That was facinating. I almost never read about this kind of stuff. I mean most people know that China has the weird 1 baby rule and there are millions of people in India that drown in floods every year and of course African nations all take turns being the pathetic third world toilet du jour. But facts about population growth rates seem rarer than condoms in the African countryside.

    I guess about the best compliment a writer can get is that once I started reading your article, I could not stop until it was done. And I think the infomation will stick around a while. Since my address is West Hollywood, you can imagine that I am grateful my GPS is not 35n40, 51e26. Wheww!!

    Thanks,

    jeff

  10. I’ve seen your movies and now in black and white. We sure could use you on the long runs! MV is boring without you! I love the article. You throw a much needed comical twist to my vague memories in human geography.

  11. Finally. Someone who sees the whole picture and lays it out.

    Great article, I’m passing it along.

  12. Hank,

    great article!

    ellie

  13. By 2050 I will be well on my way to finishing my first hundred years. Don’t forget that technology may improve to a point where there won’t be a population crash. If we live long enough we can get off this planet and let the youth (those under 100 years) have it. All I need is a starship and a star to steer her by.

  14. what an interesting article on something that everybody talks about but no one actually knows anything about… thanks for setting the record straight.

  15. Good article and I share most ideas.

    However, I still think that we are too many people right now on Earth and we should suspend breeding until we’ll be able to colonize other planets/stars. Even if theoretically we could feed more of us, our standard of living is actually constantly decreasing even if we have more and more technological toys (living in a small apartment in a crammed city is definitely a lower standard of living compared to having your own 3000 sqft house with a nice pool and some green space around).

    If our technological advance is not as fast as some of you estimate will be, breeding at our current levels will probably lead to extinction.

    Postponing breeding will increase the odds of your children to live forever (i.e. to have aging virtually cured during their lifetimes).

  16. Fascinating…How do you propose we “suspend breeding” though? Many people won’t agree with you and have children anyway.

  17. Population density is ONLY a problem in large cities where land area is restricted. If the population were spread out to the entire world you could likely have that 3000 ft living space without any crowding at all.

  18. I thought I knew this subject but I realize how fuzzy I was around the details… thanks for a great article. It’s sort of bleak though because I’ve heard the most productive people on earth are all fundamentalist — does this mean this is where the world is headed? Should tolerant liberals start breeding to preserve some shred of civilization?

    I’ve always heard that the primary factor in population restraint is the education of women… I wonder if all the women in the world were educated, what would the human population end up being? What would be our global set point?

  19. “many people won’t agree with you and have children anyway”

    –Agreed, and it’s not like we don’t have enough fundamentalists of our own, check out the Quiverfull movement

  20. Appreciated the humorous take on a serious subject. While i’m not sure i agree with some of the interpretation of info you’ve collected and presented, i definitely think your tips are useful discussion points, especially re: encouraging widescale education of women, composting toilets, and alternate ways of “growing” meat. I think the tips are useful for not only PG but also for sustaining resources and a standard quality of living (inexpensive/access to food, water, shelter, a physical environment that is moderately healthy). Thanks, as always, for priming the pump and getting us talking about sticky issues through glib writing!
    jmr

  21. I love the last suggestion. The US and Europe should extend a Legal Residence Visa with path to citizenship to everyone in the Middle East that is convicted of a minor infraction (PDA, women associating with someone that is not their relative, etc.). As long as they haven’t done something that the west would consider a crime, bring ‘em over. You know these people aren’t going to blow themselves up to get their 72 virgins (or grapes depending on where the vowel mark is supposed to go).

  22. I’ve checked it and made me less optimistic that we will cure aging before those idiots (and their muslim equivalents) will destroy our species.

  23. thanks for appreciating my last suggestion, regarding immigration of Muslims to Europe. I was riveted by “Infidel” written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I also occasionally read a UK human rights website called “Stop the Stoning” — I wish the victims just got deported to Europe, instead of undergoing Sharia punishment.

  24. I agree with Valkyrie. Besides, I live in a 900 sq ft house with three other people and no back yard and I like it, I enjoy urban density. Someday I hope to live in a huge skyscraper with 5,000 other inhabitants, we can all share the swimming pools and gardens. People are supposedly social animals, everyone having their own private yard seems crazy to me. The Romans all bathed in beautiful public pools and they loved it.

  25. Also the cockroaches.