The idea that we don’t have enough space and resources on our planet for the growth of our population is not only unfounded, it produces unnecessary unhappiness. Replacing this myth with a more optimistic view is a more realistic view of the future, is more pragmatic, and can lead to a brighter day.
Like most dystopian views of the future, this fear of overpopulation holds that everything else about humans will stay exactly the same—our morals, our culture, our technology, our governing systems, etc.—while just one thing changes: population. This controlling of all other variables has never happened in the past and can’t happen in the future, because of the nature of reality: everything effects everything else, all at the same time. (0)
Here are some of the ways in which other lines of development—that are already changing as population changes—will almost certainly assuage the troubles of the increasingly crowded planet.
1) We will not run out of resources
2) Population growth will slow down
3) We can settle outer space
4) We can settle inner space
It’s worth noting that holding populating growth optimistically does not mean we should stop taking care of the environment or stop innovating in every field. Humans seem to have a natural impulse to evolve—ourselves and our society, our inventions and our systems. We amplify this impulse by removing the cultural beliefs that limit us and become more effective at caring for ourselves and our world.
1) We will not run out of resources
- Increases in food production technology such as aquaponics, (1) vertical farming, (2) and growing meat in the lab (3) will make it easier and easier to produce high quality foods in small amounts of space, for less money. Many of these innovations are criticized for their power usage, but…
- There’s strong reason to believe that renewable energy will become incredibly cheap, almost free, in the next 30-50 years. When that’s the case…
- Fresh water won’t be a problem either because we can desalinize our nearly limitless supply of ocean water.
- We have a ton of space for people, food, and energy production. Consider the density of any major city in India or Indonesia where people peacefully coexist in tight proximity, and the open space of the American midwest of the steppes of Mongolia and it’s a joke how much more room we have left.
Free power? Google co-founder Larry Page and futurist Ray Kurzweil determined that solar power will scale up to produce all the energy needs of Earth’s people in 20 years.(4) The Swanson Effect suggests that the cost of photovoltaic cells falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity (5) Solar power cost has already reached grid parity in India and Italy.(6) That’s just solar power.
Culture are Business are Evolving
You might be the kind of cynic who thinks this will never happen because there’s no profit motive. Yet this maintains the same false idea that everything stays the same while only one thing changes. Culture is also evolving. People are happily giving away many things of value for free (check out craigslist), and companies are making massive profits while still giving away things of value. Like Google giving away free high speed internet and search services to reach more customers for paid advertisers, or app developers giving away free apps to sell in-app content, companies will increase wealth by giving away power.
Population Growth will Slow and Reverse
Utilizing the historically accurate “low variant” on the U.N. Population Database, the Earth’s population will peak around 8.02 billion people in the year 2040. After that it will decline. (8) (and the UN online database.)
Why? In areas without modern technology and development families commonly have many children. Children are an asset—they can help work, take care of each other, carry on the family name, etc. Despite large families, population stays relatively stable because more people die earlier than in modern societies with modern medicines, housing, sewage systems, social care, and so on.
When these areas develop more people survive to reproductive age, but it takes a generation or two for the cultural tradition of having many children to change. This is when we see explosive exponential growth. Inevitably families get smaller—mothers typically have children at a later age, and children are an asset with high education costs. Families get so small that some highly developed countries are currently experiencing negative population growth. We just happen to live at the time in history when most societies are in transition, and therefore we see population booming all around us.
Let’s say the all of the above is wrong, and population just keeps on growing. Let’s say we start running out of resources on Earth. Let’s say culture stops evolving. This still wouldn’t be a problem because space exploration technology doesn’t stop growing either. We’re not limited to this planet, and getting off of it is faster, safer and cheaper and cheaper than ever before. The first shuttle flights cost about a half billion dollars each (adjusted for inflation), the first space tourist paid $20 million, and recently Virgin Galactic sold 500 tickets to space for only $200,000 each. When I was a kid rumors held it would take 2 years to get a human on Mars, now some people propose it will only take 39 days. (10) Authors and scientists have proposed human population numbers that sound like gibberish—10 quadrillion or five quintillion—within a few centuries of extraterrestrial settlement.
Let’s say we never settle other planets or asteroid belts. There’s still inner space—the silicon world of computers. Some futurists believe human consciousness will be uploaded eventually. While it’s a pretty far off idea, if it were true we’d be able to fit thousands of people onto a flash drive the size of a fingernail, powered by a tiny nuclear reactor or solar panels, with back-up copies to boot.
You may be wondering what this all has to do with happiness, especially if you’ve never thought too much about population density or growth. The point is to check your assumptions. How is your commitment to these beliefs holding you back from getting what you really want—in this case happiness? Are personal or societal beliefs keeping you stuck in a state of dismay instead of hope?
I encourage you to examine these deeply held assumptions, shine the light of awareness on unconscious assertions, and see what emerges. I encourage you to let us know what you find, to get support and share insight to the rest of us, and shift the whole culture. In doing this, we’ll be better equipped to deal with whatever population issues challenge us in the future.
(0) In integral philosophical parlance, we say reality tetra-arises (existence is comprised of all four quadrants simultaneously, and all four are constantly interacting with each other)