It took 10,000 human generations for the world’s population to reach its first billion. World population now grows by an additional billion every twelve years.

There’s room, of course. If you can fit 2 million people onto the island of Manhattan, you need only pave and layer 500 such areas every dozen years to fit the extra billion.

But, at least for the foreseeable future, should the goal of our species be “quantity of life” or “quality of life”? Would a species a 20 billion mostly miserable beings be more successful than a species of six billion mostly happy, peaceful, healthy ones?

In some respects, the earth’s carrying capacity is for all practical purposes limitless. We certainly have enough silicon. But in others, given current political technology, we seem already to be over the limit. And regardless of political technology — the ability to distribute jobs and wealth equitably, without bloodshed — what do you do if people would like to visit Yosemite or the Pyramids or have a nice little home at the seashore?

Each additional billion people make the lines that much longer, the likelihood of being able to ski — or even see — virgin powder that much lower.

If this resonates with you, you might wish to become a member of Zero Population Growth, or even to mark November 13 on your calendar, the night of ZPG’s (expensive) 30th Anniversary dinner in New York. ZPG works with educators and legislators to try to raise people’s consciousness on this issue. Heck: if you’re going to teach high school kids exponents, you may as well use population as your example. Compounding can be as dramatic with people as with money.

 

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