Discussing the effect of many people . . .

January 2, 2010 | By | 93 Replies More

Since writing a recent post where I joined the tiny chorus of people who are asking why we don’t ask whether we have too many people on the planet, I’ve been noticing quite a few articles in which the authors could have, might have, suggested to some of us that the resource depletion/crowding/degradation/contamination considered in the article had something to do with sheer numbers of people. Here are two examples.

The first one is from the May, 2007 edition of National Geographic. It is a story of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) India. More particularly, it is about a slum within Mumbai called Dharavi,

the teeming slum of one million souls, where as many as 18,000 people crowd into a single acre (0.4 hectares). By nightfall, deep inside the maze of lanes too narrow even for the putt-putt of auto rickshaws, the slum is as still as a verdant glade. Once you get accustomed to sharing 300 square feet (28 square meters) of floor with 15 humans and an uncounted number of mice, a strange sense of relaxation sets in—ah, at last a moment to think straight.

Dharavi is routinely called “the largest slum in Asia,” a dubious attribution sometimes conflated into “the largest slum in the world.” This is not true. Mexico City’s Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio has four times as many people. In Asia, Karachi’s Orangi Township has surpassed Dharavi. Even in Mumbai, where about half of the city’s swelling 12 million population lives in what is euphemistically referred to as “informal” housing, other slum pockets rival Dharavi in size and squalor.

The other article is actually part of a “Special Advertising Section” promoting the newest Ken Burns documentary featuring America’s National Parks. I found this article in the September 2009 edition of Harper’s Magazine. It was written by Robert F. Kennedy, who reminisced that his dad took him to the Grand Canyon in 1967. Based on his 2006 return trip to the Grand Canyon, things have changed dramatically:

Today, National Park Service employees are kept busy policing small infractions while our political leaders forced them to turn a blind eye to major abuses by powerful private interests. In 2006, I returned to paddle the Grand Canyon with my daughter, Kick. I was sad to see that the beaches where I camped with my father were gone; the sands that fed them are now trapped above the Grand Canyon Dam. The river itself, once a dynamic and specialized ecosystem, has been transformed into a plumbing conduit between the two largest reservoirs in the United States. The water, which should be warm and muddy, is clear and the frigid 46 degrees. Four of the eight native fish species are extinct, and the canyons of beaver, otter, and muskrat populations have disappeared. The reservoirs themselves are emptying to quench reckless developers and big agriculture, and the Colorado no longer makes it to the sea or feeds the great estuaries in the Gulf of California that once teamed with life. Instead, it dies ignominiously in the Sonoran Desert.

Kennedy never mentions that these “powerful private interests” are driven by the needs of large numbers of people to have direct or indirect access to water, admittedly oftentimes in wasteful amounts.

Neither of these articles address overpopulation by name, and this is typical of most article that comment on stressed resources. People who dare to bring up this topic of overpopulation get crucified from all angles of the political spectrum. To mention this word suggests that we need to actually consider whether we have too many people on the planet, and that raises the specter of admittedly terrible actions that have been taken to limit population in the past. To avoid this criticism, though, it’s only a rare writer that will dare to mention that we need to consider this issue. In my opinion, we need to consider the possibility of overpopulation and its effect on every square mile of land on the surface of the earth, from Antarctica, to Florida, to Great Britain, to Indonesia. If our goal has been to wipe out most of the biodiversity of this planet by shoving once-common plants and animals off of their native habitats with ever more humans, we are doing a great job of it.

If we don’t consider this issue, we will never able to deal with it. The current situation reminds me of many of the characters in the Harry Potter movies, who dare not refer to the character Voldemort by name. To mention that name would mean that they would have to risk dealing with the problem.

Whenever we think about buying or renting a house, we consider the capacity of that living space. How many people will it comfortably hold? We consider the same things when buying a car. How many people can safely use this vehicle at one time? I think it’s time that we consider the same basic question with regard to the entire planet. It is time to consider this issue to cause it’s already difficult to think of a basic natural resource that has not been degraded, depleted, contaminated or put at risk. If it’s not pressures put on these resources by increasing numbers of humans, it’s hard to think of what the cause might be. And for those who insist that it’s only our unsustainable lifestyles that are the problem, we are well past the point of making that argument. It is only thanks to our unsustainable use of water, fertilizers and fuel that have allowed the population to get to this point where humans fill every nook and cranny of the planet.

For more information on this topic, see this prior DI post and the website of the Global Population Speak Out.

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Category: Environment, Sustainable Living

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Karl says:

    If you are referring to the virgin birth of Jesus this was not an "unplanned" pregnancy as the written record states. This one was planned from before the foundation of the world.

    While Mary was betrothed to Joseph, an angelic visitation from Gabriel is given to Mary and she is informed her that it was she who will bear the Son of God.

    Some would say that this was not planned by Mary, but she was very much involved in the matter. From age to age Jewish women were hoping that it would be their child that would be the Messiah.

    The angel did not have to force/convince Mary to have a child, or in any way seduce her. She freely and willingly participates in the incarnation.

    Luke records in chapter 1:26-38 these words which

    come from Mary herself.

    26Now in the sixth month, the archangel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28Having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!" 29But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. 30The angel said to her, "Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom." 34Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?" 35The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. 36Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37For everything spoken by God is possible." 38Mary said, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word." The angel departed from her.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Karl: It's a story. There is no evidence for this claim that Mary was a virgin who had a baby. You weren't there following Mary around (if Mary even existed) making sure that she wasn't having sex with human males. No eye witness did this. It is amazing to me that you would give credence to such a extraordinary and preposterous claim.

  2. Karl,

    If Mary were the only one this ever happened to, you might have more than half a leg to stand on. But the fact is she was only one among a whole long string of mortal women supposedly knocked up by a god. It's more plausible to say that the writers of the Gospels, like many other things, just coopted an older narrative to their purposes.

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