Thursday, May 10, 2007

Holocenic hominid self-extinction event

Anti-anthropocentric ecologist Paul Watson was criticized for suggesting that the optimal carrying capacity of the Earth is around one billion human beings, and that we should consciously seek that number as a policy target. But if you had told educated people one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred years ago, that the population of the Earth would exceed six billion, it seems likely that many of them would find that figure to be unimaginably high and ill-advised. I doubt that any or many people before the twentieth century would have said that the optimal population of the Earth could or should be more than one billion.

There is an instinctive negative reaction to any idea that the ideal population is less than it is now. Yet the science suggests that we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth, and are consuming more resources than the Earth can produce for us each year, ultimately eating up our own future potential. Watson's sketch of sustainable lifestyles, combined with a gradual, voluntary reduction of human numbers, would avoid decimation of the human population by war, disease, and famine. In fact, much of the world (especially by surface area) is already below the replacement fertility rate, giving some hope. A global strategy less coercive and less radical than China's forced one-child policy should be possible. Just holding people to 2 children per family would be below the replacement rate, which is closer to 2.1.

The large numbers of people who want no children, just one child, or two children brings Japan's total fertility rate to 1.23, one of the lowest-ranked in the world, and enables some to have more than two children without moving Japan from the top 10 low-fertility countries.

There should be a global health care system, perhaps financed by a tax on containers or global trade, to tie together all of the national systems and protect human health worldwide. It would provide birth control to every woman on Earth after her second child. Getting the national birth rate below 2 children per woman would be a precondition for being included in the global health plan, with assistance offered to help reach that goal.

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