Are there too many babies?
One obvious reaction to the news that the worlds birth rate is falling is delight.  There are so many people out there already that we hardly know how to feed them or water them, even less how to provide them all with what is now considered a desirable standard of living and least of all provide them with the fossil fuel they want and dispose of the harmful chemicals and garbage they emit.

This is a perfectly valid point.  In fact, I would go farther.  The carrying power of our planet is about 2 billion people.  That is how many we could feed using traditional farming methods if just about everybody worked just about all the arable land all the time.  That is what I am told.  By “traditional” I am not given to understand methods used by a “traditional society.”  Going into the jungle and slashing and burning enough trees for a clearing and then planting in the open space does not yield that much.  I understand that that means the great open fields of the American west, with combines churning through endless square miles of regularly plowed and planted grain, huge orchards, fat flocks and efficient fishing vessels.  That is traditional.  That was available before the green revolution or highly productive hybrid cereals, intense fertilization, tricks played with plant hormones to regulate growth, build adequately sturdy stalks and oversized seed clusters, before mariculture or fish farming, before absolutely the best cattle virtually cloned and raised world wide. 

And even at two billion the earth is strained.  Those great Midwestern fields dump moisture into the air.  Yes, it rains and it snows, but not nearly enough to provide enough water for crops during the long hot summers.  Water has to be pumped out of deep wells, fossil water that has been there for eons and is not being replaced.  Fish stocks have been dropping for centuries.  Whales, once a cheap source of good oil and almost limitless meat are now protected, virtually kept as world heritage pets, lest they go extinct from overexploitation. 

Without knowing that much about it, it would seem that 2 billion would be already too many.  It would be utter folly to ask how many people one could load on a boat before it sank and then to set out on a voyage with one less than that many.  Yet if the ship sank, some might be rescued, some might swim to shore.  For the earth there is no rescue, no other shore.  The environment must be managed with absolute safety, never pushed anywhere close to the limit.  Perhaps one less than foundering is about a billion. 

If a billion is flat out maximum, then a half billion should be the prudent limit, making the target somewhere between 300 million and 500 million.  So how many babies is that?  Well that would take more numbers than I can offer, but the numbers should go together somewhat like this.  You have a core population of 200, meaning 100 fertile couples.  They are going to have, let us say, 4 children.  There are also going to be some parents and grandparents, so the household might be about 10 or an actual census of a thousand in the immediate core.  Some of those children are not going to find a place in the core, so they will be obliged to become part of the general outside population, where the rules are pretty much the same as now.  They can and will have offspring, but lacking the isolation needed for long term survival, they will die out over a few generations, just as we are doing. 

So the core of 1,000 spins off, oh I don’t know, maybe 3,000 more over the next few generations for a total of about 4,000 per core, call it 5,000 so the numbers are even.  That means that for 300 million world population you need 60,000 cores, which could be real or virtual villages.  With 200 remaining in the core each generation, that is 12,000,000 people in the core populations.  A generation is about 30 years, so that is 400,000 babies per year.  That, in all prudence, is what planet earth can support based on what a normal, healthy, fertile human child will need in the long run in terms of the earth’s resources. 

Our current world growth rate is expected to lay on something like a billion more people a decade for the next few decades or a growth rate of about 100,000,000 per year.  That’s growth, not births.  In other words we are producing babies at hundreds of times what we actually can afford.  Yes, there are too many babies in terms of raw numbers.  The problem is that fertility is falling out of control in the societies that are best able to cope with the deluge. 

Check my numbers if you like.  My arithmetic may be wrong this time.  You may disagree with my assumptions.  And you may be right.  But our current behavior is utterly irrational and headed toward disaster.  We need to understand what we are doing.  On that point, I shall not be moved.

I do not mean to say just how such an arrangement for a rational population strategy would work.  I do not mean to say how it should be set up and got running.  I am not sure that biologically it is even possible at point to set anything up that would work.  And any plan you might propose would mean somebody doing something different.  That would be a hard sell.  “Nobody is going to tell me what I should do,” I can hear the words. 

Would everybody be happy?  No.  How happy would people be?  Well right now most marriages in this country fail.  People are unhappy now.  Any plan would have to be at least as pleasant as what we already have, but the bar is very low.  Right now we are miserable and dying.  We may, with great luck, be able to change that.  We may be able to survive.  And we might be at least no more miserable than we are now.  That would be an improvement. 

And the tools are there.  You now know, if you have read this far in the site, how fertility can be sustained and how it can be reduced at least as painlessly as what we are now doing. 

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