A new article in Foreign Affairs magazine looks at two recent books that are pointing us towards that possibility. The books are The Human Tide by Paul Morland and Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson.

Like many people, I have long wondered about the human carrying capacity of Earth. Would we overpopulate the planet leading towards some doomsday scenario of humans competing for limited resources or destroying the planet’s ability to house human life? Or, would there be some technological breakthrough or a shift in human awareness that would lead us to saving our planetary home?

This article (linked above) actually offers some hope for our species.

Here are some interesting quotes:

Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. 

Governments worldwide have evolved to meet the challenge of managing more people, not fewer and not older. 

Almost every country in Europe now has a fertility rate below the 2.1 births per woman that is needed to maintain a static population…. That trend is well under way in Japan, whose population has already crested, and in Russia, where the same trends, plus high mortality rates for men, have led to a decline in the population.

The underlying drivers of capitalism, the sense that resource competition and scarcity determine the nature of international relations and domestic tensions, and the fear that climate change and environmental degradation are almost at a doomsday point—all have been shaped by the persistently ballooning population of the past two centuries. If the human population is about to decline as quickly as it increased, then all those systems and assumptions are in jeopardy.

The downside is that a sudden population contraction will place substantial strain on the global economic system. Capitalism is, essentially, a system that maximizes more—more output, more goods, and more services.

I encourage you to read the full article, but what these books and the underlying data shows is that we humans are somehow collectively taking steps to reduce the planetary population. The doomsday scenarios are looking less and less likely. Fewer people will shift the speed of global warming (although we do still need to address).

However, our current form of capitalism appears to need to shift from a model built on continuous growth. There will be new opportunities to create goods and services for an aging population….but measuring our success in “growth of the GDP” with a built in assumption that we will forever be able to “grow” seems to be an outdated yardstick.

Yet, the news in these articles are encouraging. What do you think?

Mark Gilbert