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Monday, December 15, 2008

Zero Population Growth Will Happen

this next installment, Dr. Bartlett continues with examples of the exponential function. He talks about world population.

On July 7, 1986, the news reports indicated that the world population had reached 5 billion people growing at a rate of 1.7% per year.
That doesn't sound like much. You calculate the doubling time 70/1.7% = 41 years.
In 1999, the world population had reached 6 billion, but growing at 1.3% per year. Doubling time = 53 years. However, Earth adds 80 million new humans every year.
Dr. Bartlett extrapolates this modest 1.3% per year growth to the future.
If this modest 1.3% per year could continue, the world population would reach a density of one person per square meter on the dry-land surface of the earth in 780 years. And the mass of people would equal the mass of the earth in just 2400 years.
Dr. Bartlett points out that we smile at that. We know that won't happen. Why? Because, eventually zero population growth is going to happen. We can debate whether or not we like it. Regardless, it will happen. Today's high birth rates will drop and low death rates will rise far sooner than 780 years.

Then he asks, "What sort of options are available if we want to address the problem?" He offered this

Table of Options

Increase Populations Decrease Populations






Large Families

Small Families





Public Health





Law and Order



Scientific Agriculture


Accident Prevention


Clean Air

Pollution (smoking)

Ignorance of the Problem

The items on the left are the good things we do that lower the death rate. But anything we do that lowers the death rate makes the problem worse. The things on the right are those things that are going to solve the problem. We have a dilemma. Those things on the left we regard as good and sacred. Those things on the right (murder, war, famine, disease) we do not want.

Now, the point. We eventually are going to reach zero population growth. Nature will choose from those items on the right. Dr. Bartlett says:

We don't have to do anything except be prepared to live with whatever nature chooses from that right hand list. Or we can exercise the one option that is open to us: choose something from the right hand list that we can go out and campaign for.
Nature is already choosing. AIDS is one example. Famine and war are others. He asks an interesting question: where is education on this table? Is it on the right hand column or left? He thinks that so far, it is on the left. Education has not addressed this problem.

He doesn't mention religion, but I'll let you be the judge.

It appears to me that the best item on the right would involve decreasing birth rates. It seems that we ought to be campaigning for contraception and family planning and reorient our values so that every child born is a wanted child.

Or we can let nature take its course. And it will.

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