The Population Effect

I believe that the effect of population growth on stress levels is a very important fundamental one, and like talking about religion and politics at a party, it is usually avoided. World population growth is well documented but, again like talking about it, doing anything about it also seems to be avoided, probably because the fact that to do anything will mean that governments may have to put limits on family size. Many international conferences have been organised to address the problem, but do we hear about them? - No! Also many eminent people have also spoken out about this unchecked growth and have been ignored by both politicians and media. Any mention of any sort of control strikes at the heart of the liberalists' cause of individual freedom even though this sort of liberalism has more to do with anarchy than a less stressed existence. Particularly in the UK, as a group of small islands, the population cannot continue to grow at the present rates without an increase in the problems that relate to overcrowding.

The fact that we have a finite area within the country, not only for living, but also to ensure that the areas on which there are fewer people have sufficient resources to support us, whether that is crops or natural resources. To take these same principles and expand them worldwide the present global population of over 6 billion will probably be expanding to a figure of 9 billion by 2050 (A recent document published by the UK Department for International Development even went as far to quote this figure as 10 billion!); this is thought to be unsustainable, especially as the developing world aspires to the developed worlds living style. However in everyone's daily life we continue, like lemmings, heading toward potential disaster. We smile when someone says they now have 5 children, and say how pleased we are, but when some of us say "how irresponsible" we are met with frowns of disapproval. The liberals complain when any thought of immigration control is mentioned, and that we should "be welcoming". There is also the growing trend in the new millennium to have multiple 'partners' with the related additional children and the liberal humanists say that this is something that the state should help with and so on. However it should be obvious to everyone that this situation cannot continue otherwise nature will take its own, likely dramatic, action to limit our numbers. However, population numbers even within the UK should be reduced, let alone stabilised.

Many people visit historic places during their holidays that may date from the 1700s, but during those days the population of Britain was about 7 million, about a tenth of what it is today. In trying to put this into a context, imagine that we still lived in the houses that our ancestors lived in, but our family of four was 40! Even with today's services and facilities I think that most people would find the living conditions unbearable. Living in close proximity with each other would also be the cause of many arguments and conflicts. If that is bad imagine what the effects would be with neighbours! There is no doubt that being overcrowded has an affect upon us. I remember when we moved from a village community, where we were brought up, to the outskirts of a town, the anxiety of being so close to others never really went away, but it did diminish over a period of time. Others who had been raised, and always lived, in the town could not understand the anxiety at all - why was this?

Scientific studies have found that the brains of animals do adapt, over a period of time, to their environment. Contrary to the popular image we are animals - parts of Nature, and as a consequence are subject to all the fundamental patterns of Nature. Overcrowding of the Human animal can have different levels of acceptance in different parts of the world depending upon the rate of growth of that population. This evolutionary effect may be due to changes within the Human brain. The behavioural psychologist D.O. Hebb, in the late 1940's, showed that by progressively overcrowding rats (rats were used as they have a social structure close to that of humans) he was able to study how their social structure broke down to the point where they even succumbed to cannibalism, which is evidently not normal in the rat world. Parallels can be drawn here where some aspects of human behaviour such as road rage, as well as the general decline in courtesy, may be a reflection of a similar social breakdown in our overcrowded and stressed human race. The remarkable thing about Hebb's study was that he found that the structure of the rat's brains started to change in a manner that perhaps made some of their aberrant behaviour acceptable to the group. Again perhaps that is what is happening already with some of our fellow humans when they fail to see the differences between what we traditionally recognise as Right or Wrong and that punishment is seen as inhuman rather than a normal act of natural chastisement and 'brain correction'. If we do not take what may be considered by the liberal nannies as harsh measures to control how we manage the effect that the growth of our own population has on the world's ecosystem, then again Nature will eventually do it for us.

Population mathematical equations have long been used to model populations of animals and insects. It can be determined how food, predators or environment affected both their growth and decline. The huge complexities of Nature's systems mean that we still only understand few, and meddle with too many, in the belief that we can control Nature. Pandemic viruses, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and many more are all natural changes in Nature's systems to retain equilibrium in the universal ecosystem. Around the time of Jesus Christ when the worlds population was estimated to be 250 million rather than the present 6,000 million, the affect that we had on the worlds ecosystem was rather small but now we are affecting the earths natural ecosystem to such a degree that Nature is starting to redress the balance with our ultimate possible destruction, in whole or at least in part!

The growth in global population is by no means a consistent pattern. In Europe there is small growth (between 0 and about 0.28%) but in the developing world, which is some 75% of the world's population, growth rates are much higher (around 2.6%). For example in 1988 the population of the UK was 57 million and it is now, in 2008, 61.4 million, but the population of a country like Ethiopia used to be less than the UK at around 47.5 million in 1988. However it is now over 73 million and is set to double in around 65 years, these figures already take into account Ethiopia's famine and AIDs problems. These differences in population growth is causing stress within the developing world as there is bound to be a migration from faster growing populations to more stable ones. This movement is bound to cause anxiety to those who feel that their living space is now being invaded. At this point it is worth pointing out that India and China have around 0.4% of the world's population with an annual growth of 0.14% and 0.58% respectively. These figures appear small but with these countries' considerable size, these figures are quite alarming.

Another stressful effect upon our ecosystem is the demand of the Human animal for energy. If we consider that the demand for energy of the population in the USA to be in the order of an index of 1, which includes oil and electricity consumption then the consumption of people in Europe is about 0.5, with Asian countries around 0.1 and countries on the African continent like Niger are about 0.005. If, as supposedly democratic world influencing countries, we expect the developing world to live the extravagant lifestyles that we do, then the amount of energy usage of the 75% of the world is due to increase to totally unsustainable levels. However the thirst for the material world to blindly increase profits at the expense of Nature means that this 75% will be pursued relentlessly for their potential market. To blindly go along this route will lead to disaster and an era of crisis management to rescue a world that is heading towards living on its own rubbish tip, or a fanciful mass evacuation, at minimum energy expenditure, to a close habitable planet like Titan? Does anyone really think we will enjoy a sunset on the moon?

A sustainable level of world human population of 1 billion is that which existed around 1850 and is a radical one. A paper written for a proposed symposium on "Population, Sustainable Development and Security" by J. Anthony Cassils in Collaboration with "The Population Institute of Canada" proposed this figure. It is probably a realistic one and Nature may force us to this, or similar level, unless we take firm managed disciplined movement towards a sustainable, much less stressed world population.

China has tried to control its population growth by limiting benefits for those who insist on more than one child per family, and this policy has met with disapproval from the west, but it will be interesting to see how this policy changes in its move to become more open to the pressures of western trade. Measures to reduce the birth rate may need to include enforced birth control where voluntary solutions fail. But there is no doubt that targets would need to be set, and agreed, for each country and probably be set by some international body like the UN. However the past record of the UN in getting global agreements implemented is not good and my own feelings are that nothing much will happen, some will realistically address the problem, but overall growth will continue.

If we eventually accept that as an animal within nature there is not a lot we can do to control the global situation then we must work with nature to ensure that each of our own countries do what they can to protect their own uncomfortably stressful environments while realising that other countries will do well and others will fail. This will probably mean that populations in some countries will perish in large numbers, while in others the populations may survive. This does not imply that the developed countries populations are better equipped for survival. In fact they may be less able to survive hardship due to the soft lifestyle that many of those populations have had. I believe that as we approach the stressful peak of population expansion the trend towards globalisation will probably slow down as countries move more towards becoming more insular and self-supporting.

Each country should look to its own population to be able to determine a level that is comfortable for continued stability and recovery of the country's ecosystem with the context of that of the world. At the same time each country should be involved with efforts to stabilise and then reduce the world population to similar levels that existed around 1850. Conflict is inevitable, as tensions exist between countries, but within the human animals' nature, as in all nature, conflict is inevitable and should be managed. We should dispense with this fairy-tale notion of the world living in some perpetual utopian peace.

Other measures that each country should take would include enforced birth control. This could be done indirectly through a benefits system, which would need to generate a more traditional attitude of shame for those who did not conform. However, I would not expect to see a lot of progress here in the short term and I would suspect that stronger measures would be needed such as abortions and more general viral systems of birth control. Within the UK, our present attitude of feeling cosy compassion for those who have children whilst at school, or those who by choice, continue to have very large families should immediately be replaced by reluctant, truculent help and an attitude of social shame. The time for more stick than carrot has now arrived.

Our attitude towards immigration must harden and should perhaps almost cease altogether until population levels have stabilised - which for the UK is probably at about 11 million. Traditionally in the UK, governments have cited the need for immigrants to fill jobs that cannot be filled by the home market, but if the population resisted the power of the advertisers and ceased building their little material piles there would be enough people to undertake some of the more direct life supporting tasks. Imagine how many people would be freed up if more cooks used a durable whisk and a bowl rather than this year's latest fad food mixer! We would need to take a much firmer line, and turn a very deaf ear, to those who knock at the door and plead that their country is mistreating them. They are only doing what any animal would do and looking after themselves and likewise we should do the same. Also remember that most are coming from countries where the populations are growing ten times faster than our own! And as already has been seen, from our country's statistics, immigrant birth rates continue to outstrip the indigenous population. So in the event of global natural events some will perish, but this is Nature in action and will go some way to accelerate the population reduction that will be needed.

The medical fraternity does well with new technology in prolonging life - note I did not say 'save' life! However, the benefit of this to the wider population must be appreciated and where individuals feel that a terminal disease means that their quality of life is unacceptable then they should be given the choice to end it at a time to suit themselves. These actions should be seen as commendable and not as shameful as they are at present. Also the costs of prolonging some life, at present, may be exceptionally high to the population and should not be granted. Many drugs can be very costly and are heavily promoted by the pharmaceutical companies in pursuance of profit. The benefit to any individual may only be short term and they may suffer many additional side-effects that do not make this extension of life much more enjoyable. Any decisions on these sorts of things should always be left to the professional physicians and not some clerical bureaucrat. As with many ailments physicians will say that "let nature take its course". A battle will go on and other bodily attackers will kill a virus, or bacteria, and the person will usually survive if they have the will to do so.

The thought of even trying to achieve reductions on a global scale are unthinkable and impractical, so what sort of measures could be taken in the UK to reach sustainable levels? The first action would be to become more isolationist and very firmly limit the immigration trail that at 2004 figures stood at just over 800,000 with emigration standing at just under 600,000. If the difference in these figures could be reversed to give us a migration outflow of about 250,000/year this would contribute considerably. The birth rate has also consistently stayed at about 675,000 per year from at least the early 1900s and could be reduced to a target level of about 300,000 per year. At present the only part of the UK with a reducing population is Scotland, which is presently reducing at about 0.5%. If this rate of reduction was used throughout the UK then we would at least go some way to reaching our target of 10 million, but at this rate we would only have achieved 22 million by 2206 and able to achieve 40 million in about 80 years. Policies of consistent reduction obviously need to be maintained for many periods of governmental office periods. A prospect that with a democracy that needs to pander to the materialistically minded seems unachievable. However, to ignore it and not take some unpalatable measures will lead to inevitable anxiety and conflict.

If more people took the time to sit in their garden and watch nature, rather than watching too many DVD's or employing any other of our cultural distractions, they would find that many of their pretty cosy little creatures are not only just that, but they are also excellent killers, and need to be, to survive. This applies from the largest animal in the sea, the whale, to microscopic bacteria that also inhabit us. To imagine that the human animal is any different is still to live under an illusion that has been successfully portrayed and peddled for the last 2000 years. If more people accepted that we are part of the natural order then what is presently seen as unsavoury and unseemly would become - Natural! And our population may stand a better chance of a less stressed survival.

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Material Copyright © 2009 Alan Harmer.
Last Updated March 2010