The World as We Know it is Coming to an End … So What Else is New?

          We have been sounding the clarion call, warning the world that making kids, especially a lot of them, is a really bad idea. What we have been unable to describe, however, is exactly what this tiny orb in an almost unlimited galaxy will look like in a few centuries.

          Author Alan Weisman described what the Earth might look like if we suddenly all disappeared, in his 2007 book, The World Without Us. In fact, it looks pretty good, if you can live without the image of The Peter Principle of all species (aka Homo sapiens) running through your imagination.

Alan Weisman warns of consequences of overpopulation

Author Alan Weisman

           In his latest tome, Weisman projects just the opposite outcome. In Countdown he guesses what our planet will look like if we can’t keep our sperm contained. 

          The world’s human numbers grow by the population of Egypt each year. Reno, Nevada has a about 230,000 residents. That is approximately how much global population increases daily. Imagine building a city the size of Reno each and every day of the year, replete with energy sources, fresh water, sewage, and on and on, each day. To us, that is mind boggling. In the six years since Weisman wrote The World Without Us, our numbers have increased from 6.5 billion to 7.1 billion. In less than a century, that number will grow to more than 10 billion.

          Imagine, 42 percent growth in nine decades. That’s an increase of two Chinas or nine United Stateses (if that’s how to say it). But enough of statistics. What does this mean in practical day-to-day-life terms?

          Let’s start with water. “Ever-rising water demand, and climate change, are expected to boost water problems worldwide, especially in countries that are already experiencing shortages,” says Dina Fine Maron of Scientific American.

          She goes on to point out, “Pakistan, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, is on the brink of crisis. A recent report from the Asian Development Bank, highlighted by The Atlantic, states that the country’s emergency water reserve only has enough supply for 30 days – more than 30 times below the 1,000-day recommendation for similar countries.”

       Alan Weisman's latest book   We must find a way to bring these numbers down or, as Weisman points out, eventually, drought, warfare, disease, or famine will. He traveled to 21 countries to speak with scientists, religious leaders, politicians, and others to research his book. While countries that adopt liberal family planning policies, like Iran – which offers voluntary state-funded birth control and education – seem to “get it,” other countries slog along, creating cities like Mumbai, India, where many of its 20 million people live under tarps strung between skyscrapers.

          Weisman makes the case that our planet can provide adequate fresh air, water, and food for two billion people, which was our population in 1900. If we were to adopt China’s one-child policy, we could get back to that number in a century. “I don’t see us being able to change our lifestyles fast enough,” he opines. “The one thing we can do is contraception. We could change human impact more quickly that way, and give ourselves time to solve these other problems.”

           As we are fond of saying, there are more than Enough of Us. The tools exist for us to turn things around. What is lacking is the self-awareness, the political courage, and the gumption to “Just say ‘No’”.


  1. Candi Beamish says:

    Dear Ellis and Cheryl;
    Thanks for covering Alan Weisman’s book. I only wish this message could be reprinted and taken to heart by the world’s citizens and leaders alike! That the population is increasing at such an alarming rate should be in every City council’s agenda, every newspaper’s headlines, in schools; they need to educate people so they know there is a choice, to refrain from breeding and let the planet live! Warfare, disease and famine are already taking their toll around the world…and I do not see people changing their ways any time soon.
    Signed, cynical but doggedly cheerful,

  2. Rachel Tyrel says:

    What Candi said. What a thoughtful and cogent analysis of Mr. Weissman’s book. If only we could foment the political will to raise awareness about overpopulation and all of the unintended consequences that it engenders.

    As I grow into middle age, I become more frightened each year, terrified of the kind of world that I will have to live in when I am too old and feeble to care for myself, because my peers have thoughtlessly produced broods of children who were in no way educated about ecology and conservation, and have used up all of the remaining natural resources that the Earth has left.

  3. I agree with all of you, and I think too about patterns of population in the animal world, for example, rangers killing starving deer in public-owned forests because their population has grown so much they can’t survive. It seems as though we’re headed for a global apocalypse of the same nature. Then after much starving, diseases, wars over resources, climate change–humans will be gone forever, like so many frogs.

    China has relaxed its one-child policy, allowing rural couples to have second child, provided that the first one is a girl. They may go further.

  4. Childfree Woman says:

    Thanks for covering this! I am so glad I won’t be around in a century, do think we should all be talking about this nonstop and not tolerating the Catholic Church’s no birth control, no abortion bullcrap as appropriate for public discourse.

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