Underfed and Overpopulated
For Americans drowning in super-sized sodas, bursting with high-calorie fat bombs from the Dollar Menu, and dying from generally too much of everything except self-discipline, it may be hard to understand that a large portion of the planet’s population doesn’t have enough to eat. If the projections are to be believed, it’s only going to get worse. According to an advertisement from Monsanto, the agribusiness behemoth, to keep pace with accelerated demand by 2050 the world’s farmers will have to produce twice the amount of food they presently grow.
Monsanto views this startling assertion as a compelling reason to invest in (and not be frightened by) genetically engineered foods. We see it as another compelling reason to stop making babies.
Humans decry overbreeding in what we consider the “natural world,” the place where rapidly multiplying populations of rats, mosquitos, suburban deer, rabbits, wild dogs, and even sometimes African elephants are viewed as infestations of variously sized vermin. But we humans are the most impactful infesters. It is we who have fundamentally changed the atmosphere of our planet, not field mice.
The ads are right: To feed ourselves, we will indeed require more total food, which will in turn require ever more consumption of the resources that produce our food, whether it is forestland transformed into grazing zones for our livestock or nitrogen concentrated into pellets to plump our chickens and tomatoes. No matter how ingeniously the lads in the Monsanto R&D department alter corn seeds, the combined acts of growing, harvesting, and delivering all this extra food to all the extra eaters must adhere to Newtonian certainties: these actions will have opposite and equal reactions.
Such as the depletion of Earth’s freshwater supply. Such as the unpleasant waste products inherent in creating and consuming anything, particularly stuff that’s organic and can’t (or shouldn’t) be dumped anywhere near human beings. Such as larger, crueler, and unhealthier meat factories. Such as the disruption and eventual extinction of creatures at all strata of the food chain.
We’ve witnessed with resigned horror what happens when too many human beings congregate in too small of an area. Think Mexico City. Think Manila. Think Mumbai. Think any megalopolis in a “developing country.” There aren’t enough plagues and natural disasters to ever restore balance in these overcrowded, polluted, patently ill places. Now imagine the world’s population doubled. Suddenly the Great Plains of Nebraska look something like Paradise.
Sustainable growth, we’re coming to realize, is a comforting myth. Numerous scientists of disparate political persuasion say that our eco-system, our finite resources, cannot sustain any growth. Indeed, for our civilization and our planet to survive, we must endure a period of negative growth, a population decrease. Plenty of institutions and systems have a vested interest in the production of more babies, more consumers, more customers. But history, recent and ancient, has shown that as a species we’re not very good at taking care of our own. We just happen to be good at making a lot of our own.
Nuclear weaponry and new viruses might do for our the human race what we cannot do for ourselves. But perhaps the most powerful indicator of our species’ superior intelligence and adaptability would be for us to make an informed choice: procreate less so that everyone else — our offspring and their offspring, the birds, everything that crawls and slithers –has a chance to live.