The More The Merrier

By: Thomas van den Berg

It truly is a dystopian prophecy we like to fear: our little rock in the galaxy being too overcrowded. Chinese cities we’ve never heard of with over six million inhabitants, or the Nigerian capital of Lagos that will double in population over the next twenty years to forty million. When do we have to flip the switch of the ‘No Vacancy’-sign?

The city of Lagos is already trembling. Every day the city ‘welcomes’ more than two thousand migrants that come from the rural areas of the country. Lagos was not built for twenty million people, let alone the forty million that it will become. The bulging city of Lagos is exemplary for Africa, since the UN expects that the population of the continent will have doubled by 2050.

The forthcoming overpopulation of the earth is often labelled as a ticking time bomb. But in the list of ‘Earths Greatest Dangers’ it is often not on the top, a problem we often disregard in favour of global warming. We have a clue how to deal with the melting of the poles but lack a clear vision how to restrain our need for reproduction.

Where will it end?

In 1804 we reached one billion people, two billion in 1927, three in 1959, four in 1974, five in 1987, six in 1999 and seven billion in 2011. The ever-growing development in medicine and agriculture made this all possible. Children have a better chance to make it to adulthood compared to a century ago.
‘So stop having children then, you bunch of rabbits!’ Well, that is not the problem actually.
The number of children has stabilised, according to research of Our World in Data. It is our improved life expectancy – which has doubled over the last century – that’s causing the growth. The ‘good’ thing about old people is that they have a tendency to die, and because of that the growth is expected to shrink. Demographers state that we will continue to grow until 2100, up to eleven billion. Once we’ve reached that point, it will start to go back down again.

It is not so bad after all, or is it?

Just because the problem of overpopulation seems to resolve itself, does not mean it will be easy until then. It is to be expected, according to the research department of Unicef, that the overpopulation of cities like Lagos and Dhaka in Bangladesh will lead to humanitarian crises in the next decades. The governments of both countries don’t have the resources to properly control the process. And then there is the environmental side of this story.
Marc Davidson, professor Environmental Philosophy, is sombre: “The pressure on the environment is a product of three factors: population, consumption per head of the population and environmental pressure per unit of consumption. Each of these factors is a key to lowering the pressure.”

So if the consumption in growing countries will increase, we have to tone down a little. We in the West are in main control here, a fact proven by the Concordia University in Montreal: Between 1906 and 2005 just seven countries (USA, Germany, Brazil, England, Russia and India) were responsible for 60% of the entire global pollution. In that light, we have to hope that Africa and Asia will remain less fortunate than us. If they start consuming like we do, we are simply doomed.

Thank God Africa will stay poor…

‘Luckily’, there is a thing such as economical inequality. ‘The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.’ Often mentioned by activists that want to make us aware of the negative sides of our capitalism. The eight richest men on our planet have same amount of money as the bottom half of the entire world population. This was all in a report published by the charity foundation Oxfam Novib, last year.
This problem won’t resolve itself. This means that the areas where the population will continue to grow in the next century will have to divide less money amongst more people. So, the growth of the population will lead to trouble after all.