Uh oh. This is a big one.
Today in chapel a woman from the Stanford Blood Bank told some sensitive and emotionally stirring stories of how blood donations have helped to save lives.
And I found myself in a morally-dense and guilt-ridden place.
So here’s the thing. There are tons of advances in medicine that have done wonders to help extend the length of lives. And that, of course, is good. And then there’s organizations out there, like the Daraja Academy, which do wonders in helping to improve the lives of those less fortunate.
But then here’s the problem. Our planet has a pretty serious population crisis. We have almost 7 billion people on earth, with an average of 3 people being added PER SECOND. That’s insane. The general predictions are that we are going to get to about 9 or 10 billion, before the growth “levels out” and then stabilizes at around 9 billion.
Let’s first talk about the aging problem. Less people dying of disease means more people living longer, and thus a shift in the breakdown of our society. We’re going to have a lot more old people. The elderly are dependent, and so shifting our population pyramids around to have a lot of old people who aren’t dying creates a much bigger dependent part of society. Therefore, more and more of our resources needs to go toward sustaining this part of the population, thus draining away what are already precious resources. In places like Japan where this is already a reality, they’re getting creative and inventing stuff like sensor-fitted pants that can sense when the muscles of the pants-wearer are failing, and thereby become rigid to help support the person. (Yes, I’m talking about pants that basically walk themselves. And unfortunately I don’t have a link for this. I remember hearing it on NPR and wish to God I had a link!)
On the other hand, the reality of what that “leveling out” would look like in global population growth is potentially horrific. Assuming that the birth rate in developing parts of the world doesn’t change, we’re talking about an increase in the death rate in order for population growth to decline. And because of the aforementioned advancements in medicine, not to mention all the other stuff that is coming down the pipeline that will probably save millions and blow our minds, it seems likely that the increased death rate will be due to us humans. In other words, large-scale war due to the scrambling for scarce resources. Or, we could potentially have some calamitous natural disaster, likely aided and abetted by global warming.
So basically, and this is about as Debbie-Downer as I get, but I’m worried about population growth. I’ve been teaching about global issues for a while, and much of my concern is informed by reading the likes of Nicholas Kristof and J.F. Rischard.
So here’s where I get back to the initial guilty thought that crossed my mind during chapel. Yes, the death of anyone is terrible, but our finite planet cannot sustain our exponential population growth. And therefore my question is this: by DELAYING the death of so many people through medicine, couldn’t we also be AMPLIFYING the strains we are putting on the planet, and thereby HEIGHTENING the potential for calamitous disaster? (I know that’s the second time I used calamitous; I like the word, and think it’s fitting.)
So in other words, should I really give blood? Should I really work on a school in Kenya? Were the social darwinists right?
This thought flashed through my mind for a second. The other seconds of the day I am firmly committed to do what I can to improve the living circumstances of those that are on this planet right now. But I can’t deny this thought’s existence. It’s scary to think about, and obviously foundation-shaking enough for me to expand upon this one second thought and turn it into a blog post. It’s there and I can’t exactly ignore it.
I’m throwing this out there because for this post I’m really fishing for comments. I’m very curious to hear what others think about this. Is anyone else worried about where our population growth is taking us? Anyone else ever think that what seems like an obvious (short-term) good, like curing cancer, may in fact be a much bigger (long-term) bad?