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World Population Day: Or, why our dystopian future is probably your problem

Marc McEntegart By Marc McEntegart Published on July 12, 2016

Ostensibly, World Population Day exists to raise awareness of the earth’s growing population, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to look at how far humanity has come in the last two hundred years or so. In 1810, the total human population of the earth was estimated at around a billion individuals. By 2012, we had bumped that figure up to a healthy 7 billion, thanks in no small part to the improved access to healthcare and widespread urbanisation.

On the face of it, this seems like the kind of blanket success we should be proud of as a species. Unfortunately, it leaves us in the position of having an ever-growing number of people vying for their own share of a planet that has continued to stubbornly remain the same size. As well you might imagine, one result of this is that we are living closer and closer together.

As of 2014, more than half of humanity has lived in urban environments. With Africa and Asia still rapidly urbanising, projections estimate that we can expect to see another 2.5 billion humans living in urban environments by 2050. As those areas urbanise, populations will continue to grow.

With all of the above figures rising, we find ourselves staring into a future in which the population of earth is projected to hit 11 billion by 2100. For the overwhelming majority of humanity’s history, that sentence wouldn’t have been a concern. After all, a hundred years is an awfully long time. Sadly, thanks to the steady advancements in medical and geriatric care that have made the current population of earth possible, the odds are looking uncomfortably high that you and I, dear reader, might live to see the year 2100 and its 11 billion people.

This has the sad implication of rendering global overpopulation not as some far flung theoretical issue, but as a problem many of us will one day be forced to deal with. Where once we could write off the spiralling population as just another problem for our descendents, we may now be forced to confront the issue head on.

So, for those of you already asking, “How can I possibly hope to mitigate this global crisis alone?” the answer is simple. If we take our cues from the recycling campaigns of the nineties, we can hopefully approach the problem of global population with the same resigned can-do attitude that has inspired millions of us to separate our waste and recyclables ever since.

Provided below is a short list of things that each of us can do to help prevent overpopulation:

  • Try to avoid any unnecessary reproduction. If reproduction is absolutely necessary, produce no more than two children, then aim to live a life of precisely that level of healthiness that will cause you to expire as you reach the average human lifespan at your time of birth. Aim for perfect homeostasis.
  • Introduce a “death lottery” until a suitable balance is achieved, as in Robert Sheckley’s The Seventh Victim.
  • Transform our society into Logan’s Run; when humans reach the age of 30 they are immediately subjected to the fatal ritual, “Carrousel.”
  • Simply leave the earth. While our homeworld will soon be hugely overpopulated, the rest of the solar system seems blissfully quiet (not least because the majority of it is an airless void that would suck the very oxygen from your lungs). Branch out. Enjoy it.

Of course, given the incredible growth in population and the massive number of humans living in urban environments, the fact is that we may not need to take such drastic action. As noted above, humanity’s two-century long population explosion has been largely driven by the combination of urbanisation and modern medicine, with an enormous amount attributable to the development of antibiotics.

With humanity quickly hurtling toward a Judge Dredd style future of smog-choked megacities, we may be forced to take matters into our own hands. Otherwise, we’d just have to stand by and wait for some sudden calamity to solve all of our population problems for us, and how likely does that sound, really…?

Well, as luck would have it, we’ve been massively over-prescribing antibiotics for decades now. We are already beginning to see antimicrobial resistant forms of many diseases, and there is reason to believe that our current treatments for infections have a relatively limited shelf-life. The issues with currently-curable communicable illnesses are immediately obvious, but multi-drug resistant bacteria also introduce new risks to what we would consider low-risk treatments.

According to the WHO, “Without effective anti-infective treatment, many standard medical treatments will fail or turn into very high risk procedures.”

With humanity clamouring to live in conditions that are ever more tightly cramped together and antimicrobial resistance reaching a crisis point, there’s a very real chance that the whole global overpopulation issue will just blow over in the next few decades.

Crisis averted. Nothing to worry about.

Irish writer, editor, and capoeirista. Passionate about folklore, videogames, and communication. Editorial content writer at Bookwitty.