This Week's Post: Population Growth, Democracy, and Freedom

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Population Growth, Democracy, and Freedom

Garret Hardin (1915-2003) was an ecologist who taught at the University of California-- Santa Barbara.  He is known for his writings on the tragedy of the commons, lifeboat ethics, and a human population small enough that all might enjoy a diet of steak and wine, among many others.   In 1984 at the Annual Meeting of the Society of American Zoologists he presented his paper "Human Ecology: the Subversive, Conservative Science."  This included a list of what he considered to be the foundation stones of the science of human ecology.  The 8th (of 12) was population growth ultimately makes democracy impossible.

He supports this statement as follows:  "Easy communication is the sine quo non for an enduring democracy.  All communications functions are inherently affected with diseconomies of scale, since (for every well defined communication network) the burden created by the communication of n people increases as the square of n.  This burden expresses itself in information overload, which leads to misunderstandings, social pathologies, and (ultimately) the acceptance of a totalitarian regime as the least of the evils available to an overpopulated political unit.  In the face of unlimited population growth the word 'democracy' can be retained, but not in fact."

Hardin's thoughts 32 years ago seem validated by the events of today.  The global human population has increased from about 5 billion in 1986 to 7.4 billion in 2016, an overall increase of 48%.  Today the human population is increasing by nearly a million people every 4 days and is predicted to reach 9.8 billion by mid-century. 

If this growth materializes, it will happen on an Earth increasingly depleted of essential resources, both in quantity and quality.

Population growth (in less-developed countries), increased resource use and environmental impact (especially by those in more-developed countries like the U. S), and common sense, predicts that the additional 2.4 billion people in 2050 (added to today's population) will find us all ever more crowded and competing and confronting each other.  This, along with Hardin's "information overload," will pose serious challenges to the survival of democracy and freedom worldwide.

And Hardin didn't consider the effects of disinformation.

In 1992, building on Hardin's idea, I created this Fox Sense graphic.  With population increase, there comes a point where the contributions of more people (human resources) begins to be overwhelmed by the competing interests and impacts of the masses.  Then we will need more laws and bosses and stop signs (less freedom) to keep us out of each other's way.

Perhaps the U. N. could consider enacting a global "Endangered Freedom Act."  The essentials of such an act would include population stabilization, less consumption, less resource depletion, less environmental degradation and more environmental restoration by everyone.