HOMO SAPIENS - QUO VADIS?
by Vic Lloyd
(Investigator 50, 1996 September)
circumstances surrounding the emergence of man on this planet continue
to tantalise and elude us. And in spite of many elegant theoretical
models (some too absurd to be entertained and others temptingly
attractive), we are still making educated guesses while busily
assembling fossilised bones and measuring ancient skull cavities in an
endeavour to pin down that point in time when homo sapiens first
displayed his distinctive human characteristics.
these activities is the bottom line of the conundrum: was he the end
product of the slow, gradual pro¬cess proposed by Darwin, or was
there a quantum leap result¬ing in his almost overnight appearance?
anthropologists believe that the advent of Cro-¬Magnon Man was
tremendously significant because not only was he, for some inexplicable
reason, a vast improvement on prev¬ious models, we evidently
haven't physically changed one jot since he stole the limelight from
the Neanderthals some 35,000 years ago.
And don't let us
overlook those who will not be budged from the belief that the
anthropologists have it all wrong and that the first humans stepped
from a spaceship. If they did, and given the sophisticated technology
involved in getting them here, one cannot help being intrigued by the
fact that, far from being endowed with superior knowledge, they were
not spared one moment of the tortuous, agonising process of mental
evolution. They even had to re-invent the wheel!
And so it goes
on: from those who believe that the answer lies in Genesis 1 to those
who support Darwin: from Louis Leakey to Erich von Daniken. Perhaps one
day someone will be stricken by a blinding flash of inspiration and all
will become clear. However — the joy of knowledge apart — I can't see
it doing us much good because whatever his origins, mankind's
propensity for procreation is getting entirely out of hand.
When the first
European settlers reached North America the continent supported an
estimated four million Red Indians ¬but only just; they were
obliged to regulate their population growth in line with the available
food and other resources. Today, with improved technology and
organisation, that same land area supports some 250 million people
(with food to spare), thus giving support to the argument that human
ingen¬uity will always overcome such obstacles.
Well, let's see where that line of reasoning gets us.
It is estimated
that in 10,000 BC the world population was five million. From the time
of the Roman Empire to the mid-16th century it grew from 250 million to
600 million. By the mid-19th century it had risen to one billion, and
by 1930, two billion. Today it is well over five billion and
demographers estimate that by 2000 it will stand at about 6.2 billion.
in population growth. Costa Rica, for example, has a
population-doubling rate of 19 years while Great Britain (with
admirable restraint) holds it at 140 years. Esti¬mates differ but
the present rate of growth indicates that there will be an overall
world population doubling every 50 years.
The land area of
the Earth is about 150 million square kilometres. Divide our population
into that figure and you come up with about three hectares for every
man, woman and child. This may sound a lot but when you deduct the
large chunks of unproductive deserts, uninhabitable mountain ranges,
bleak reaches of tundra and the polar caps it becomes considerably less
population continues to double every 50 years, the total will reach
12.4 billion by 2050. By 2100 it will have topped 24.8 billion and by
2150, a whopping 49.6 billion. And that 3 hectares will have reduced to
60m x 60m of hotly disputed living space per each soul.
you have unlimited faith in technology and infinite confidence in
world-wide co-operation, is a hopeless proposition.
before then, and assuming that we do not succumb to the insanity of
nuclear warfare or similar, steps will have been taken to correct the
situation (although what steps I shudder to think).
But, just for
the sheer challenge of the exercise, let us imagine that mankind is
seized with lethargy and allows matters to take their natural course.
The only alternative to population control lies in the development of
technology enabling us to ship people off 'elsewhere'. The good old
science-fiction scenario of outer space colonisation.
In which case, unlimited people wouldn't be a problem. But don't be so sure.
'6-billion-by-2000' as a starting point, and doubling this figure every
50 years, by the year 3000 we would have the staggering total of a
little over 6,000 TRILLION people (6 foll¬owed by 15 noughts).
For the purposes
of this exercise, let us propose that the optimum population for a
planet of our size (and resources) is 3 billion; we would have enough
people to populate two million similar planets.
entertaining and extremely logically argued book, 'Extraterrestrial
Civilisations', Isaac Asimov concludes there to be 530,000 planets in
our galaxy (The Milky Way) capable of supporting life as we know it.
as a basis, and assuming a similar average figure for all galaxies, we
would, by 3000 AD, have enough people to colonise four million
galaxies. And if that doubled every 50 years, by 3600 AD we could
colonise 16,384 million galaxies.
(With all this
in mind, imagine the uproar, confusion and the necessity for a rapid
re-think if the Second Coming and its attendant Resurrection
additionally and suddenly produced all the people who have ever lived
The last figure I read indicated that that the universe contains an estimated 100,000 million galaxies.
is clear: we either initiate an immediate population control programme
... or we start looking for a new universe.
Before it's too late ...
(Investigator 51, 1996 November)
exercise in extrapolating world population statistics (Investigator No.
50), has some frightening implications if taken at face value and
without a modicum of elementary research.
inclined to think that it was all tongue-in-cheek, let's treat it
seriously so as not to add fuel to the fires of doomsday
Vic quotes no
sources for his figures, makes assumptions, and erro¬neously bases
his whole argument on an equal per capita distribution of the world's
world's total population is increasing, but not at the rate Vic
suggests, he may be surprised to learn that according to my sources,
the world's average annual population growth is in fact,
de¬creasing! — from 1.8% in 1950 to 1.7% in 1990, and is estimated
to fall to 1% in 2020.
cause of this fall is the decline in fertility rates (the average
number of children born to a woman who completes her childbearing
years). In all the major regions of the world this decline is, in many
cases, below the replacement level of 2.1.
All the OECD
countries, with the sole exception of Turkey (at 2.1) had, in 1988, an
annual population growth of 0.7%, this is expected to drop to 0.4% by
2010. All other regions were holding average growth at 2.1 % or less,
only the Mid East and North African regions exceeded that figure by 1
%. That figure is also expected to fall to 2.5% by 2010.
The problem as I
see it, is not over population, but the unequal distribution of
population that has been encouraged by urbanisation. Macao for example
— almost 26,000 population density per square kilometre, (100% of
total). Australia 2.1 per square kilometre (85% of total).
As for Vic's
conclusion, population control programmes have al¬ready been
initiated in many countries — China, India and the Philippines to
mention some, and family sizes in the developed coun¬tries have
grown smaller since the turn of the century.
Investigator's readers will not be panicked by Vic's musings into
rushing off to the nearest travel agent for a seat on the next rocket
for some cosmic destination unknown!
Book of Vital World Statistics, Hutchinson Business Books Ltd. London. SW1V 25A.
"HOMO SAPIENS" REVISITED
by Vic Lloyd
(Investigator 53, 1997 March)
is, of course, quite right. (Investigator No 51) My essay on world
population in Investigator No 50 was something of a 'flight of fancy',
a kind of 'what if?' proposition. However, although my figures were
based on what I felt to be quite valid premises and accurately
computed, I didn't dream that anyone would take them as seriously as
Harry evidently did.
was touched by his gracious efforts to allay the fears of the more
sensitive of Investigator's readers by playing down all thought of
looming disaster. I can only hope that in the long term he turns out to
I was sorry that
he felt my reasoning to be 'reprehensible' (an adjective I normally
reserve for the most heinous of crimes) and that he saw my lighthearted
essay as an exercise in 'doomsday pessimism'. As a matter of fact, far
from driving people panic-¬stricken into the streets, desperately
seeking the services of an intergalactic travel agent, when this same
essay was first published, in the monthly journal of the Astronomical
Society of South Australia, nobody blinked so much as an eyelid.
Perhaps people who are accustomed to studying huge cosmic concepts are
not easily moved to alarm and despondency.
Even so, please
let us not be too hasty in writing off my reasoning as being totally
misleading (as Harry obviously would have it). A real danger lurks
within the semi-humour of all those trillions. The ramifications posed
by the performances of individual countries and the fertility of women
are really only side issues; the main concern rests on only two
factors: the projected world population in 2000 AD, and the estimated
rate of annual increase thereafter.
If 'sources' are
vital to the validity of the exercise, the first of these is easy to
pin down, it comes from Harry's own reference book, Hutchinson's Book
of Vital World Statistics, page 12: "The world's population ... is
expected to reach 6.25 billion by the end of the century". In my essay
I quoted this at the rounded down, and more conservative figure of 6
billion to be on the safe side.
factor can only be a guess — just as all such predictions are. I based
my extrapolation on the fact that for years, demographers have used a
'three-decade' period for the doubling of the world's population.
Again, in order to present matters in the most favourable light, I
stretched this to a 'fifty-year' period.
liberty may be frowned upon by the pedantic but, as an alternative, and
judging by Harry's (Hutchinson's) statistics, a one per cent per annum
world population increase would probably be the best we could ever hope
for unless some very drastic steps were taken. Assuming this to be the
case however, each passing year would see the world pool of people
growing by at least 60 million. Multiply this by the 50 year bracket
envisaged in my essay and even conservatively, you arrive at 9 billion
— and by 2100, a total exceeding 14 billion. This, by the way, if you
work it out, is far less frightening than Hutchinson's estimated 8.5
billion by 2025.
But does this
revision on my original estimate really make a significant difference?
Isn't the end result (postponed by only a relatively few years) much
the same? If we extrapolate these revised figures don't we still end up
in a mind-boggling plight where everyone is desperately short of living
space, food, water, fuel, and in some cases breathable air because
there are simply too many of them?
I think I made
it clear in my original essay that I didn't seriously think that space
colonization is a feasible solution. As one devoted to the principles
of astronomy I can see too many technical pitfalls in that proposal —
quite apart from the horrendous cost involved. Who, in this
money-hungry society is going to invest all those necessary billions of
dollars to transport only a few million people (a fleabite compared
with the total) with no profit forthcoming for centuries — if ever?
again quoting the Guinness Book of Records, "Some demographers maintain
that the (population) figure will (or must) stabilize at 10 - 15
billion people, but above 8 billion during the 21st century ... " No
expansion, explanation or rationale is offered for this estimate so we
are left wondering.
At all events, my thanks to Harry Edwards for his interesting (but perhaps a little anxious) feedback to my essay.
I can only hope
that this further offering doesn't give rise to any greater disquiet on
the part of those who might otherwise have been mollified by his
thoughtful and placatory observations.
apropos my reference to the Second Coming, the Guinness Book of Records
quotes the estimated total of all the people who have lived and died in
the last 600,000 years as 75,000,000,000. On top of the inevitable
population crisis, the Resurrection of that overwhelming multitude
doesn't bear even thinking about.