The world of science fiction numerously illustrates possible future scenarios for Earth. The basis of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is overpopulation. World governments send colonists to Mars in the hope that more people will eventually follow, and that the planet will become a second “Earth,” thus helping to alleviate the overpopulation problem that has become critical in that fictional time period. His message is simple: so long as population continues to grow at an unsustainable rate, the world will be plagued with misfortune.

The downstream consequences of unrestricted breeding are numerous. Debt (financial or otherwise), pollution of the environment, depletion of resources, and eventual economic collapse are only a few of the future consequences. Unchecked, overpopulation will ravage our economy and political system, and our collapse will eventually lead to the collapse of other nations, and perhaps the entire world.

Robinson’s solution is to offset overpopulation by relocating a sizable amount of the population to another planet. In reality, though, we can’t use Martian colonization, or any other type of colonization, as a viable solution. The solution is too expensive in both the short- and long-term, and it would be next to impossible to find a government to finance such an endeavor, much less enough individual investors to provide adequate funding. More importantly, simply shifting around the population doesn’t solve the underlying problem—it just “treats the symptoms,” so to speak.

In attempting to fix overpopulation, we have a few solutions. We can ignore the problem altogether, in which case Earth will reach its carrying capacity, and the result will be mass famine, death, and extinction of plant and animal species as we suck up all the resources. While convenient now, it is cruel and inhumane for future generations. A better solution is to institute population controls. China’s one child policy is a good start, but to be effective, all nations need similar policies. To avoid reaching carrying capacity, we must essentially reduce the population growth rate to zero. In other words, people need to die as quickly as new children are born. As medical technology advances, it becomes more likely that people will enjoy increasingly longer life spans, and higher infant survival rates. With this advance in technology and practice, cultures will have to alter their customs to allow for population control, or else the program in the long-term will be unsuccessful.

The bottom line is that overpopulation is becoming a real problem that will require real solutions in the near future. The solutions will likely be unattractive and seem unfair to many, but we must ask ourselves if we should step aside in light of perceived injustice and compound the suffering of many, or if we should make the right choice, albeit a difficult one, to preserve our future.

Sources:

Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson—a highly recommended read

Advertisements