222. Too Many Mouths

This continues from yesterday’s post The Wall.

When I was a kid in Oklahoma, we had tornadoes just like now, but with less destruction. About the time I was born, a local town was hit, and people were still talking about it when I left for college. It was that unusual.

When I was in my early teens, we watched a tornado drop down and march across the prairie. It was five miles west of us and in plain sight. Every ten minutes or so there was an explosion of wood and tin as another barn got hit, and it collapsed one house just before it lifted up again. It walked six miles across the landscape, destroyed three or four barns, and one house. No one was killed. One woman was slightly injured and scared half to death when her house fell in on her.

If that same storm were to hit today we would see hundreds of homes destroyed, numerous injuries, and probably deaths. The difference — more targets.

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I would give you a reference on this next bit of information if I knew it. It came from a classroom lecture during college in the late sixties, and if I ever knew its source, I don’t know it any more. Call it an honest memory, with figures subject to further verification.

When Europeans conquered Africa, according to earliest census information the birth rate and the death rate were both about 4% per year. Medical missionaries saw the massive losses to disease and set about rectifying things. Slowly, the death rate dropped to about 2% per year.

The birth rate never changed.

You can do the math. Kindness, sacrifice, and the eradication of disease took a stable population level and started it on its way toward overpopulation and famine.

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Yesterday’s poem Hungry paints a bleak picture of the future. It could be co-oped by conservatives as a call for borders. I reject that interpretation. Walls won’t help. No country is strong enough to survive without a fundamental change throughout the globe.

This world is straining at its limits with five times the population that should exist. The reason is clear – too many births for the number of deaths.

It would be facetious – and heartless – to say we need more deaths. We need fewer births, and the change needs to be world wide. We fight against terrorism, pray for peace, and try to tamp down bigotry, but all of that will get us nowhere if we don’t solve the problem of overpopulation.

Science continues to produce wonders. We may be able to feed the world, even with a population expanded beyond today’s. We may; but where will we house them? And what will be the psychological effects of inhuman crowding?

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Let’s get back to the small picture: I used to keep an aquarium in my classroom. Every fall my students would bring me some crawdads. In spring, we let them go. One year the crawdads died unexpectedly in mid-year. I left the aquarium in place and we watched what happened.

Once the crawdads were gone, we just had algae (only visible by a greening of the water) and a few water snails. They multiplied. And they shrank. Every week there were more snails and each snail was smaller. Eventually there were thousands of tiny snails inhabiting the tank, filling the water with veils of snail mucus, covering the bottom, and the sides, and clinging to the surface tension, and filling the mid-waters.

I am afraid that my students and I saw our future. Not a cataclysm. Not a nuclear war sending us all back to barbarism as the science fiction cliche would have it. Just more and more people living smaller and smaller lives, relentlessly moving into a future horrible beyond conception.



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