Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Taral Wayne


I must have missed where Greg Benford said the U.S. was underpopulated. Surely he knew it was the third most heavily populated country in the world, after China, and India, and nosing out Indonesia (4th.) by over seventy million people!!!

I suppose he makes the mistake of thinking that because there are some empty spaces and you don't stand on tiny squares of a few square feet to call your own, that a country is not crowded. But I'm surprised that the author of so many hard science stories would not have a subtler grasp of what an environment can sustain. Granted, you can swing a cat in many parts of the continental United States, but the true measure of how crowded it is involves waste management, air quality, the water table, climate change, energy use, exhaustion of agricultural land and the need for artificial fertilizers, and numerous other issues that indicate to me that the U.S. is probably near or even past its long term sustainable population.

Granted, many of these measures can be recalibrated by technological advances. Better energy use or creation, superior waste management, water purification or re-cycling, improved agricultural practices might all re-set the number upward. Assuming that unlimited growth of population is a good thing. I assume that in the long run if we don't want our individual footprints on this earth to stop growing and begin shrinking, we had better rethink our attitude to population, soon, If not some decades ago. If we ever want that luxurious Star Trek life with energy to spare for transporters, FTL travel, replicators and all the rest of it, we're never likely to accomplish it with 6.7 billion inhabitants on the planet, let alone the 9 or more billion expected by mid-century, all clamouring for diminishing resources.

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