People and people and people!
There is a concept in wildlife biology called carrying capacity. This means that any stretch of wildlife habitat can support only a certain number of particular types of wildlife. Take for instance the tiger. A normal full grown tiger needs about 20 square kilometers of space. Thus s particular wildlife sanctuary can only support a finite number of tigers. Once it exceeds it carrying capacity, the tigers tend to leave the sanctuary to enter areas surrounding it with often fatal consequences as recently seen in Ranthambhore where local villagers poisoned two sub adult tigers which had entered their areas from the now crowded National Park.
Unfortunately nobody thinks of extending this analogy to humans. The world population has increased to 6.8 billion and shows no sign that it will level off anytime soon. There is some hope that the world population levels will level off at 9.2 billion according to some estimates, other estimates are far more pessimistic. Occasionally we see idiot religious leaders actually encouraging their flock to breed in order to become more politically powerful. I remember reading that Church leaders in Kerala wanted their parishioners to have more children and I have no doubt that Hindu Swamis and Muslim Mullahs also exhort the faithful to increase their number to the greater glory of their faith.
There is so much talk of global warming, desertification and so on. The blame is distributed evenly among the rich nations, forest clearance, cattle grazing and even the farts of the cattle in India which are apparently filling the world with methane. However no one talks of the principal pollutant: that is the number of people in the world. The basic fact is that we humans have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet.
There is furious debate all over the media and at scholarly conferences about the solution to the problems of global warming. To hear some of the so called savants of ecology, all we need to do is to go back to the sustainable practices of our ancestors who apparently lived in harmony with the elements and never wanted for anything. While this sounds nice and how it should be, the truth is that it is only in modern times that people have ever dreamt of having enough to eat. For the entire history of mankind we have been plagued with devastating epidemics, famines that carried off a significant section of the population and often left areas depopulated and millions of people have always lived in a chronic state of malnutrition.
This is not to say that all this does not happen today, but if it does, it is a problem of numbers,. There is no way that any system, no matter how equitable or self restraining is going to meet the aspirations of 10 billion people. The answer has to be to control the population.
If any of you read the well written magazine “ Down to Earth” published by Centre for Science and Environment, one of India’s leading environmental organizations, you will find that they are often talking about the loss of diversity in India’s food crops that has led to the loss of drought resistant varieties from the crops that farmers cultivate nowadays. While this is no doubt true, the impression that is fostered that in the “old days” the farmers used to use these drought resistant varieties to save them from the effects of drought is simply not true. Indian for instance has had famines at regular intervals, the last as recent as 1942 when 20 million people died in Bengal. Even we remember the famous drought In Bihar in the late sixties which did not turn into famine thanks to PL 480 grains imported from the United States. This happened when we were schoolchildren and has fortunately never been repeated since. This only shows that such grains, which may, or may not fight drought better than others, did not prevent the horrible effects of drought in recorded history. It is a fact that these recurring famines only stopped in India after the green revolution took place. The fact that this was associated with some unanticipated ecological problems cannot and should not divert attention from the fact that they succeeded in what they had set out to do: feed the Indian people. And the fact that chronic hunger does still persist in parts of the Indian subcontinent does not negate the fact that millions of people now do get enough to eat.
Ever since Sanjay Gandhi came a cropper by vasectomising large sections of the male population during the Emergency, no politician or even social scientist even mentions that overpopulation is the biggest problem facing Indian and the world today. There seems to be a conspiracy of silence. We are short of water because the US uses too much: no doubt it does, but given the chance, so do our countrymen. Activists talk about the poor tribals who lived in some mythical mystical communion with the forests and nature, nobody mentions that these tribals had a life expectancy of about 20 years and ate root and leaves for a large portion of the year. Add even this tribal, when given the opportunity would always prefer to ride a SUV rather than walk the forest trails of Chota Nagpur.
This is something that all activists and eco warriors must realize. People want a better life if it is available to them. They always aspire to that. The US way of living is wasteful and destructive, but given half a chance the vast majority of the world population wants exactly this lifestyle. The answer is to rein in some of the wanton wastefulness, but the long term answer is to reduce population. I f we had the same population as we had when India became independent; we would be a developed country!
It is essential that this becomes part of the discourse, rather than being swept under the carpet. Indian and the world have too many people! Unless this number is reduced there is no power on earth or in heaven that will save us from its consequences.
Reduce numbers or die off as a species, which is the lesson of biology.