Shanghai Syndrome of Planet Earth: When There Will Be Too Many of Us and What Will Come of It

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Shanghai Syndrome of Planet Earth: When There Will Be Too Many of Us and What Will Come of It
Shanghai Syndrome of Planet Earth: When There Will Be Too Many of Us and What Will Come of It

Anything, and wars too. But the main consequence will be hunger. Massive, terrible, hopeless. It has already begun.


Leningrad disease

Alimentary dystrophy (hunger disease) - this is the name of a violation of the general nutrition of the body due to prolonged malnutrition, when food contains an insufficient amount of calories compared to the energy expended. After the Great Patriotic War, dystrophy got another, unofficial name - "Leningrad disease".

Those who survived this know: there is nothing worse in the world. There is a feeling that you can hide from the bombing, but not from hunger. “Hunger is an incredible feeling that never lets go,” said Daniil Granin, the author of the Book of Siege, in one of his interviews. "One mother fed her children with her blood by cutting her veins."

Will all of us (or at least most of the inhabitants of the Earth) suffer the same fate? Many experts believe that this is quite possible. There is a theory that predicts mass destruction of humanity in 50-100 years. There is a concept of a hypothetical Rubicon of 9-13 billion people (the specific figure is very vague), when overpopulation reaches critical limits and tends to naturally limit the birth rate.


Discussion of the problem began in 1972 with the famous report to the Club of Rome by a group of scientists led by Professor Dennis Meadows. The report was titled The Limits to Growth. It includes a number of ideas that the beginning of the 21st century will be marked by the inevitability of global catastrophes associated with the depletion of natural resources, environmental pollution and population explosion in developing countries.

Most experts today, however, do not consider overpopulation to be such an acute problem. And the data about him are very ambiguous. The lion's share of experts is confident that the growth in the number of inhabitants of the Earth is slowing down, although the number of people on the planet, of course, is growing. It is very difficult to say what and when exactly this will lead. But hunger is not only and not so much a consequence of overpopulation. It is also a consequence of wars, epidemics and waste of resources. Water scarcity, climate change, desertification, deforestation and rising electricity prices have already become a hindrance for many food producers.

In poor countries, families plan special days on which they will not eat anything.

Population explosion: to be or not to be?

Admittedly, the question is not correct. The population explosion began long ago, and it peaked in the 1960s. But since the late 1980s, there has been a decrease in the absolute growth rate of the world's population. Today, these rates are falling in almost all countries. Despite the fact that the world's population has already exceeded 7 billion. This number of "us" is just the consequences of the very demographic explosion that we talked about above. According to the UN, between 1994 and 2014, the number of people over 60 doubled, and last year their number globally was larger than the number of children under the age of five.

Therefore, demographers say: we, on the contrary, live in an era of gradual decline in population growth. And while the number of people on Earth continues to grow rapidly, the increase has almost halved since 1963, when it peaked. According to experts, high rates of demographic growth (about 2% per year) will continue almost until the end of the 21st century - until 2090.Then they should decrease, and after the population of Homo Sapiens reaches 12-13 billion people, stabilization will come. True, in this situation, the degradation of natural systems that provide us with life is quite likely, and, of course, an acute food problem.

And in the near future, the threat of overpopulation is especially high in countries with uncontrolled birth rates: first of all, we are talking about the states of Tropical Africa, such as Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, etc.


Danish economist, ecologist and public figure Bjorn Lomborg criticizes the theory of overpopulation. In his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, he concludes that the concept of a population explosion is questionable, the number of hungry people is falling, as are the prices of food, and the level of biodiversity necessary for the biosphere is too high, the development of technology and social responsibility lead to a decrease in environmental pollution.

Today, the largest state in terms of population is China, which, after 2025, may overtake India. Until 1991, the USSR was the third in terms of population, after its collapse, the United States became the third. Russia ranks ninth on this list.

According to another specialist, candidate of sociological sciences, director of the Institute for Demographic Research Igor Beloborodov, the theory of overpopulation in many ways contradicts elementary statistics. This is especially true of the food crisis we are discussing.

So, in 1990, according to Beloborodov, about 1 billion people were starving in the world, and by 2013, after an increase in the population, this figure dropped to 842 million.In his opinion, the territory of Australia is sufficient to comfortably accommodate the entire population of the Earth, while for each person there will be one hectare of free space.

“According to all existing demographic forecasts, already in the near future, the growth rate of the world population will constantly slow down, and then completely acquire a depopulation orientation,” the sociologist writes in his article “Symptoms of Demographic Degradation”.

He cites the "most likely" scenario for a demographic projection called World Population Prospect, which shows how the rate of population replacement will change from 2005 to 2050 compared to 1950-1975:


“Throughout the world, the rate of population growth over the specified period will decrease by more than 5 times. The demographic trajectory will acquire a sharply negative direction in developed countries and European states,”Beloborodov points out. As you can see, the problem of overpopulation is extremely controversial not only in itself, but also in relation to its consequences. Despite everything, many experts still believe that the threat of overpopulation is not so terrible, but mass famine can be a very real problem. And it can happen for various reasons.

Bread without circuses

“Using a well-known image, we can say that earthly civilization resembles a wizard who has brought to life such powerful forces that he can no longer cope with them,” writes in his article “The Global Food Problem” Doctor of Economics, Chief Researcher at IMEMO RAN, researcher this question Evgeny Kovalev. - The pressure of mankind on the natural environment, in particular on resources, has reached such a limit, beyond which nature can no longer (or almost cannot) restore itself to its previous volume. In this sense, the growth of the world's population can be called a problem-forming factor. This, apparently, is true, but only in the final analysis. How else to explain the fact that in Africa, where food production is stagnating, the population is growing rapidly and the period of doubling of its number is just over 20 years."

Despite the growth in the world population, Kovalev points out that food production has for some time grown faster than the number of people. And technological shifts in the agricultural sector made it possible not only to increase production, but also to reduce its costs, and hence the prices of agricultural products.

And everything would be fine if by the beginning of this century, observers with alarm had not discovered two new trends in the food sector. “First, the growth in food production began to gradually slow down, and the decline in production costs and, consequently, the unit price also slowed down,” the researcher writes. "Secondly, although it did not immediately affect the immediate cost of food products, the environmental price that humanity pays for the growth of agricultural production began to increase."


As the German immunologist and bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich once said, "by trying to feed a growing number of our own kind, we endanger the very ability of the Earth to support any life at all."

From a large-scale mass famine in East Africa in 2011, between 50 and 100 thousand people died.

Evgeny Kovalev says that today all the land suitable for cultivation is used. The plowing of new arable areas can lead to higher prices for agricultural products and negative consequences for the environment, as has already happened in the zone of unstable agriculture, for example, in African countries. “According to the report of the American Institute of World Resources, soil degradation and its water supply already covers 16% of the world's agricultural areas (according to data for 2004 - NS). The increase in production is largely achieved by harming or even destroying agricultural resources. This means that the current population of the Earth in an ecological sense is increasing its food consumption at the expense of future generations,”writes Kovalev.

At the end of 1992, more than 1,500 renowned scientists from around the world signed an appeal, which sounded like an energetic warning to humanity about the ongoing environmental degradation, which is a threat to the existence of earthly civilization as such. It spoke about the widespread decline in soil fertility as a result of existing methods of agriculture and animal husbandry. Among other things, the disappearance of forests was also named. So, since 1945, 11% (territories exceeding the area of ​​India and China combined) of the Earth's vegetation have been degraded. Intensive irrigation of agricultural soils leads to the fact that even large rivers begin to shallow. The Yellow River, for example, dries up every year for several months. The same problem with the crushing of many large lakes and even inland seas, like the Aral in Central Asia or Lake Chapala in Mexico.

According to scientists, in 80 countries, where 40% of the total population of the planet live, there is a serious shortage of surface water. The picture is completed by pollution of rivers, lakes and groundwater, which makes them unusable.


An important factor was the massive disappearance of the planet's lungs - forests, especially tropical ones. Evgeny Kovalev: “According to the World Bank, the annual rate of deforestation from 1990 to 1995 was 101.7 thousand square meters. km. The fact that in some places, for example, in the USA and some EU countries, the forest area increased during these years does not at all give grounds for optimism, since this means that the real rates of deforestation in the most vulnerable zones, especially in the tropics, were still higher than the WB data show."

In their appeal, the scientists emphasized that if this rate is maintained, most of the humid, tropical forests will disappear before the end of the 21st century, and with them a huge part of plants and animals will sink into oblivion.

WHO considers hunger to be the main threat to human health: it is the cause of a third of child deaths and 10% of all diseases.

Livestock breeding is making its contribution - and much more than field cultivation - to the aggravation of the food problem. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization cited by Kovalev, in 2000 the total world population of all domestic animals was 1,331 million head of cattle, 1,060 million sheep, 905 million pigs, 235 million geese. But all these animals need space for grazing and feed. This need is the death sentence for a large part of the rainforest. “In Central America, for example, from 1950 to the present day, 6 million hectares of forests were turned into pastures, and in the Amazon region, 50% of the pastures reclaimed from tropical forests were abandoned due to complete depletion,” the scientist cites statistics. Not to mention how much methane and ammonia all these animals emit into the atmosphere. There are also numbers: it is estimated that the annual emission of ammonia by domestic animals worldwide is 23 million tons.

Yevgeny Kovalev refers to the findings of the World Bank, which claims that the world's population will not stabilize at a level below 12.4 billion people, but, according to UN estimates, it will probably reach 14 billion. “But already now one person in five lives in absolute poverty, not getting enough food, and one in ten suffers from chronic hunger. There are no more than a few decades left before the time when the chance to prevent the growing threats will be completely lost,”the author makes a disappointing forecast.

And although he also speaks of a decrease in population growth (especially in developed countries, in Europe and the USA, as well as in Russia), referring to the numbers, the scientist notes that in some countries this growth, on the contrary, is gaining speed. Among them are the countries of Africa, which we talked about. India and Pakistan are also added here.

“The aggravation of the problem of water is fraught with a political threat, as it can lead to exacerbation of conflicts within countries and between states,” the economist concludes.

Peter Grunwald, a statistician at the Dutch Center for Mathematics and Informatics, has calculated that in the entire history of mankind (if we assume that it began 162 thousand years ago) more than 107 billion people were born on Earth.

Rescue of the drowning

According to the same World Bank for 2012, the rise in world food prices in the CIS countries has already turned 44 million people into poor.

"Rossiyskaya Gazeta" dated March 16, 2012 in the article "Let's feed everyone!" wrote: “Today, according to scientists, 925 million people are hungry or malnourished. Another 1 billion suffer from the so-called hidden hunger, not having enough vitamins and minerals in their diet. But 1 billion of the most prosperous earthlings significantly "over-consumes", spreading a new type of epidemic - overeating, ending with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases."

And how many once-good foods are thrown into the trash every day? There is no such statistics anywhere.

The same publication writes in the same material: “The chief government scientist of the United Kingdom, Sir John Beddington, believes that genetically modified food will be the key factor for the survival of the population in the 2050 sample. And people must accept them and put up with them. Moral counter-arguments to GM crops are no longer acceptable. Indeed, how else to feed the Earth's population, which is growing by 6 million every month, while by 2030 more than 60 percent of earthlings will live in cities, having ceased to engage in cattle breeding and agriculture?"

British experts estimate that by 2050, the world's population of more than 9 billion people will need 40% more food, 30% more water and 50% more energy than today. Therefore, Professor Beddington predicts: without modern biotechnology, including genetic modification and nanotechnology, we will not see enough food from now on. Only genetically modified crops are able to withstand pests and insects, which today devour up to 30% of crops, and only GM plants will be viable in the event of a shortage and salinity of water.

The very philosophy of food must change. This means that food should become valuable in our day. “Today, the irresponsible average British consumer throws food in the bin between £ 500 and £ 700 ($ 800-1120) annually, which is about a quarter of all family food purchases,” the newspaper writes.

Improving governance of the global food system is another hope of saving the world from threatening hunger and artificial meat. This requires reducing subsidies and subsidies and removing trade barriers that disadvantage the poorest countries. "RG": "When grain burns out due to drought in one separate country, the prices of bread soar up all over the world, which proves the need for flexible food cooperation on a global scale."

As we have already said, most demographers agree that the growth of the world's population will naturally stop in the second half of the 21st century, when the number of the world's inhabitants reaches approximately 9-13 billion people. But how to feed these 9 billion? “This is a very difficult task, - the newspaper quotes the words of the British professor Charles Godfrey. - If all these 9.5 billion have the same appetites and the same menu that we have today in Europe - not to mention the United States! - then it will still be that problem. If we can somehow change the demand, then, I believe, the task of feeding the population will be achievable."


A bit of optimism and … beetles

I must say that world organizations are working on the problem with might and main. And looking for ways out. At least some. So, in May 2013, the UN suggested that the inhabitants of the planet gradually switch to … insects in their diet. “Insects are one of the most accessible types of protein foods. They make up 50% of the known species of fauna, - noted in the report of scientists. "About two thousand different insects are included in the traditional diet of 2 billion people."

The report points out that the concentration of proteins, healthy fats, calcium, iron and zinc in insects is sometimes even higher than in beef. At the same time, 2 kg of food is enough for growing 1 kg of insects, and 8 kg for cattle. However, one of the authors of the publication, Eva Müller, explains: “We do not encourage everyone to eat beetles. We are trying to say that insects are just one of the many resources provided by forests, although they are hardly considered as a potential source of food, especially animal feed.”

The aforementioned researcher of the food problem, Evgeny Kovalev, also believes that “an encouraging trend in recent decades has been the development of mariculture - the cultivation of oysters, mussels, and kelp on man-made marine plantations. Apparently, the future belongs to mariculture,”he says.

But for the large-scale development of mariculture, large investments are needed, which will only pay off over time. In the meantime, we have to rely on the good old fish. And this despite the fact that scientists of the world have long sounded the alarm about the growth of the destructive impact on the oceans, especially in its coastal regions, where the bulk of fish is caught. “The world sea catch is at its marginal level. Some fishing areas are already showing signs of collapse. Rivers carry out into the seas not only a heavy mass of washed off soil, but also industrial, agricultural and livestock wastes, some of which are toxic,”Kovalev writes.

Let's assume the worst and hopefully most unlikely scenario: human extinction. What happens in this case? Does our short-sighted, but still in places quite glorious family have no chance of salvation? Fortunately there is.

Let's say there are only one hundred people left in the world.Is this enough for the survival of the population? “One hundred is easily enough if they are not people of the same sex,” the well-known anthropologist Stanislav Drobyshevsky answers this question on the portal. - For the successful survival of the population on Pitcairn Island, one man and several women were enough. The experience of preserving the Red Data Book animals shows that sometimes a couple of individuals are enough. Of course, evil recessives can spoil raspberries, but for capital spoilage and recessives must be very evil, and the selection is extremely harsh. And in more or less adequate conditions (say, after a nuclear war), a dozen Bushmen (who remained outside of big politics and far from the sphere of interests of the superpowers) will be enough for a Homo-reconquista”.



“I am a supporter of the demographic concept of Sergei Petrovich Kapitsa, so I think that the planet is not in danger of overpopulation,” says Vladimir Dergachev, a well-known geopolitical professor, creator of the Institute of Geopolitics network project, editor and author of the Landscapes of Life magazine. - This is also connected with the geopolitical transformation of the world, because the center of economic and technological development is shifting to Asia. And the two largest economies in Asia, the largest countries in terms of demographic power, are China and India. These two countries are also projected to remain the largest in terms of population in the future. But living standards in them are rising, so the problem of overpopulation probably will not be too acute. The Chinese government understands that it will not be able to achieve the standard of living of a Western person with such a population, so China has taken a course towards creating a society of average income.

Of course, when you fly by plane over the Great Plain of China, overcrowding is clearly visible. Because of the boilers operating everywhere, smog literally stands above the plain. But, since I have been to China more than once, I can say that the authorities of the Celestial Empire are well aware of the severity of this environmental problem and will probably find a solution.


There are theories that wars can stabilize population growth. But this is certainly not the case. Currently, the world's population exceeds 7 billion people. And what kind of war is needed to stop population growth? According to my forecasts, there will be no world (nuclear) war in the foreseeable future, but regional conflicts will persist in the coming decades - precisely in connection with the global geopolitical transformation that I spoke about.

Not only that, the West, or the “golden billion”, is actually a consumer society. At the same time, the problems of providing the population with food and fresh water are aggravated in many developing countries. For example, many of the conflicts in the Middle East over the past hundred years have been linked to issues of freshwater control. Yes, we can give the example of the United Arab Emirates, which turned the Arabian desert into a blooming garden due to desalination with sea water, but in other regions the shortage of fresh water remains extremely acute. For example, in the African Sahel zone, between the Sahara and Central Africa, there is total desertification. All these problems lead not to the fact that the population will increase, but to the fact that the mass death of people from the lack of water, food and lack of normal medicine will continue.

According to the World Health Organization, 24 thousand people die every day from hunger or diseases directly related to hunger. While you are reading this article, around 400-500 people have died in the world. A little less than half of them are children.

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