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Essay/Term paper: The population problem

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The Population Problem

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Malthus, in An Essay on the Principle of
Population, reached the conclusion that the number of people in the world will
increase exponentially, while the ability to feed these people will only
increase arithmetically (21). Current evidence shows that this theory may not
be far from the truth. For example, between 1950 and 1984, the total amount of
grain produced more than doubled, much more than the increase in population in
those 34 years. More recently though, these statistics have become reversed.
From 1950 to 1984, the amount of grain increased at 3 percent annually. Yet,
from 1984 to 1993, grain production had grown at barely 1 percent per year, a
decrease in grain production per person of 12 percent (Brown 31). Also
strengthening to Malthus' argument is the theory that the world population will
increase to over 10 billion by 2050, two times what it was in 1990 (Bongaarts
36). Demographers predict that 2.8 billion people were added to the world
population between 1950 and 1990, an average of 70,000 a year. Between 1990
and 2030, it is estimated that another 3.6 billion will be added, an average of
90,000 a year (Brown 31). Moreover, in the 18th century, the world population
growth was 0.34%; it increased to 0.54% in the 19th century and in the first
half of the 20th century to 0.84% (Weiskel 40). Neo-Malthusians base their
arguments on the teachings of Thomas Malthus. Of the Neo-Malthusians, Garrett
Hardin is one of the most prominent and controversial. Hardin's essays discuss
the problem of overpopulation and the effects it will have on the future. In
Lifeboat Ethics, he concludes that continuous increases in population will have
disastrous outcomes. Neo-Malthusian arguments come under much scrutiny by those
who believe that the population explosion is only a myth. Those who hold these
beliefs state that the evidence Neo-Malthusians use to justify their views is
far from conclusive. Critics hold that the Neo-Malthusian call for
authoritarian control is much too radical. Thus, these critics belittle the
theories of Neo-Malthusians on the basis that population is not a problem.
However radical Hardin's theories may be, current evidence shows that he may not
be too far off the mark. It is hardly arguable that the population has
increased in the past few decades, for current statistics show that this
actually is the case. Equally revealing, is the fact that vast amounts of land
are being transformed into more living space. More people means more waste,
more pollution, and more development. With this taken into consideration, it
seems that Hardin's teachings should no longer fall on deaf ears. When
discussing the issue of population, it is important to note that it is one of
the most controversial issues facing the world today. Population growth, like
many other environmental issues, has two sides. One side will claim that the
population explosion is only a myth, while the other side will argue that the
population explosion is reality. Because of this, statistics concerning this
subject vary widely. But, in order to persuade, it is necessary to take one
side or the other. Thus, statistics may be questioned as to their validity,
even though the statistics come from credible sources.

Lifeboat Ethics

The United States is the most populous country in the world, behind only China
and India. Unlike China and India though, the United States is the fastest
growing industrialized nation. The United States' population expands so quickly
because of the imbalance between migration and immigration, and births and
deaths. For example, in 1992, 4.1 million babies were born. Weighing this
statistic against the number of deaths and the number of people who entered and
left the country, the result was that the United States obtained 2.8 million
more people than it had gotten rid of (Douglis 12). Population increases place
great strain on the American society and more particularly it causes tremendous
destruction to the natural environment. For example, more than half of the
wetlands in the United States are gone, and of all of the original forest cover,
90 percent has been destroyed. This depletion has caused the near extinction of
over 796 individual plants and animals. At least part of the year, the air that
over 100 million people breathe is too dirty to meet federal standards. And
finally, almost 15 million people are subject to polluted water supplies
(Douglis 12). It is very likely that total destruction of the environment can
take place and probably will if something is not done to curb the population
growth. When discussing Hardin's essays it is necessary to confront the
problem of immigration. Immigration is responsible for approximately 40 percent
of the population growth in the United States (Douglis 12). The United States
now accepts more immigrants than all other developed countries combined
(Morganthau 22). It is estimated that approximately one million immigrants from
all over the world are making the United States their new home each year (Mandel
32). This estimate does not include illegal immigration, which makes this total
even greater (McKenna 336). It is obvious that immigrants have a much better
life in the United States than in their previous homes. Immigrants come to the
United States to benefit from the United States' economy, and return to their
original homes with more money. Take for example a quote form a Malaysian
immigrant working illegally in the United States: "If you take one dollar back
to Malaysia, it is double the value. You work here to earn U.S. dollars so you
can greatly improve your living standard in Malaysia." (Mandel 32)

While immigrants benefit themselves by coming to the United States, they leave
natural born Americans competing for jobs. By 2050, it is estimated that the
population of the United States will be close to 383 million. Of this,
approximately 139 million, or 36 percent, will be immigrants and their children.
This will make Americans of European descent, which in 1960 were an 89 percent
majority, a minority of less than 50 percent (Brimelow 42). Immigration poses
great threats to the national economy, and costs taxpayers millions of dollars
every year. Studies show that post-1970 immigrants, legal and illegal, used
$50.8 billion of government services in 1992. Subtracting the $20.2 billion
they paid in taxes, the difference, which American taxpayers had to make up, was
$30.6 billion. These figures, averaged out, account for $1,585 for every
immigrant. Over the next ten years, it is estimated that an additional $50
billion in American tax money will go toward supporting immigrants (Thomas 19).
According to Garret Hardin's idea of Lifeboat Ethics, continuing to add to the
population of the United States will create many hardships. In order to bring
the population within a reasonable number, Hardin suggests population control.
Like other Neo-Malthusians, he states that this can only be accomplished under
authoritarian government. Under authoritarian control, couples would no longer
be able to receive private benefits from reproduction, while they pass the costs
of their fertility on to society (Chen 88). He claims that individual rights--
particularly reproductive rights--are too broad. He argues that population
control cannot be achieved with birth control alone. Birth control simply gives
the person the choice of when to have children and how many to have (Chen 90).
Thus, in order to attain a stable population, the right to reproduce freely can
no longer be allowed. Hardin begins his argument by noting that poor countries
have a GNP of approximately $200 per year, while rich countries have a GNP of
nearly $3,000 a year. Thus, there are two lifeboats: one full of equally rich
people, the other disastrously overcrowded with poor people. Because of the
overcrowding in the poor lifeboats, some people are forced into the water,
hoping eventually to be admitted onto a rich lifeboat where they can benefit
from the "goodies" on board. This is where the central problem of "the ethics
of a lifeboat" becomes a primary issue. What should the passengers on the rich
lifeboat do (Hardin 223)? First, Hardin notes that the lifeboat has a limited
carrying capacity, which he designates at 60. Fifty people are already aboard
the lifeboat, leaving room for 10 more. He also notes that the 10 empty spaces
should be left empty in order to preserve the safety factor of the boat.
Assuming there are 100 swimmers waiting to be taken aboard, what happens next
(Hardin 223)? Hardin suggests three solutions. First of which is to allow all
100 people to board the lifeboat. This would bring the total passengers of the
lifeboat to 150. Because the boat only has a capacity of 60, the safety factor
is destroyed, and the boat becomes overcrowded. Eventually the lifeboat sinks
and everyone drowns. In Hardin's words, "complete justice, complete catastrophe"
(Hardin 224). The second solution is to allow only 10 more people on the boat,
abolishing the safety factor, but keeping the boat from becoming too overcrowded.
The problem with this solution though is which swimmers to let in, and what to
say to the other 90 left stranded in the water (Hardin 224). The final solution
is to allow no one in the boat, thus greatly increasing the chances of survival
for the 50 passengers already on board. This solution, to many of the
passengers, would be wrong, for they would feel guilty about their good luck.
Hardin offers a simple response: Get out and give up your seat to someone else.
Eventually, if all of the guilt ridden people relinquish their seats, the boat
would be guilt free and the ethics of the lifeboat would again be restored
(Hardin 224). Hardin next argues the issue of reproduction. He notes that
populations of poor nations double every 35 years, while the populations of rich
nations double every 87 years. To put it in Hardin's perspective, consider the
United States a lifeboat. At the time Hardin wrote his essay, the population of
the United States was 210 million and the average rate of increase was 0.8% per
year, that is doubling in number every 87 years (Hardin 225). Even though the
populations of rich nations are outnumbered by the populations of poor nations
by two to one, consider, for example, that there are an equal number of people
on the outside of the lifeboat as there are on the lifeboat (210 million). The
people outside of the lifeboat increase at a rate of 3.3% per year. Therefore,
in 21 years this population would be doubled (Hardin 225). If the 210 million
swimmers were allowed onto the lifeboat (the United States), the initial ratio
of "Americans" to "Non-Americans" would be one to one. But, 87 years later, the
population of "Americans" would have doubled to 420 million, while the "Non-
Americans" (doubling every 21 years) would now have increased to almost 3.5
billion. If this were the case, each "American" would have more than 8 other
people to share with (Hardin 225). Immigration causes more problems than those
discussed by Hardin. It causes social friction, and the decline of English-
speaking Americans (Morganthau 22). As more and more immigrants poor into
American cities, they collectively will feel no need to learn the English
language. If one city becomes a majority of immigrants rather than a majority
of natural born Americans, tension is the result. This tension will result in
societal separatism, which will finally lead to political separatism (James 340).
There are many arguments that focus on the benefits of immigration. Arguments
that conclude that immigration creates jobs, promotes a diverse culture, and
even arguments that immigration may produce the next Einstein. These arguments,
that the United States should not close its borders, come primarily from those
people who claim that the United States is a melting pot. If the United States
continues to live by the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, it is
destined to create more bad than good, not only socially and politically, but
also environmentally. Arguments for immigration tend to miss the primary problem
that immigration causes: the environmental problem. Immigration means more
people. More people give rise to the need for more living space which in turn
leads to destruction of the environment. Even though immigration may be
beneficial in some ways, the United States must protect its national identity,
and even more importantly, it must protect what land it has left. Failure to
close the doors to immigrants will continually increase environmental, economic,
and societal problems in America. Without proper legislation, these problems
will never be solved. Although America is the land of opportunities, the
environment must not be taken for granted. For if it is, disaster is inevitable.


The Book of Genesis tells the story of creation of man. God said to man, "be
fruitful and increase in numbers; fill the earth and subdue it." Prior to the
nineteenth century, it was believed that God would provide for those who came
into the world (Day 101). But, in 1798, this view was shaken by Thomas Malthus'
An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he concluded that while
population increases geometrically, agricultural production only increases
arithmetically. Thus, eventually, food production will not be able to keep up
with an increasing number of people. The question is, which theory can be
justified? Those who say the we always have room for more people fall into the
category who feel that the Bible justifies increases in population. What these
people fail to understand is that when more people are added, the standard of
living decreases. These people who say that living space is near infinite may
be correct in their beliefs. The question is, which is more desirable: the
maximum number of people at the lowest standard of living--or a smaller number
of people at a comfortable standard of living (Hardin 58)? In order to further
exemplify how increasing population decreases the standard of living,
consideration should be given to a study done by the National Institute of
Mental Health. The study was done to show the negative effects of
overpopulation (Calhoun 6). This study shows what the world has to look forward
to if Garrett Hardin and Thomas Malthus are correct. Four male and four female
mice were placed in an eight foot square cage. The eight mice were not subject
to problems they may have faced in the outside world. In two years the eight
mice turned in to 2,200 mice. During this time, the effects of overcrowding had
become relevant, as not one newborn mouse had survived in the two year testing
period. Finally, after two years and three months, the final mouse (a female)
died (Calhoun 6). During the experiment, various abnormalities were considered
related to the overcrowding. Once the carrying capacity of the cage was reached
(620), strange things started to occur. Aggressiveness and cannibalism overcame
some of the mice. Sexual activities became perverted. Some mice become
excessively active, while others became "passive blobs of protoplasm" (Calhoun
6). One of the experimenters stated the implications of the study. He noted
that the mice were subject to a perfect universe, free from disease, weather,
etc. The mice progressed and took advantage of their ideal habitat, but only
until they ran out of room. The abnormalities of the mice became so predominant
that even after the mouse population returned to its original carrying capacity
(620), there was nothing that could be done to alter their behavior. Before all
of the mice died some were taken out and placed in a new environment, left to
freely reproduce again. This resulted in failure though, as all of the
offspring soon died. In conclusion, the study showed that the situation of the
mouse population would grow worse until the animals destroyed their entire world
(Calhoun 6). If this experiment would hold true for the human race, it is time
(maybe even past time) to make some changes. Either way, the earth is not to be
taken for granted. No longer can natural resources be used as if there is an
infinite supply. Even if there is an infinite supply (and one may never know)
sustainability remains to be the best way to totally ensure that natural
resources are used in the most effective manner. But if natural resources are
not infinite the future of human survival is in jeopardy.

Works Cited

Bongaarts, John. "Can the Growing Population Feed Itself?" Scientific American,
March 1994, pp. 36-43.

Brimelow, Peter, and Joseph E. Fallon. "Controlling our Demographic Destiny."
National Review, 21 February 1994, p. 42.

Brown, Lester R. "The Earth is Running Out of Room." USA Today Magazine,
January 1995, pp. 30-32.

Calhoun, John B. "Not by Bread Alone: Overcrowding in Mice." Man and the
Environment. Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown Company Publishers, 1971.

Chen, Lincoln C. "A New Modest Proposal." Issues in Science and Technology,
November 1993, pp. 88-92.

Day, Henry C. The New Morality: A Candid Criticism. London: Heath Cranton
Limited, 1924.

Douglis, Carole, and Gaylord Nelson. "Images of Home." Wilderness, Fall 1993,
pp. 10-23.

Hardin, Garrett. Stalking the Wild Taboo. Los Altos, California: William
Kaufmann, Inc., 1978.

Hardin, Garrett. The Limits of Altruism: An Ecologist's View of Survival.
London: Indiana University Press, 1977.

James, Daniel. "Close the Borders to all Newcomers." Taking Sides: Clashing
Views on Controversial Political Issues. Ed. George Mckenna and Stanley
Feingold. 9th ed. Guilford, CT: Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc., 1995.

Malthus, Thomas Robert. An Essay on the Principle of Population. Ed. Phillip
Appleman. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1976.

Mandel, Michael J., and Christopher Farrell. "The Price of Open Arms."
Business Week, 21 June 1993, pp. 32-35.

Morganthau, Tom. "America: Still a Melting Pot?" Newsweek, 9 August 1993, pp.

Thomas, Rich, and Andrew Murr. "The Economic Cost of Immigration." Newsweek, 9
August 1993, pp. 18-19.

Weiskel, Timothy C. "Can Humanity Survive Unrestricted Population Growth?" USA
Today Magazine, January 1995, pp. 38-41.


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