Imagine for a moment that we are looking at a huge ocean wave, watching it move toward the shore. Think of a tsunami. The wave is moving toward us; however, at the same time, there are many molecules in the wave that are moving in the opposite direction, against the tide. If we observe that the propagation of the global human population is like the wave, and the reproduction numbers of individuals or certain locales are like the molecules, it may be inaccurate for the latter to be looked at as if it tells us something meaningful about the former.
Abundant research indicates that countries like Australia, Italy, and Tunisia, among many others, have recently shown a decline in human population growth. These geographically localized data need not blind us to overwhelming facts that the absolute global population is still growing and may reach 12 billion by the end of this century. Earth Policy Institute data from February 2005 indicate that global numbers will be above 9 billion by 2050. As suggested above, the world population is like a wave; individual or localized reproduction numbers are like the molecules.
Put another way, human propagation data and evidence of reproduction numbers among individuals, even in many places, may be pointing in different directions. Choosing the scope of observation is like deciding to look at either the forest or the individual trees, at either the wave or its molecules. Thus, the global challenge before us is a species propagation problem, in a way unrelated to individual or local counts.
For too long a time, human population growth has been viewed as being somehow outside the course of nature. The possible reasons behind population growth rates and numbers have seemed complex, obscure, numerous, or even unknowable, so that a strategy to address what could be a clear and present danger has been thought to be all but impossible to develop, let alone implement. To have suggested, as many scientists have done, that understanding the dynamics of human population does not matter, that the human population problem is not about numbers, or that human population dynamics have so dizzying an array of variables as not to be suitable for scientific investigation, in a way seems not quite right. Dr. Russell P. Hopfenberg has made it possible for us to grasp human population dynamics as a natural phenomenon and to liberate vital understanding of skyrocketing global population growth from the discombobulated realm of the preternatural.
Hopfenberg gives us empirical data of a non-recursive biological problem that is independent of ethical, social, legal, religious, and cultural considerations. This means human population dynamics are essentially like the population dynamics of other species. It also means that world human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives population growth, and population growth fuels the impression that food production needs to be increased. The data indicate that as we increase food production every year, the number of people goes up, too.
With every passing year, as food production is increased, leading to a population increase, millions go hungry. Why are those hungry millions not getting fed year after year after year... and future generationl of poor people may not ever be fed? Every year the human population grows. All segments of it grow. Every year there are more people growing up well fed and more people growing up hungry. The hungry segment of the global population goes up just like all the other segments of the population. We are not bringing hunger to an end by increasing food production; we are giving rise to more hungry people.
Perhaps a new biological understanding is emerging with Russell Hopfenberg's research. It is simply this: human population numbers, as is the case with other species, are primarily a function of food availability. Although the human population "explosion" appears to be a huge problem, we can take the measure of it and find a remedy that is consonant with universally shared human values.
(Dr. Salmony is a concerned global citizen, without expertise in population science.)
Link: Human Carrying Capacity is Determined by Food Availability (R. Hopfenberg)