The Earth's population is increasing, as is food production--for now.
How long will there be enough water, fertile soil, breathable air, trees and forests, and vital minerals? How can more environmental damage be prevented as the number of people grows?
As income gaps between rich and poor nations grow, will peace and order be threatened throughout the world?
Can wealthy nations continue to offer refuge to those fleeing famine, drought, environmental devastation and war elsewhere?
Can and should rich countries reduce their disproportionately high use of resources and share them with poorer nations?
Can resource and wealth imbalances be corrected justly and peacefully?
Today, infant mortality rates range from more than 100 per 1,000 births in less-developed countries (LDCs) to less than 10 in developed countries such as the U.S. and Canada.
LDCs, also known as developing countries, are generally defined as nations that have not reached a basic level of industrialization and have not made widespread quality-of-life improvements such as implementing sewage systems and providing easy access to education and health care. Examples of LDCs include nearly all nations in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.
The birth rate in Africa, the fastest-growing continent, was around 45 per 1,000 in 1990.
Many of the poorest countries are also the most crowded, and they are increasingly unable to easily provide sustenance to their people. The highest population density in the world is in the poor Asian country of Bangladesh, which has 128 million people squeezed into an area the size of Michigan.
Malcolm (Steve) Forbes, Jr., who briefly was a candidate for the 1996 Republican nomination for president, makes the case this way:
A growing population is not a drag on economic development. When combined with freedom, it is a stimulant....Free people don't "exhaust" resources. They create them. Wealth comes from human imagination and innovation.
The list of countries expected by the World Bank to grow the fastest over the next 35 years includes Oman, Niger, Yemen, Ethiopia and Angola, all poor, developing countries with serious environmental problems.
Wealthy countries have been spared most of the ravages connected with population pressures. Cites such as Stockholm, Sweden, Montreal, Canada and Tokyo are not ringed by shantytowns, do not suffer from food or water shortages and are not ruled by bands of armed thugs
Optimists do not deny the reality of immense suffering, starvation and conflict in areas pressured by large populations and high growth. But they blame it on government corruption and incompetence in restricting the benefits of a free-market economy.
Pessimists do not deny that corruption and incompetence contribute to the suffering. However, they argue that overpopulation and the resulting competition for scarce resources aggravate every problem--economic, social, medical and environmental--facing the world.
As LDCs continue to outstrip developed countries in growth, the gap between the world's haves and have-nots will widen and tensions will continue to rise. It remains to be seen if increased population will lead to greater technological innovation and accommodation, or if social chaos, economic and social disarray and famine will result.
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