Gene Logsdon: How Many People Equals Too Many People? 


The Contrary Farmer

Agriculture’s most earnestly held article of faith is that if farmers can continue to increase production to meet the ever-rising demands of population growth, future food shortages and the upheavals that so often follow can be avoided. If you care to look at the situation from a somewhat different angle, the opposite is truer. The more food an agricultural system produces, the more it encourages population growth, and the more the population grows, the greater the chances that social stress, war, genocide and famine will follow. One would think that after elegantly feasting on good food, humans would just want to lean back, belch and enjoy their good fortune. Instead they haul off and procreate more people to join the feast.

I used to brandish Farmers of Forty Centuries as the ultimate last word in sustainable food production and the best answer to avoiding world hunger. I was wrong. That book describes farming in Asia in the early 1900s when more food was being produced  there per acre than anything the gene manipulators or the organic producers today have come close to imitating. All it did was keep population growing so that more food had to be produced. China, especially during its wars with Japan in the 1930s, suffered horrendous genocidal depopulation which in turn disrupted its highly refined and intricate garden-farming agriculture. Hunger followed genocide, did not precede it. North Africa, culminating in the destruction of Carthage, suffered the same kind of fate. It had developed a remarkably productive agriculture in what was mostly a somewhat desert-like environment. The success of that agriculture encouraged population increases that brought social instability, wars, and the collapse of its agriculture. Then came the decline of its civilization.

Looking at how genocide has become a regular occurrence these days, I wonder if it isn’t time to open up that can of worms, limits to growth, again. I do so hesitantly because no one except very contrary farmer types (and not many of them) will argue that there really are too many people in the world. The welfare of the whole human circus depends on continuing population growth. Farmers want more eaters. Generals want more soldiers. Preachers want more parishioners. Car dealers want more drivers. Governments want more taxpayers. Politicians want more voters.  Writers want more readers.  Entertainers want more fans.  Dentists want more teeth. Funeral homes want more corpses. Zero population growth, or anything close to it, would mean economic debacle.

Nevertheless I am obstinate enough to insist that there are too many people in the world or at least in parts of it and it doesn’t have much to do with food supplies. Even more obstinately I say that most people secretly agree but because they fear economic debacle more than death, they just go along hoping that the limits of growth and the genocide that accompanies it doesn’t catch up to them personally.

Limits to growth is a many-splintered notion. In this case it refers to more than just our relationship to food and energy supplies. If our smartest scientists could get over their fixation over how technology can always stay ahead of population increases and would quit wasting their time trying to think of more reasons why Malthus was wrong, progress might come. Unrest, war, and genocide precede food shortages.  Starving people do not have the energy to hack 800,000 of their fellow humans to death with machetes and if they did they would eat the dead bodies. Genocide is somehow triggered by spatial and mental relationships between human beings in ways we don’t know how to interpret adequately yet. We must work at this concept until science can come up with ways to predict when one group of people is suddenly going to resort to mindless mass killing of another group of people and then try to avoid that situation. Supplying humans with more food is not the solution. That just gives them more energy to kill each other. It is not as simple as this example, but as we discussed two weeks ago, when you crowd strange chickens together in the same space, they start killing each other even though they have plenty of food to eat.


Scientific studies (and here I apologize for forgetting my source) have found that rats will also turn on each other when they reach an overcrowded stage. Maybe genocide has something to do with the brain and not how much it is fed. I think we need to change our compulsion to have children in the first place. There is an occasional episode on Sesame Street in which a little cartoon girls asks the question “What if I pulled the cat’s tail?” and proceeds to speculate on what would or could happen. Maybe we need to ask ourselves that What if question about not having more children, not planting that back acre, living with less….and the list goes on. Wolves could be our example; in lean times, they don’t procreate. When the pack gets too many, they don’t procreate. When too many of them get killed, they procreate. I think it’s called balance.

We have too many people on this planet right now and forecasts for the future are pretty dismal (7 billion to 11 billion by 2035). Food supply has nothing to do with procreation – sex does. Governments with over-population need to put decentives in place to procreate. For example, in the U.S. and other countries, limit tax deductions to 1 dependent child and add a meaningful tax on every child over that limit. Also, eliminate any welfare assistance to individuals who have more than 1 child by taking them off the welfare rolls if they become pregnant with a second child. In areas like Africa and parts of Asia people give birth to more children than they can afford for the simple reason that those children who survive early mortality are security for them in their old age. It would behoove the rest of the world – developed countries – to invest in Africa and Asia and clamp down on human rights violations by local governments and mega-corporations who exploit them. Create jobs with living wages and they won’t have the need to produce too many offspring. Of course genocide is always an option if you have lost any sense of humanity. Examples set by leaders in governments when they engage in practicing or supporting genocide of other peoples serves as an example to their citizens that no life is sacred – including their own lives and the lives of their leaders.

Don’t usually chime in on these things but this article is obviously just written to prompt a response so… it worked. It is ridiculous but effective at getting a “you can’t be serious” reaction. Population growth is not about babies born it is about length of life…the health care industry and the warehousing of the elderly assigned to beds in places called hospitals. You meet people now who have had cancer three or four times. It is a wretched system of getting people sick and making them well enough that they can get deathly ill again.This is huge for pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies. This article suggests population control through the means of limiting food. It is ludicrous…makes no sense for anyone…it is a formula to crate a barbarian class. Let them eat for God sakes!!!

What if birth control were made available to everyone? Would we even need to try to coerce people to have fewer kids? Maybe we need a grassroots underground of adults over the age of 18 who have pledged to supply pills and condoms to any kid who wants them. Like drug dealers for good.
And maybe someone could write books with the appeal of Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys but the heroes would regularly discuss birth control.
Just thinking…