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Overpopulation

Overpopulation is quite the global phenomenon, it seems. During these days of high technology, advanced medicine, and the most productive farming practices in the history of the human race, we have failed to learn to control our most basic passions, resulting in a shortage of comestibles for a rather large piece of the human pie. And thus we are faced with the problem of having a planet that is above it's homo sapiens carrying capacity. Philosophers, politicians, and moralists alike have thus far failed to come to a general agreement as to how to solve this rather annoying problem. There have been a wide variety of ideas thrown into the general forum of thought and discussion on this issue by the thinkers of bygone era, some deserving merit, and others not. The ideas can be divided into four categories: those depending on chance, those morally abject, those impractical to implement, and those theoretically sound.

First of all, is overpopulation worth reversing? Usually, the best way to find the answer to a problem is to illustrate it. It is fair to say that the result of overpopulation unchecked will be similar to the overpopulation of deer in the western world: the deer soon plump themselves up on anything edible in the ecosystem, preventing the reproduction of said nourishment, and then either venture into lands unknown, where they end up shot, or simply hold fast and die of starvation. Thus, human overpopulation will yield two primary results: the starving humans travel into lands unknown, either that of a more wealthy neighbour, or that of a hospitable planet (climate-wise, at least), and end up shot by the title-owners after attempting to pilfer some food; or, they will simply hold fast to their current locale and die without resistance, which is the current, heroic 'action' that the starving billions of this Earth currently follow. However, it is neither morally right for the privileged, or logically reasonable for the wise, to allow or expect this current situation to continue. Besides, as the deer do consume large portions of westerners' gardens, the starving masses will consume large portions of the westerners' fields, leaving all to starve when the capability for mass-reproducing food evaporates (you don't expect the seed to be left untouched, do you?), and throwing in a few famines here and there will certainly accelerate the process, and thus, this becomes the problem of humanity as a whole.

So, what are the solutions to this quandary? First on the plate are those solutions that depend upon chance. Unfortunately, these are also the solutions most youth are pointed to as their best hopes for the future. The first, and primary solution in this category, is that stating that science will save us all. One day in the future, scientists proclaim, they will discover a new advance that will allow them to increase productivity four-fold. Good for them: that advance was needed twenty years ago. But certainly, you might add, genetic engineering is the wave of the future, right? People have been genetically modifying food directly for thirty years, and indirectly for millennia. Farmers have been cross-pollinating plants since the practice of farming itself began, trying to get the varying good characteristics of crops united in one plant. To their credit, they did have some success. And in the 1970s, scientists through genetic engineering were able to directly modify the Rapeseed plant so much as to create a new species, Canola, that proved to greatly change the vegetable oil industry. The lessons they learned here were quickly applied to other species, and thus, farming capacity theoretically increased. Since the first Canola plant matured, famines have taken the lives of thousands, and the death rate due to starvation has only increased. Clearly, genetic engineering has a long ways to go before it can satiate the masses of our planet. Will science provide humanity with the answer? It is possible that science will provide us with an escape route from our wonderful overpopulation mess. However, this is something that has too much a flavour of chance to be relied upon for so vital a problem.

There are other solutions that too rely upon chance. These ideas, though less widely circulated, do deserve their time in the limelight, and so we begin. First, there is the hope that rain will evolve carbohydrates. After all, according to Darwin, that infamous transparent liquid one day evolved into unicellular organisms, facilitated with the help of electricity, and this required as a prerequisite the formation of carbohydrates. Where better can water be exposed to the life-breeding properties of electricity than as it falls during a thunderstorm? And thus, it should not be so great a leap of thought to imagine rain evolving the capability to satisfy hungry stomachs across the globe. Or perhaps, a bacteria will be synthesized that ingests water, consuming it for energy, and producing carbohydrates as a waste product. After all, our own human bioengineers have succeeded in synthesizing bacteria that will ingest all the poison we produce, and expell harmless compounds as waste; certainly, creating a bacteria to perform nuclear fusion for us shouldn't be too much harder. Of course, there's the classic hope that extraterrestrials that are far more advanced than ourselves will save us from this wonderful mess that we created ourselves; preferably, by feeding our masses, although destroying them too would end our problem (at least, in this field).

Thankfully, though, solutions due to chance are not the only way out for us; we also have morally abject solutions! These solutions would be unfailing in solving our problems of population; however, attempting to implement these may result in serious backlash from the segment of society that are collectively titled 'moralists'.

The first solution, and perhaps the easiest to implement, is rather simple; get the United States to perpetuate it's war on terrorism for the next century. This war will almost certainly be carried to third world countries, will result in a number of 'accidental' civilian deaths, not to mention actual targets. As well, there is no doubt that the US will certainly be able to score a large number of kills in the 'potential terrorist' column. As a result of continual warring, the human population growth should slow significantly, especially when the war moves onto new focii like Africa and India. Perhaps another solution almost as easy to institute is to have the US simply exercise it's military capabilities on a random nation every other year. As long as the US avoids westernized nations, and China, they should have no fear of sustaining large numbers of casualties themselves, although sustaining them would aid the process.

Another morally abject solution is that of instituting a death lottery. Quite simply, we would have the United Nations decided a fair number for a quota of deaths each country would have to meet by means of the death lottery. To appease the moralists, deaths from famines, flooding, and disease could be included, but the quotas would then have to be raised. Then, all names in the county would be entered into a draw to see who gets to be the lucky people to meet the grim reaper. Just imagine how much advertising revenue could be generated during this nationally televised drawing! Now, of course, these people should not be subjected to a painful death; no, certainly, dying to help the rest of humanity should be painless, or at least, in a method that the marked ones may choose; for instance, jumping off the CN Tower. And if they nail a bystander on the way down, their family can receive a cash reward.

Then, of course, there's the inexpensive but risky solution of repealing the criminal code and freeing all death row inmates. This would almost certainly reduce the human population considerably, as it puts all people at liberty of fulfilling their vendettas and grudges without fear of government retribution. It would truly result in a 'land of liberty', at least, in one essence of the phrase. Another similar solution to this, more like an antonym solution, is to institute the death penalty for speeding tickets, and for that matter, all traffic violations. This would not only make the world a safer place, it would also reduce the world's population significantly, perhaps too far for use here. Especially if cops were given the right to be judge, jury, and executioner. Just imagine: a family of five is cruising down the road when a short downhill section suddenly speeds the car up to five clicks over the speed limit. A watching police officer notices this and fires at the driver, instantly killing him. The car then swerves out of control, killing all its occupants. Bingo! Population control at its finest!

Yet another possibility that exists in this category is to pump as much carbon dioxide into the air as we are capable of doing. This would succeed in raising global temperatures by perhaps five degrees. What would this accomplish? Turning the Canadian wilderness and the Russian hinterlands into suitable farmland! Can't you imagine the possibilities? Siberia, breadbasket of the world! A side effect to enacting this policy would result in thousands of people dying yearly from heat exhaustion and heat stroke, caused by the higher temperatures, but this would only further the cause of population control. Another side effect would be in theory raising the rates of evaporation, as the higher air temperature would transfer heat to bodies of water much faster. This would then result in more rain, and therefore, more arable land. This too would increase the food production of the planet immensely. Whoever said that global warming was a bad thing?

Yet another option with some positive effects in other areas is educational selection; in order to live beyond your 19th birthday, you must finish high school with a minimum of a C- average. This would result in a new face on education: students taking their homework seriously. Imagine the competition as students attack school with an unheard of vigour. Imagine the shock on teacher's faces when students actually pay attention in lectures. Imagine how intelligent the students who make it out of this lion's den actually turn out to be! Perhaps with such a rule, America would cease to be the ignorant nation it is; nah, who am I kidding? Said law would likely cause the education system to blossom, even if it would also cut short the lives of a number of young children just about to hit their prime. It would also tend to discriminate against disabled children. However, this is why this mental discrimination solution belongs in the morally abject column.

Now, of course, we can't finish the morally abject solutions list without bringing up the ultimate in this category: genocide. All we have to do is free Slobodan Milosevic, and return him to power along with Saddam Hussein. Wait, he's gone too. Maybe cloning a few Hitlers would help speed up the process. Imagine what the world would be like today if Hitler won World War II! Not only would this world be considerably less populated, but because of one world government, we would be free of trade barriers, and the loss of global production that comes as a result of having so many independent governments. Globalization wouldn't just be a dream, it would be reality!

Well, I think that discussion contained enough evil ideas for a few essays. It's time to escape from this and run to the optimists. That's right: it's time for the great sounding but impractical to implement ideas. On this list can be found ideas that some dreamers are counting on to save this wreck of a planet. Perhaps one day, these won't be quite so impractical to implement, but as for right now, anyone attempting these needs all the luck in the world.

First off, the double Earth's farming capacity plan. What on earth am I talking about? The plan in which a second level is built overtop of every field on the planet. Ever seen multi-level mall parking lots? Well, this plan involves much the similar, except instead of having pavement over the top, there would be fertile soil, ready for the ambitious farmer's plough. But how could plants possibly grow below, on the ground level? All one would need are a few fluorescent lights, perhaps a few ultraviolet ones to add. Never mind the fact that this would consume a fair bit of electricity; we've got all the electrical potential in the world: no one just comes up with the money to develop them. What electrical potential could I be talking about? Think of all the untapped rivers, unused sunlight, undeveloped coastlines, all of which could contain electrical generators. Certainly now you can realize just how much electrical potential there is out there. And this doesn't even include non-renewable sources.

Of course, a slightly more practical plan along these lines is to build underground caverns. This would save the expense of having to build massive concrete levels above all the farmlands of the world, not to mention the fact that gravity would lower the cost of transporting soil. In some cases, if you get lucky, you might be able to use the already-present soil found below the earth, although it's quite unlikely that such soil, if it is not rock, would be fertile. Still, this does not negate the possibilities of this idea; were enough of these caverns to be built, one could easily foresee a doubling of Earth's food production. As well, it would make the transition to an underground life easier when the ozone layer does get destroyed.

Another possible solution is to break off chunks of ice off of the polar icecaps. Then, have a ship tow the iceberg to a desert region, such as the Sahara, and lift the iceberg onto the sand. The melting water would not only help with water shortage problems, as well as absorb some of the heat in the area, serving as a natural air conditioner, but it would also provide enough water to result in a yield of crops, grown fresh from the desert. An added benefit to this solution is that the food is grown right where it is needed most acutely, and thus we save on food transport costs. The problem of how to lift the iceberg onto the desert at first seems a tough one to solve, but all that is really needed here is a really big crane. Certainly sacrifices must be made if we are to make any progress in this global problem. Besides, people will do anything to get themselves into the Guinness Book of Records, so finding funding shouldn't be too hard.

And who can possibly forget NASA's plan: terraforming Mars? Such a plan would kill quite a number of birds with just one stone. First, we could bottle up all of that extra carbon dioxide we've got in our atmosphere, and ship it over to Mars. The result would be a warmer Mars, one more hospitable to life. As well, since the planet is smaller, the extra carbon dioxide would have an exponentially greater effect. Once the temperature has warmed up to the point where plants may be grown on the surface, we can begin to ship soil to Mars. Once enough has reached the planet to grow a crop, the leftover plant material after harvest can be used as compost, thus slowly increasing the body of fertile soil on the planet. Water would not need to be imported from Earth, as Mars does have its own ice caps, currently completely frozen due to adverse temperature conditions in existence on the planet, something that would have been fixed earlier. Once enough soil has been produced on the planet to spread a considerable portion of the planet, people can be randomly shipped to Mars. While a lottery could be used if necessary to decide which families go to Mars, it is unlikely that this will be needed, as we have enough spaced-men among us that would volunteer without a moment's hesitation. The people shipped to Mars would not only serve humanity as settlers on an alien planet, while sending food products back to Earth, but it would also reduce our population, and thus the strain on Mother Earth. Thus, Earth's carrying capacity is increased by allowing us to transfer some of our ecological footprint to Mars, but global warming is stopped, and our population is reduced, all in one. How much better can it get than that?

Finally, after surviving all these crazy ideas, is it possible that there exists solutions that would actually work? Amazingly enough, there are ideas, that in theory, could work quite well. Perhaps the largest roadblock to getting these ideas into motion is the willingness of people to cooperate.

The first, and simplest solution, is to ban cattle grazing on arable land. For that matter, to ban feeding animals that are headed for the slaughterhouse anything besides what they can graze on unfarmable land. This would, in effect, turn the world into vegetarians, with the exception of the rare piece of deer, fish, or beef. How would this solve the overpopulation problem? It is estimated that for every pound of beef eaten, ten pounds of plant food was used, out of which much could have been used to feed humans. In short, for every meal of meat eaten, ten vegetarian meals could have been served. This principle is generally known among the poor, those who can't afford the high price of meat, and are forced into vegetarianism. If the whole world was vegetarian, there would be more than enough food to feed the world. However, western diet demands that their taste buds be satiated, and as a result, meat continues to be eaten. In fact, many believe the lie that meat must be eaten for proper growth and development. Others still believe that eating meat builds muscles. It is true, an uneducated vegetarian can seriously damage their health. However, with proper education, a vegetarian diet will fill anyone's daily needs. And meat does not build muscles any better than a proper vegetarian diet. Turning the world vegetarian would not only solve food problems, but it would also reduce health-related expenses in this world today as well. An immense number of dollars have been spent on health-care because people refuse to take that extra fat out of their diet, and end up sick, weak, and on a hospital bed. Is this to say that we should ban the raising of livestock? Well, not necessarily. It is true, there is land that exists on this planet that is unsuitable for farming, yet the herds love it. There is nothing wrong with raising animals for slaughterhouses on land that cannot be farmed, and using food that humans cannot digest (a.k.a. grass). However, this is not the typical case. Quite often, cattle is raised on arable land, using for feed food that a homeless person would be more than willing to eat themselves. What should be done? I leave you to judge.

A second solution is to develop sea farming. It surely couldn't be too hard for science to develop a crop that can be grown on the surface of salt water oceans. With oceans covering 79% of the Earth's surface, and therefore receiving 79% of the sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface, the development of such a crop would surely increase the world's food production by a considerable margin. The problem does exist of how to contain said fields, and how they would fare in storms. This would then limit most farming activities to coastlines, and thus, the previous idea was a better one. However, it would work. And yes, I know, I said that science would not come to save us. I put this in as a workable solution because the capabilities for doing this already exist. The only reason it does not currently exist on a mass scale is because of the world's low demand for kelp and seaweed. Sure, some may think that kelp tastes bad, but food is food, and on a world where comestibles are increasingly hard to come by, anything that is edible should certainly work.

Other workable solutions include having mushroom farms in the basements of most houses. This would work to a degree, although people may get sick of mushrooms after a while. Another option is to turn those gardens of ours into food producing machines! Urban sprawl is devouring millions of acres of farmland every year; isn't it about time some of that fertile soil is used once again for it's original purpose? While the backyard vegetable garden does currently exist on a small scale, it would need to be expanded on a much larger scale if it were to make an impact. And even if every backyard was wholly turned into a garden, this alone wouldn't kill the problem. Another possibility is to suck termite guts. After all, termites have the capability to eat wood for energy. They are able to do so because of some bacteria in their gut. If we can get that bacteria in our stomach, we should be able to eat wood and gain energy from it. However, if people aren't willing to go for the vegetarian solution, it's unlikely that they'll go for the eating wood solution.

And there you have it: a discussion of how to solve the overpopulation problem on this planet. Through this essay, you have been treated to solutions depending on chance, morally abject solutions, impractical to implement solutions, and theoretically sound solutions. I do admit, I completely ignored the fact that overpopulation causes more problems than food shortage, but this would have greatly increased the length of this essay. It is true, that for overpopulation to be overcome, we need to find a way to distribute energy usage, wealth, water, and resources more fairly across the world. However, I hope this essay has inspired you to come up with solutions to this global problem on your own. In the meantime, enjoy your tofu!

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