THE CASE AGAINST THE 21st CENTURY
fearless forecast by a scared scientist
This is the scientist,
N. J. BERRILL
This is the forecast
. . we look forward to a mainly tinted world population of increasingly crowded cranky adults with a load of elderly relatives.'
ANY FORECAST OF THE FUTURE, whether long-range or shortrange, must start from the following premises: Human beings propagate much like rabbits and have the capacity to breed themselves out of house and home. Human beings are as gregarious as monkeys and are happy only when within the sound of chatter of their own kind. Human beings are both ingenious and irresponsible and continually create situations from which they have to extricate themselves. And human beings are greedy and in various ways tend to gobble up everything in sight. Lump all this together and you will see something of where we are headed for.
The population explosion already is a well-worn phrase and the idea may be getting tiresome. If so. that's too had. for it's here to stay. And no matter what measures are employed to take care of the situation, whether voluntary birth control, mass extermination, or shipping surplus human stock to other planets (all of them doubtfully effective), we will at the best coast to a stop so slowly that we can expect several times the present population to be inhabiting the earth before the next century has come and gone. At the worst, and projecting the known curve of human population growth without check into the future, some calculations indicate the attainment of an infinite population, which is an impossible absurdity, by Friday. November 13. 2026. Other, more modest, mathematical approaches forecast the North American population in two hundred years as equal to the whole present world population. Any way you look at it. there will be at least several times as many people around in the next century as there are in this. That should be fun.
This is the way it goes. There are about three billion humans here at present. There will be about six billion in the year 2000. and there will be upward of ten billion before the twenty-first century is halfway through. Beyond that it is anyone's guess, because many things can happen when a pot boils over. No matter what, there will be people, people everywhere. with no avenues for escape. People however are not all the same, and a picture of sheer numbers tells only part of the story. Taken altogether, mankind will get browner, for the populations in the less highly industrialized countries, where
the average life span is at present only about half w-hat it is in North America or Europe, will increase relatively faster. So that, w'hereas colored people now outnumber w'hite by about two to one. the time will soon come w'hen they do so by four to one. Sooner or later the w'hite man is likely to become a little darker, which won't do his looks any harm. In any case the world will be predominantly colored and will have long ceased to be the white man's burden. His only burden will be himself, which will be more than enough.
In terms of the expanding population, however, there are only two alternatives. Either we are going to expand indefinitely and. whatever the rate of increase may be, eventually arrive at a standing-room-only situation wfith only outer space left for further expansion, or we adjust our birth rate to balance the death rate and level off. Obviously the latter is the only real possibility, though the size of the population when it levels off is another question. What is certain is that w'hen this happens, when babies are born at about the rate at which people are dying at an age of seventy or more, mankind as a w'holc will be middle-aged, with as many persons over sixty as there w'ill be under school-leaving age. We are well along this path even now in Western society, where twenty-five percent of all people who have ever lived to be sixty-five are alive today. So in the wider view we look forward to a mainly tinted world population of increasingly crowded cranky adults with small families and a load of elderly relatives.
Where will they all live, these many billions of aging human bodies? In cities, of course. All over the world the countryside is draining its people into the towns and cities. Cities arc growing larger even in countries where the population is fairly stable. With the trebling or quadrupling of mankind during the coming century, towns will grow into cities, cities w'ill become metropolitan, and megalopolitan areas hundreds of miles long will become commonplace. This is already the case trom Boston to Washington, and the day will come w'hen Montreal and loronto are merely local concentrations of concrete and asphalt in a continuous belt of suburbiurbia. This is a new name, to be sure, though simply pronouncing it may give you the feeling the reality is
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The case against the 21st century
Continued from page 11
Almost all manual labor and mental calculations will have been taken over by electronic supermen
likely to induce—queasy, to say the least.
What are we going to do about this wonderful world ahead of us? Judging from the immediate plans for North America, the urban centres, metropolitan cities, and megalopolitan monsters will all be linked by super-superhighways so that everyone can speed from one stone jungle to the next with no time or temptation to see what lies between. Automobiles will increase in number by leaps and bounds, for we come here to one of Professor Parkinson’s as yet unwritten laws: that cars will occupy whatever road space is offered to them. And airports will expand everywhere as the jet age advances, so that anyone really in a hurry will be able to travel anywhere in almost no time at all, with nothing to look at. Travel, of course, is fun. and before you know it you could be either in the next city or have gone all around the world, though whether you arrive home again or somewhere else will make little difference since all cities will have become alike. You might as well stay home and save your money.
Staying home should bring its rewards. Human inventiveness undoubtedly will introduce all kinds of things to make home life more attractive. First we had radio. Now we have television. Before long, perhaps, we will be able to see and be seen by anyone we wish to talk to, however far away. Communication between people will develop to the utmost, technically at least. In fact all the modern trends of technology will be pushed to their limits, certainly to the point of diminishing returns, for there are limits to the speed that make sense in terms of expenditure of energy and costs, just as there are limits to the complexity of communication systems that can be directed toward individual homes. Yet what about automation? If technological advances mean anything, automation has only barely started, and by the time the next century arrives all that can be done to feed, clothe, house, and perhaps bury human beings will be efficiently and impersonally conducted by complicated, self-operating pseudo-intelligent machinery. Almost all manual labor and mental calculations will be taken over and conducted painlessly by the electronic supermen we are already bringing into existence.
So there we are. it seems to me, sitting at home, except for quick drives to visit other homes, with practically no hard work left to do, with no time-consuming demands made upon us, with the necessities of life just around the corner, with all the people in the world to see and talk to at the turning of a dial, and continuous entertainment in the glorified television screens of the future. A fitting end to a billion years of evolution, with occupational consequences such as television eyes, calloused rumps, flabby muscles, and acid indigestion. How do you like it?
Fortunately or unfortunately there is little chance of this fate being the dead end it appears to be, although we are already so far along the road we shall have to go all the way and somehow come out at the other end. The escape clause or the joker, however you want to look at it, is that man is a reactive creature and yet is far from being in control of his own destiny.
In the first place we are involved in a form of arithmetic, of addition and subtraction. More and more human beings are being added to the human stock, far more than are being subtracted in any given time. More and more necessities and luxuries of life are being consumed by each living person as the average life span reaches toward the upper limit. More and more energy is being produced and consumed per person as time goes on. Consumption of everything within reach of human hands and machines is accelerating even faster than the mushrooming pace of human growth itself. On the false assumption that there is an unlimited supply of everything we actually need, human growth is limited only by our own reactions. But assuming that there are very definite limits to the things we need, sooner or later there will come a time when the ascending curve of human addition crosses the descending curve of dwindling resources. In this case we will find ourselves in the position of a man who. subsisting entirely on inherited capital, is producing and rearing an ever - increasing family. The larger the family is by the time his capital is exhausted, the greater the calamity for them all. This has been pointed out before by worrymongers who have been called some nasty names for their pains. Anyone who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too is sure to be unpopular with cake-eaters. And that’s what we are — cake-eaters, even grabbing at the crumbs and to heck with tomorrow.
We must farm, not mine, forests
Of course there are optimists, mainly the chemists, physicists and engineers whose success at making plastics out of almost nothing and blasting or bulldozing nature off the earth gives them confidence that we can make unlimited amounts of food, clothing and power out of materials such as air. sand and water. After all, that’s all the matter that makes a mouse or a man or a dandelion. What mother nature has done, so can we. These earthshakers may be right, but biologists for the most part arc appalled at what is happening now, let alone at the prospects for the future. Just take a few items. We have been mining and continue to mine our forests. If we want wood for the future, we must farm them and make do with very much less. People, agriculture and especially industry are consuming water to such an extent that the water table across the continent has already fallen to critically low levels, water that had accumulated through the centuries and would require as long a time to become replenished. This may be no problem for Canadians, who must realize by now that they live in an unusually sloppy country, but for mankind at large water has always been in short or precarious supply and the prospect, in spite of our ingenuity in sinking artesian wells, is thoroughly disturbing. Then there are the deposits of heavy metals, iron in particular. We are getting out more and more of the stuff from progressively lowergrade ores as the richer deposits become worked out; in other words, more and more effort is expended to keep up with our needs, and before long it will be a
case of more and more effort to get less and less.
There is always power, or so we hope, to save the day. Or will it? We can use it to drive machinery and vehicles and to keep ourselves warm. But coal is already on the way out as a fuel — the easy stuff is gone, the rest gets more expensive, and in any case the really great value of coal is wasted when it is merely burned for the heat it produces. And the same is true for oil. It is a shame to use it the way w'e do. but in any case, and in spite of the immense reserves, oil is being consumed at such a fantastic and increasing rate per capita that the end is in sight before the twenty-first century arrives. At least the auto fumes of the kind we are familiar with will cease to trouble us. Atomic energy from nuclear fission will take the place of our present sources, though no one foresees energy production of this kind becoming truly adequate to our needs. The one hope lies in harnessing the hydrogen fusion process, so far known only in bombs and stars. If we are successful, energy we w ill have in abundance.
The sea’s resources are overrated
But what about food? As a symptom of our general insanity, asphalt man is putting down most of his asphalt and concrete just where the land is most productive — along the flatlands w'herc the rich soil brought down from the hills by the rivers has been deposited. And all over the w-orld the cry of hunger is increasing faster than our ingenuity to grow or supply food is growing. In every continent except North America, where the pinch is yet to come, the race to supply more food is dropping behind the race to produce more mouths. Food from the sea is no answer. The resources of the seas are overrated and we are already gathering in the fish as efficiently as we should. To be logical about it all. w»e should look to a future when almost the whole human population will huddle in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, kept warm by heat from nuclear fusion plants, while all the temperate and tropical lands are used for growing the food needed to sustain it. Somewhere short of this situation we are likely to find our fate. In the end nature herself will call a halt to this episode of human multiplication. The question is whether these are the brakes that will slow us down. If not. what are they? There is a bogy waiting round the corner and we might as well face it. Its name is stress. When animals become overcrowded they suffer acute psychological stress, known as stress syndrome. The whole population suffers from an acute psychological tension, which acts in some not-too-well-understood way upon the pituitary gland. This results in an over-production of the hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to liberate an excess of adrenalin into the blood. Such over-stimulated individuals tend to run away, run
amuck or run into the nearest lake, as the lemmings do periodically. Finally the adrenal glands become exhausted and their breakdown causes rapid death of the animals and a sudden dramatic decrease in the population.
In our own case the tensions are already mounting, not only internationally as crowded countries edge upon one another’s territories and communications shrink the globe, but as the expanding populations flow steadily toward the urban centres. As the population density of these centres increases, as boredom and frustration mount, as possibilities of escape disappear, we are all heading for a neurotic abyss. Whether or not we drive one another to distraction, one almost certain outcome, apart from increased vulnerability to disease, is a great reduction in the rate of propagation. The reproduction rate in cities is already well below that of rural areas and the outcome, when the countryside is practically empty and the cities and their suburban halos are jampacked. is not going to be conducive to raising families in any case. And with the wear and tear of perpetual living in congested territory, of traffic, noise, close-up views of glass and concrete. and faces, faces, everywhere but none that you wish to meet, mass deterioration of human personality is bound to occur. One of the first casualties is likely to be fertility, both from psychological and physiological causes. In the end. nature takes care of excesses in her own way. and an excess of human beings can be as readily disposed of as an excess of any other kind of creature, although by means that are unpleasant to the creatures concerned.
If this is the prospect and we do nothing to avoid it. where does it leave us? It leaves us, or our descendants, some time in the twenty-first century, as a much smaller, disconsolate residue of an over-expanded mankind, eking out livelihoods among the stony relics that were once large and thriving cities. We will have made the bed on which they must lie. until sanctuary is perhaps found in some less mangled part of the oncelovely earth. This is the fate that most likely awaits us if we do not change our ways. The question is. will we? I believe we will, at least to the extent of sliding to a stop rather than rushing headlong over the precipice.
The answer — and. so far as I can see, it is the only answer — lies in population control, in all countries. We have the choice between nature’s own procedure of population control, which will be hell on earth, and population control that we impose on ourselves. The latter is not only the sensible course, it is the probable course. Safe, simple, effective methods of birth control are almost within reach already, and there is little doubt that they will be generally available in the near future. And our saving grace is that man is basically a rational animal. When over-breeding produces disagreeable living conditions, people use whatever means they can to control or reduce the birth rate. In such circumstances neither religious nor cultural taboos remain effective, as we have seen in countries such as Puerto Rico and Japan. If the means for control are available, they will be used. Only the most extreme form of authoritarian government can prevent it and then only for a time. Somewhere during the coming century, the human population as a whole will level off. Then, more than likely, it will drop. We can only hope that the reduced population will be sufficiently chastened yet healthy enough to put the quality of human life before the continuation of mass production of shoddy human beings. ★