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Living with the J Curve

By David Macilwain, WATCH (Wodonga & Albury Towards Climate Health)

I always had a thing about Population. Perhaps my parents started it (well obviously they started me) as I was the last of their two children, but in my teens an illustration in a magazine had a great impression on me. It was a graph of world population projected up to the year 2000, which was then 35 years away. Colours representing different countries formed stripes on this graph, expanding into a rainbow trumpet at this time in the distant future, an exponential growth both certain and impossible.

Now we have passed that deadline by 11 years, and amazingly I’m still here, along with nearly 7 billion others, having survived the threat of Nuclear winter, toxic chemical poisoning, mad cow disease and the Ozone Hole.  While all these things were real threats, mostly averted by good luck rather than by good sense, the greatest threat of all remains, growing insidiously larger every day.  We are now living in the J curve!

In the seventies, when widespread famines in the developing world drew attention to their rapidly expanding populations, increases in food production using fertilisers and new high yielding varieties brought relief, and despite some doomsday predictions about the ‘population bomb’, most people could not see that this relief would only be temporary. With little recognition then (or even now) of the limits to growth, it was only China that took appropriate action to control childbirth.

And so now we have reached a truly parlous state. We have double the population of the sixties but half the options. No more new land is available to grow food on our little home in space, and thanks to the pressures of our teeming millions and their expanding appetite for resources, our food production may now even go down. Of course while it is OUR teeming millions, it will be THEIR food supplies, at least to begin with. WE already suffer from an ‘obesity epidemic’ from overeating, while THEY go without meals or without lives to make the food supply go round.  Meanwhile accelerating droughts and floods from climate change bring increasing instability to this supply, and wars fought over land and oil compound the crisis.

So it looks like our time is nearly up; – there are no more magic fixes and no more beautiful planets, and our Baby Boom is actually the sound of the population bomb going off!