8 billion ain’t the right number

I don’t know how we can call this good news, but it’s news, nonetheless. The population on earth hit eight-billion people last November — eight billion.

In April, if didn’t happen earlier, China handed the baton to India as the most-populous country on the planet.

Relatively speaking, the United States has grown at a turtle’s pace, so I guess that’s a bit of good news. But the population growth elsewhere has put an enormous strain on the richest country in the world.

What role should the United States play to keep the world fed? Ought we look more inward these days and not fret so much about the problems the population explosion has visited on the rest of the world?

No, America can ill-afford to look inward. Nor can it produce enough food to prevent starvation around the globe. We have already overtaxed our resources, and we risk pushing those resources to exhaustion if we stretch them even farther from their roots.

Look, the earth is already experiencing a shortage of fresh water and minerals. In industrialized countries like Germany, people struggle with how to produce enough power to keep lights on, and factories can’t crank out widgets when they lack the raw materials to do so.

As for livability … wow, the world is a white-hot mess. Pollution has made air in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan almost unbreathable. Try driving around in cities like Buenos Aires, Bogota or Bangkok without feeling as if you’ve wasted your entire day.

Yet what good is clean air when you can’t eat?

Tanzania, Egypt, Nigeria, the Sudan and a fistful of other Third World countries can’t produce enough food for nutritious meals or meals at all for a huge swatch of their populations. In these poorer countries, food is scarcer than water or, using First World countries as a standard, oil.

The United Nations has blamed the population growth on such issues as people’s ability to survive to reproductive age, on more robust fertility rates, on the decrease in rural living and on the rapid migration of people from farmlands to urban areas.

Eight billion sounds bad, right?

Well, it is bad, but what does 9.7 billion in 2050 sound or look like?

I suppose we can applaud the United States for its meager contribution to the bigger number. In 2021, our population grew at its slowest pace since the Great Depression, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Still, can we take solace in this fact?

To soften the fears about overpopulation, I would argue that the United States ought to do more.

It can start — oh, but I detest the thought of our meddling abroad — by helping poor countries rethink public policies. Maybe the one-child-per-family mandate, which the Chinese government once built into its public policies, makes sense, even if it bumps heads with history.

More spending on family planning and incentives for fertility control seem like sound ideas, so do “user fees” for larger families.

I don’t know what the right answer is. Nor do many of the experts who study population know what the right answer is. They guess just as I do.

I think, however, we can all agree that settling for unchecked growth is the wrong way to go.

Eight billion? It’s definitely the wrong number.