Rats in a Cage

los angeles
Greater-Los Angeles has enough water to supply up one million people, but there are 18 million living there. If supplies broke down we could get the rat in a cage-syndrom.
Wikimedia commons

The headline is an expression and alludes to what happens if you have too many rats in a small, confined space, such as a cage. Then they’ll go wild, biting and scratching each other. This happens gradually. The rats will multiply as long as they have food, but there will eventually be too many of them and there’ll be war. Alpha males will defend their territory by all means, while others will attack anywhere. This frightening image could become suitable for humans in the future, because we essentially see some of the same tendencies in our society.

It’s a bit strange to see how easily politicians switch roles. The last of a long line of prominent Norwegian politicians who have done so is Jens Stoltenberg. While he was still leader of the opposition in parliament and leader of the Labour Party, he was also appointed a UN special envoy for climate change. He was recently in Norway to tell the government what it has to do to limit the use of carbon. It didn’t seem to bother anyone that he hadn’t done anything during the 8 years he was prime minister himself. It is perhaps because it is not necessarily the biggest problem.

We have tried to reduce emissions, but there hasn’t been any actions behind all the promises. Could it be that this is starting in the wrong end? It is perhaps more important to think of the population. How many people can the Earth support? Some scientists, such as Edward Wilson of Harvard University, believe that the number is not higher than 10 billion. We are 7 billion today, so it goes without saying that we are approaching a limit.

It is important that we consider the limit long before we get there. Many science fiction writers have done just that. I have written about the short story 2br02b by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in a previous post. In this story, they have a strict population control and they had managed to reduce the population to 40 million in the United States. In the story death is almost extinct. It made ​​a sacrifice necessary, the euthanasia of a relative, if one wanted children.

Another author who has used this scenario is Isaac Asimov in his Robot-series. In these stories there are 8 billion people living on earth (the first book came out in 1950). The second book in the series was The Caves of Steel and it refers to steel domes that people lived under, with tens of millions under each. In the story there is always a struggle to increase one’s status, and those who succeed could for example get a slightly bigger apartment. But otherwise this was a world where people didn’t have much space.

world map showing percentage of undernourished people
world map showing percentage of undernourished people. The world is producing enough food today, if we shared it, but there are regions (like sub-Saharan Africa) where many people live in extreme poverty, and even die.

The are many sites that aim to debunk what they see at the myth of overpopulation, but I believe this problem is real. There’ll be a problem getting enough clean fresh water for starters. I’ve seen some estimates of how many people the earth can support go up to 16 billions. No matter what the limit is, we are already seeing large parts of a population being malnourished/undernourished. We may never see a global problem, but I think there could be regional fluctuations in the populations. That means that a continent might be able to support twice the population in periods, but if it can’t maintain stability, people will die (and probably more than necessary). We see that in animals, like deer. It’s during winter with less access to food we’ll know how large population nature can support. This is natures way of making sure the strong animals have a god chance, and we accept it. We accept this among ourselves too, in Africa, but what if it happened in Europe. Would that be unacceptable?

Stoltenberg talked about the need for living closer and using more public transportation in the future. It is difficult to assess how far we need to go. In the worst case scenario there won’t be rural areas, or even villages, because everyone will be living in cities. I think we might at least be talking about the vast majority of the population of a municipality living in one town, and that those who live outside can not count on help from the community. I used to live in the northern municipality Rana, which is an area of over 4 000 square kilometres. The municipality has a population of 25 000 and 2/3 of the people live in the small town Mo i Rana. In a future perspective the many villages and hamlets might be closed down.

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