7 billion and (still) counting

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We’re populating like fruit flies and the world is our jar

By John Pawlak

Looking back at my own education, I was far from a perfect student.
So many lessons went unheeded, dusty stacks of knowledge pushed aside so that I could watch cartoons on Saturday morning.  I seem to recall thinking that the Barbary Wars had something to do with fighting over hair styles.
One lesson that I do remember however was a “Fruit Fly Experiment” we performed in biology class.
This experiment was rather popular during those radical hippie days of the “Save the Earth” movement. I do in fact think that fruit flies merit saving, but I’m no longer really sure about the Earth.
The experiment was a bit simplistic for the global issue it addressed, but we had fun doing it.  
We placed a small number of fruit flies in a large jar. The jar contained ample water and food and a porous lid that allowed ample oxygen.
The fruit flies essentially lived in a utopia.
With an unlimited supply of food and water, they had little else to do but breed, which fruit flies do very nicely without any encouragement.
The one thing that was limited however was space. The jar defined their world, their planet if you will, and as they bred with unbridled passion, their world became more and more crowded and subsequently more and more polluted.  
All good things must come to an end and the fruit flies eventually poisoned themselves to death.  
The experiment was over and we found ourselves with big jars full of dead flies.
The experiment was designed to underscore the dangers of overpopulation. Although pollution seemed to be the reason they died, maybe if we had looked more closely we would have discovered them killing each other over land disputes or religious differences (much like the fly-brain idiots running the world these days).
Whatever the cause of their demise, the lesson that stuck (much like the flies to the side of that jar) was that a finite space can only sustain so many fruit flies.  
It was obvious to us students that the world was our jar and that we were just one big fruit fly experiment.
That was 1968 and the world’s population was three and a half billion.
Today it’s nearly doubled to seven billion. Over the past few decades, world population growth has been nearly linear. If we don’t slow down, it’s estimated that the world’s population will hit 10 billion by the year 2040.
Now as they say, the world is getting smaller every day (Actually, it isn’t. I measured it twice and it’s the same size as always).  
One can debate whether 10 billion people is akin to a critical mass for a planet of human fruit flies, but the real problem isn’t population. The problem is the growing demand per person for resources.  
The United States represents about five percent of the world population and yet we consume five times our share.
We’d be happy to continue this trend if the world would oblige us, but sadly the world is changing.
China and India are getting hungry for more oil and manufacturing resources every year.
They want washing machines and two cars in every garage (Yeah, can you believe it? They want garages, too!)  
They want more homes, more manicured lawns with sprinkler systems, more freezers full of imported fish and meat, more teak wood dining sets and more stain resistant carpets.
These cretins want what we have!  
As one fruit fly said to another, this jar isn’t big enough for the two of us!  Back off bug face!
The 2010 US Census should be complete in the next few months.  
The population of the United States is now estimated to be a tad over 310 million (‘tad’ being a very technical term that induces incredible fights for Congressional apportionments).  
One day we may see the dwindling world resources parceled out in the same manner in which we decide who gets to build bridges to nowhere.
When that day comes, we can only hope that they count each American as five people.
John Pawlak is a teacher at Los Alamos High School.