Mumtaz Mahal, the muse of Taj Mahal, died while giving birth to her 14th child at an age of 38. She was born in privilege, got married at the age of 19, had a very loving & caring husband who was also a very rich king & provided her with all the comforts & security.
We, the humans, are borne of Mother Earth…We the Indians, of Mother India.
Mother Mumtaz with the best nurturing possible bore 14 offspring in 19 years. If she had at her disposal the modern medicine, arguably she may have continued bearing even more children. Nonetheless, even if her health permitted, she would have to stop at menopause, the end of her fertility. There was indeed a limit to number of children that she could bear.
This is true for all mothers, including Mother Earth & Mother India.
And what about nurturing of the offspring? Wealthiest of modern mothers, with all the help from the family & domestic staff can produce as many as 30 children as the age of fertility has stretched on both the minimum & maximum end. Also the lifespans have increased significantly.
But with education & awareness, the emphasis is on quality of life not merely quantity. So they probably mother 2-3 children.
In other words, though the carrying capacity for reproduction has increased, the intelligence dictates limited offspring to ensure that the child is raised healthy, loving, creative & productive.
In agrarian economy, more were indeed merrier, industrialization & urbanization has reversed that axiom.
Today, the health of Mother Earth is at stake. Besides humans, it supports millions of other species. Yet it is finite, its resources are limited. It is not growing. Barely 12% of Earth is suitable for human habitat. And 7 billion of us occupy that. How many more can fit in? Is there room?
All that we consume is produce of earth. It is not just food. It is also air, water & energy. It is also materials that we must extract from innards of earth to build shelters & construct infrastructure that is not an option but a necessity for ‘progress’ – as we understand the term.
The other species on Earth must follow Darwinian dictate of ‘natural selection & survival of the fittest’ thereby ensuring that only the strongest reproduce. In humans, it is quiet the reverse. It is our weakest who propagate the most. The phenomenon is explained by anthropological theory of ‘culture of hopelessness’.
As we move towards projected human population of 9 billion, the question that begs an answer is: can Mother Earth replenish itself & renew its resources at a rate faster than the rate at which those resources are being voraciously consumed by us humans?
It is not merely a supply-side problem. Earth also must process human excreta. Not merely the shit & urine but the pollution – the excreta of human activity. Earth has been doing so successfully for ages. Does it have the capacity to continue to do so? Even as the energy & bio needs increase exponentially? For 8 billion, for 9 billion…..what is that maximum number of human beings that Earth can support?
Many studies have tried to answer this question. Needless to say, that they are all theoretical. But we must pay heed. The only other way of finding out would be like Mumtaz Mahal. Her limit was found by her death. We cannot let Earth die. We have no other planet that will take us. Or that we can get to. Not as yet, anyway.
The best estimate is about 4.5 billion people. We are fast approaching twice that number. It is time to pause & ponder the big picture.
It is unfortunate though, possibly an irreversible fact that we humans have divided one planet into many territories. For us that territory is India. We are destined to be the most populous nation, as of now, that is an unalterable fact. No one but only us Indians can attempt to alter that. We are blessed with a land that’s highly arable & fertile, so very conducive to human habitation. That’s why such a diverse slice of humanity chose to settle here. People from all over the world kept coming to India. It was the California of yore. Still is in some ways.
But just like much loved Mother Mumtaz, Mother India has a limit to how many it can accommodate & nourish. Even after all the slicing & plundering, we are still the seventh largest country by size. However, the first largest is six times larger & even the sixth largest is more than twice as large as us.
Fact is Mother India with barely 2% of Earth’s surface shall support nearly 20% of Earth’s humanity. That’s commendable. But is it sustainable?
We take solace in knowing that “There is enough for everyone’s needs but not enough for everyone’s greed”. Perhaps, our spirituality evolved from this accommodative nature. We share by lessening our own needs & surely denounce greed. That was so. Today greed is unleashed & needs are on the rise. Fewer & fewer opt to live simply & frugally. Imagine if the rest of inhabitable Earth would be similarly populated to India – the world population then would be 200 billion & surely even the primal needs of each one would be impossible to meet.
Migration can evenly spread the population around the world especially when there are parts of the world where the populations are declining. However, at the current rates, less than 0.5 billion shall attempt migration across the world even when the total population reaches 9 billion. And the barriers to migrate to the parts of the world where more people can fit in without causing ecological strains, are on the rise.
USA has one third the population of India & three times our size. If lifestyles were to correlate to the per capita Earth only then a very simple corollary would be that India’s population ought to be one ninth to attain parity. Over the years we have mastered the efficient use of resources. Indians are by far the most pragmatic & know how to get the maximum bang for the buck. We recycle, reuse & waste not easily. USA, on the other hand, wastes excessively. Americans need lots more personal ‘space’s, we have evolved fine art of co-existence.
So factoring in a four fold frugality, India can support 600 million plus to attain the middle class existence for all under the care of Mother Earth.
Actually, population studies indeed estimate 650 million as sustainable population for India.
We shall soon be twice as many. All of us are keenly aware that we are bursting on our seams. Our land, air, water, energy, mining resources, infrastructure etc. are under severe stress. Our rivers are dying, large stretches are already dead. We merely revered our rivers, called them holy and attributed to them magical powers of rejuvenation. And simply dumped all waste of human activity into them. As if they were carrying all that excreta to another planet. We never understood that even the greatest of rivers have a limited, finite carrying capacity. Reverence is no substitute for discharge of responsible conduct.
The simple fact is that we are far too many. The resultant toxicity is fast spreading. The ecosystem & biosphere that supports the very life is infected.
Politics, Economics, Law, Religion, et al are all systems devised by humans to better this life. We are so entangled in arguments & quarrels within these humanities with myriad of ‘holier than thou’ groups, each desperate to prevail on another. We need to stop this cacophony and get back to basics before it’s too late. Let us objectively determine as to how many people can fit in the Earth space available to us. And then design our policies accordingly to achieve that number. Surely, there would be many disagreements in such a discourse. But it ought to be easy to agree that we have already exceeded that number. The evidence is overwhelming. We are shirking responsibility to face the facts. The reality is unpalatable, so we rather shut our eyes with the belief that Gods will rescue us. Prayers enhance action, not replace it. Ganga & Yamuna are awaiting action from us, besides poojas. On their own they cannot heal themselves. They have served us well for eons. We burdened them to limits of their carrying capacities. The root cause, undoubtedly, is overpopulation.
Yet our policy makers, after overzealous failed attempts to ‘plan the families’ simply seem to have given up. After a mini burst of riding on an economic boom that was worldwide, they seem to have rationalized that ‘more the merrier’. This rationalization stems from faulty economic & governance models. In the upcoming columns, I shall expound.
Talking about excess population has been tabooed by our moralists & politicians. Through this column I urge all readers to voice their opinions on the matter. The logic is straight & solid. There is a limit to how many of us can co-exist. The human habitat is finite & limited, not growing. We cannot simply keep on gnawing & digging earth. It needs time to heal & replenish itself. For the sake of our own well being, it must absorb & process toxicity that is a result of human activity. The signs are everywhere & glaring. Yet we keep ignoring them. If for now, we cannot slow down the growth of population, let us at least not encourage procreation & its growth.
We appeal to our Parliament, Party Heads, Prime, Chief & other Ministers, National Advisory Council, functionaries at Centre & States, Think Tanks et al to urgently recognize that Populism results in increased Population. The urgent need of the hour is to brake hard & stop growth of population. Please design and deploy policies that shall lead to achieving optimum levels of population. And that will necessitate decline in our numbers. It is a painful truth to swallow.
As is the wont of Truth – Bitter Before Better.
Please do opine. Agree, disagree, whatever – but please don’t choose to be quiet.
It is a matter of life & death.