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February 24, 2024 51 mins

In 1968, Paul Erlich published The Population Bomb, predicting coming famine and mass death. Erlich's predictions didn't pan out but his ideas launched a debate still raging today. Learn all about it in this classic episode.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hey, everybody, it's your old pal Josh, and for this
week's select, I've chosen our twenty fifteen episode on zero population.
It's an extremely interesting episode about the upper limits of
human population that the Earth can handle, and interestingly, it's
also about just how many humans humanity can handle too.
When does eating soil and green make sense? Maybe you

can decide for yourself in this heady episode. Enjoy. Welcome
to Stuff You Should Know, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey,
and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark and there's
Charles w. Chuck Bryant's This Stuff you Should Know podcast.

Jerry's over there. Uh, it's pretty much the norm yep, yep.
How you doing, man? How are you feeling?

Speaker 2 (00:54):
It is spectaculate, a little rough.

Speaker 1 (00:56):
Sir, Are you you'll make it through?

Speaker 2 (00:57):
What? Yeah? Yesterday we righted the uh the beginnings of
Gin and Tonic season.

Speaker 1 (01:05):
It's definitely that kind of weather, for sure.

Speaker 2 (01:07):
Yeah, it's hard to not sit on the deck and
have a citrusy, delightful drink.

Speaker 1 (01:11):
Nice going.

Speaker 2 (01:12):
So I'm just a little sleepy, but I'm feeling good.
I feel like this topic is h is all about
being sort of down in the dumps.

Speaker 1 (01:20):
A little bit. All it depends. It depends on where
you land, and you just place yourself pretty squarely in
the gloom and Doom camp.

Speaker 2 (01:26):
My friend, No, I'm actually not in the doom and
Gloom camp.

Speaker 1 (01:29):
I was about to say, which, if I remember correctly,
in our episode, was Malthus right about carrying capacity? Yeah?
You overtly said that you are an optimist.

Speaker 2 (01:39):
That's right, not a Malthusian naysayer.

Speaker 1 (01:44):
You know.

Speaker 2 (01:45):
Yeah, I forgot about that one. We've touched on this
a few times.

Speaker 1 (01:48):
Uh huh. We talked about We did a whole profile
in Norman Borlog alone on our very short lived and
reasonably so live webcast.

Speaker 2 (01:57):
Oh yeah, do you.

Speaker 1 (01:58):
Remember we did basically a book report on Borlog.

Speaker 2 (02:00):
Yeah, he was well, I think he's even controversial.

Speaker 1 (02:05):
He is very much so.

Speaker 2 (02:06):
You know, you win a Nobel Prize but.

Speaker 1 (02:08):
For saving a billion lives.

Speaker 2 (02:10):
Yeah, but still people are gonna poo poo you yep,
you get poop pood interesting stuff.

Speaker 1 (02:14):
So if you don't know what we're talking about, you
should probably press pause, go listen to the Mauthus episode,
go to stuff you should know dot com slash podcasts.
I think it's plural slash archive. Make that your homepage
and all seven hundred and change episodes are there, and
then do control f is everybody doing this so far?

And then type in mouths M A L T h
U S. It's gonna highlight that link, click that and
press play and then come back to us. That's right,
we'll wait boom. So so we're back.

Speaker 2 (02:51):
It's been an hour.

Speaker 1 (02:53):
What we're talking about is carrying capacity in part. But
carrying capacity, Chuckers, is just kind of a it's a
reflection of a larger issue, and that larger issue is population,
specifically overpopulation.

Speaker 2 (03:06):
Yeah, and is that a thing or not is a
big question.

Speaker 1 (03:09):
Because I mean, at any given point in time, you know,
they have, like the CIA World back Book has, you know,
a pretty good assessment of how many people are alive.
It's a total guess. It's a total estimate. We could
be at ten billion right now, we could be at
one hundred million, and everybody just is really terrible at counting.
The point is, we don't specifically know. It's probably pretty accurate, sure,

but it's still a guess. The point isn't to shoot
holes in the estimates of how many people are alive,
on the planet. It's to point out that, like, there's
so many people we don't know and we can't possibly
know at any given point in time, and that has
led a lot of people to say, well, wait a minute.
There's this thing called carrying capacity, which is the Earth's

ability to support and sustain us humans and really any creatures.
But really, we're just kind of concerned with us humans
at this moment and with a quality of life, right
and sustainably. Yes, those two factors have to be met
or else you're putting a tremendous amount of stress on

Earth and you're eventually bringing about your own demise. So
a lot of people are saying, like, we're probably past
caring capacity and we just don't know it yet, right,
or other people are saying, there's really no such thing
as caring capacity. Thanks to human ingenuity, anytime we come
up against it, we'll figure out a way around it.
And Norman Borlog was a way to go. But before

Borlog really became famous, there was a lot of people
who were legitimately concerned that we were all going to die.

Speaker 2 (04:43):
Yeah Borlog, if you haven't listened to that one, if
you didn't follow Josh's instructions like a good little podcast listener.
He was one of the leaders of the Green Revolution
in the sixties and seventies, in which we made great
advances in agricultural in agriculture, in yields. Yeah, new types

of wheat in Mexico, new types of rice in India
that yielded much much more than they ever had.

Speaker 1 (05:10):
And plus they were drought resistant, flood resistant. They could
stand up and hold more grain.

Speaker 2 (05:16):
They could stand up and say hello.

Speaker 1 (05:18):
They basically they could pick the daily double at high Leaya.

Speaker 2 (05:23):
So Borlog was, you know, by all standards, a very
smart guy. He cared very much about people.

Speaker 1 (05:32):
He wasn't doing it for fame or riches or anything
like that. Like this guy felt like he was working
against the clock. And if he didn't and he wasn't
the only one doing this, yeah he's the most famous.
But if he didn't do it, then, yeah, a lot
of people were going to starve.

Speaker 2 (05:46):
Yeah. And I think I proposed to you before this
that we do just one on the Green Revolution. Yeah,
and I think that will be a one two three
podcast suite. I can't plain this one.

Speaker 1 (05:56):
I love this stuff. Yeah, Psychology population that was another
and what we did too, was how population Works. Yeah,
and it sounds so like I bleedingly boring, but it
turned out to be really interesting stuff. So go read
that too. We'll wait, go ahead, we'll pause.

Speaker 2 (06:11):
And we're back, and it's nineteen sixty eight.

Speaker 1 (06:14):
Yeah, and everybody's a little nervous.

Speaker 2 (06:16):
Everyone is nervous. And Stanford biology professor Paul Erlick. There's
another famous Paul Erwick. This is Paul our Airlick. I believe.

Speaker 1 (06:26):
Oh it's a different one.

Speaker 2 (06:27):
Well there's two, dude.

Speaker 1 (06:29):
I did not realize that.

Speaker 2 (06:30):
What do you mean.

Speaker 1 (06:31):
I mean, I'm familiar with the other Erlk. Then I guess, well,
who was the other one?

Speaker 2 (06:35):

Speaker 1 (06:35):
He wrote some other famous books. He's a biologist. I
think it's not the same guy.

Speaker 2 (06:40):
Yeah. The other guy was a German physician who worked
in chemotherapy, immunology.

Speaker 1 (06:49):
Oh yeah, that's not what I'm thinking of.

Speaker 2 (06:51):
Yeah, different guy.

Speaker 1 (06:52):
So this guy he wrote other things besides The Population Bomb.

Speaker 2 (06:55):
Yeah, so in nineteen sixty eight, he writes the Population Bomb,
goes on the Tonight Show, it explodes, this huge hit.

Speaker 1 (07:02):
Apparently he was on more than once.

Speaker 2 (07:04):
Yeah, and everyone got super nervous because his book started
with these words, the battle de f he edd all
of humanity is over.

Speaker 1 (07:11):
Oh good.

Speaker 2 (07:11):
In the nineteen seventies, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds
of millions of people are going to starve to death
in spite of any crash programs embarked upon.

Speaker 1 (07:19):
Now, oh, that's not so good.

Speaker 2 (07:20):
That's how he starts his book. He basically says there's
going to be a Malthusian collapse. At one point in
the book he said, if I was a betting man,
I would wager by the year two thousand, England won't
be around.

Speaker 1 (07:33):
Boom. He drops the mic. Yeah, and we should probably
mention who mauthusays. Thomas Mauthis was a very forward thinking, smart,
mathematically inclined minister, I believe in the early nineteenth century,
late eighteenth century. Yeah, an economist, and he was the
one who said we have a problem here everyone. I've

just done the math. And population grows exponentially, but our
foods apply grows linearly, and so we are destined to
outgrow our food supply. And that's where the idea of
carrying capacity came from. So Malthus and Malthusians are the
people who think like we're going to exceed the food
supply eventually and die from famines. And ERLK was one

of the most vocal and alarmist neo Malthusians around.

Speaker 2 (08:21):
Yes, absolutely, and he scared the pants off of people.
Back then. In nineteen sixty eight there were about three
and a half billion people, and the birth rate. We're
going to talk a lot about birth rates and such,
because there's a lot to do with this.

Speaker 1 (08:34):
Buckle up.

Speaker 2 (08:35):
The American women had three and a half babies on average,
and the global birth rate was five babies per woman.
Seems like a lot to me. It was a lot
five kids.

Speaker 1 (08:48):
Supposedly, in the fifties we were at six the global
average fertility it was six babies per woman. And that's
not just per woman. That's you want to talk about
fertility rates, sure, So, fertility rate basically is the number
of live births that a population has assigned to the

population of women thought to reasonably be a reproductive age.
So fifteen to forty four times a thousand, So you
take all of those, figure out the how many women
there are, and then you multiply it by a thousand,
so you have something like fifty berths per one thousand
women age fifteen to forty four and that's your fertility rate. Yeah, okay,

that's you can figure out how many actual births are
taking place.

Speaker 2 (09:38):
Yeah, with reasonable detail. Yeah. So like malthus Erlich did
the math in the sixties and said, you know what,
our food production isn't keeping up, just like Mautha said,
we're in big, big trouble, wrote the population Bomb and
co founded Zero Population Growth, which is an organization that
is now called what.

Speaker 1 (09:59):
Are they called now, Population Connection?

Speaker 2 (10:01):
Population Connection very a little sunnier.

Speaker 1 (10:04):
Sounds electric company.

Speaker 2 (10:06):
It does, and you should check out their website. It's good.
They have a lot of good information on them, just
to help you, you know, figure out what you might
want to believe. So people are scared the Zero Population
Growth group. Their aim is to uh, their big thing
is is contraception and giving women control of their reproduction

basically and their fertility. Right, that's the you decide how
many kids you want exactly they have that many.

Speaker 1 (10:35):
They've identified that that there's an issue that could easily
address over population, and that is cutting out unwanted pregnancies
or pregnancies or having unwanted kids. They've identified that, you know,
plenty of people there are two different fertility rates. There's
the wanted fertility rate and then there's the unwanted fertility rate.

Pretty much across the b in any country in the world,
the unwanted fertility rate is higher, whether slightly or largely,
than the wanted fertility rate. So they're saying, like, if
the unwanted fertility rate is like three point eight babies
per woman in a given country and the wanted fertility
rate is like two point five, well, if we can

just figure out a way to only have the wanted pregnancies,
then you are doing a lot to control over population.
And the way that they figured out how to address
this is to just basically spread awareness and access to contraception.

Speaker 2 (11:35):
Yeah, right, the two pronged approach. What their goal is
is they aren't saying that people should not have babies
like you said. They're saying people should only have the
babies that they want to have exactly, and their ultimate
goal is to have a sustainable global birth rate below
the replacement level, which means there's a lot of different factors,

but it basically means that the world is not growing.
When it's like working a club at a door, being
a doorman, one person goes out, one person comes in. Yeah,
you got a little clicker. Yeah, that's basically what that
means is, you know, someone dies, someone can be born, right,
and of course it's not that one to one, but
you know, well.

Speaker 1 (12:15):
If you're in a big picture a way, if you're
a bouncer and you're tasked with keeping it an even ratio,
you just have to remember that you can't keep people
inside until a new person comes along, because that's called kidnapping. Yeah,
you still they still have to leave and you have
to deal with an imbalance for a little while.

Speaker 2 (12:32):
That's true. Right now. The replacement level of fertility rate
in the US is two point one babies for woman
and three point zero and other developing countries because they
have higher death rates and shorter lifespans, which makes sense.

Speaker 1 (12:46):
So we were onto the replacement rate basically, right, Yeah.
The replacement rate is the number of kids a woman
of reproductive age would have to have to replace herself.
And she's not just replacing herself, she's replacing herself and
her male mate who she's reproducing with. Yes, yeah, and

it's kind of gross to think that a woman is
giving birth to a boy and a girl who can
mate and reproduce her. That's not the point you want
them to go mingle with other people's babies. But the
replacement rate, you would think then is two, right for
every woman two point zero kids is what you need
to have to have an even replacement rate. That means

it is people die, new people are born, and the
population ever grows or declines, it stays the same. The
replacement rate is never actually two point zero.

Speaker 2 (13:37):
Though, those two point one right now.

Speaker 1 (13:38):
And the reason why is because we humans tend to
have more male offspring than female. Apparently for every one
hundred girls that are born, one hundred and seven boys
are born, So the actual replacement rate is two point
zero seven and then they round up to two point one.

Speaker 2 (13:56):
Yeah. Plus there's I mean, there's a lot of other
factors too, for sure. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (14:00):
Other factors include things like you said, like infant mortality rates, lifespan,
immigration into a certain area, And the thing is of
birth rates or fertility rates and replacement rates. The replacement
rate tends to be a little more stable the birth rate.
The fertility rate has a lot more to do with

social attitudes, access to healthcare, education, and it can change
dramatically from place to place, whereas say, anywhere in the
Western world, the developed world, the replacement rates about two
point one.

Speaker 2 (14:35):
Yeh, exactly, that's in the three point zero for the
developing countries.

Speaker 1 (14:41):
All the demographers just stood up and were clapping.

Speaker 2 (14:44):
So clearly Eric was not correct in his dire predictions.

Speaker 1 (14:49):
Still well off.

Speaker 2 (14:50):
Here we are in twenty fifteen and there are problems,
but England is still around. That was a bad prediction,
four billion people having starved to death. But does that
mean that he was wrong altogether? No, not necessarily, because
right now, and this was a pretty startling stat to me,

over the past one hundred and ten years, we have
grown from one point six billion people to seven point
two billion people in one hundred and ten years.

Speaker 1 (15:20):
Well, we're expected to get up to nine point two
in another thirty five years by twenty fifty.

Speaker 2 (15:27):
And so one of the reasons we have this many people,
most of the reasons are positive because of like advances
in healthcare. The lifespan in nineteen hundred was thirty one
years old, and now it's seventy or maybe even a
little bit higher, because that was twenty twelve. Yeah, so
imagine it is a little bit higher. And the infant
mortality rate globally in nineteen hundred was one hundred and

sixty five deaths per one thousand live births. In twenty
thirteen it was down to thirty four. So that's why
there's more peoples, because we're doing better at taking care
of ourselves.

Speaker 1 (15:59):
Yeah, are two huge factors when it comes to demographics
and population, because the longer you live, the more old
people you have, so therefore, the less babies you need
to replace those people, and the fewer babies that die
or that survive infancy will be adults one day exactly. Yeah,

but these are the really if you're a demographer, the
sweet spot is that working age. So when you're a demographer,
especially one that's economics minded, Chuck, Yes, that sweet spot
the reproductive working age people. That's a good sizable population
you want to have. If you have a lot of babies,
well then you have a lot of people who are

raising those babies, so those babies are dependent on So
say you have a lot fewer women in the workforce,
so your workforce is depleted. If you have a lot
of like an aging population, you have a lot of
older people who have already aged out of the workforce
and are now dependent on the taxes paid by that workforce.

Speaker 2 (17:00):

Speaker 1 (17:00):
So a large population of either babies or old people,
and god forbid both at the same time. It puts
a lot of strain on the middle. Yeah, you know
what I'm saying. Sure, So when you have a longer
life expectancy and a lower infant mortality rate like we
have now in the developed world, you want to have

something closer to the replacement rate.

Speaker 2 (17:22):
Right, you know, which makes sense?

Speaker 1 (17:24):

Speaker 2 (17:25):
I got some more stats too that would seem to
back up Airlick's predictions, or not predictions, but at least
his gloomy outlook.

Speaker 1 (17:33):
He was a gloomy dude currently.

Speaker 2 (17:36):
You know, I couldn't find much on what he felt today. Yeah,
I'm curious he's still around. I'm curious. I bet there's
some good interviews. I'm going to check that out. So currently,
as of last year, an estimated eight hundred and five
million people go to bed Hungary every night, more than
half of which are in Asia. One in four people
in Sub Saharan Africa was chronically malnourished. One hundred and

fifty million people worldwide lack access to clean water, contributing
to about eight hundred and fifty thousand deaths per year.
And here's the thing, though, is we're living in cities
now more than ever. People are moving into cities, which
is a good thing in one way because it provides
a lot of opportunity, economic opportunity for people, especially in

developing countries. But when you look at these cities, a
lot of them are full of slums and sweatshops. In
these developing nations, something.

Speaker 1 (18:33):
Like half of the population and a lot of cities
live in slum conditions.

Speaker 2 (18:38):
Yes, without are in Africa sixty one percent.

Speaker 1 (18:41):
So you think sub Saharan Africa, I think rural in
a lot of ways. So yes, I'm aware that they
lack access to clean drinking water, and that's an issue
that Sub Saharan Africa faces. Yes, you don't think about
that being an issue in a city, But the problem
with slums is they very rarely have access to clean
drinking water in the exact same way that places like

rural Africa have the same problem.

Speaker 2 (19:05):
Yeah, and we're not even I mean, that's that's clean
drinking water, and like sanitation and shelter. We're not even
talking about education and healthcare and like all the things
that people need to live a fruitful life. You know, yep,
So cities are a problem. Even if Eric was wrong,
there are clearly issues. Some people will argue, and we'll

get to the critics and stuff later, but a lot
of people argue that it's distribution of food and stuff
like that, Like, we have the resources, we're just not
dividing it out properly.

Speaker 1 (19:36):
Right. And apparently, if I read that, if everyone lived
like an American and consumed like an American does, yeah,
the caring capacity would be something like two billion, So
we would have already far exceeded it. Sure, but if
everybody lived with just the minimal amount that they need
to live, the carring capacity would be something like forty billion.

We've been able to sustain the car as it is
right now because not everybody lives like an American. But
if you're an American, that means that a lot of
the other world, especially developing world, thinks that you are
over consuming by a lot. And that's really evident in
there's a graph that went around recently that shows water
use in agriculture by type of product, so everything from

like soy to beef. It showed how much water, oh yeah,
did you see that.

Speaker 2 (20:25):
I didn't see that, but I've seen stuff like that,
because beef is like a huge consumer of water.

Speaker 1 (20:30):
Right, one hundred and six point two eight gallons of
water used to produce one ounce of beef. That's a lot.
That's a lot of water. And so that's that's part
of the point. Whereas if everybody's and apparently in China
and India and these ascending countries with ascending economies, one
of the great benefits of being part of the developed

world is you can get steak anytime you want, baby, Yeah,
and I want a big one right now, put it
in front of me. I'll give you some money here. Here,
just take this and put in your pocket. There's some
money for you. Give me my stake, and you don't
care how much water it took. Yeah, And it's there
these people who are saying they don't necessarily agree with Aeric,
but they're saying he wasn't totally.

Speaker 2 (21:14):
Off right, he was alarmed as clearly they're a problems.

Speaker 1 (21:17):
They're saying, this is one of the problems, right, you know,
this is one of the problems with too many people.

Speaker 2 (21:22):
Yeah, and so getting back to contraception and zero population
growth are now the population connection their big goal. They
say there are two hundred and twenty two million women
in the developing world who have an unmet need for
family planning. So they're not saying, you know, we want
to put our ideals on you and you shouldn't be

having kids. They're saying they are that many women that
are like, I don't want these five kids I would
have wanted to, and I either don't know about contraception,
don't have contraception, or I have literally no idea how
conception works.

Speaker 1 (21:57):
Right. Sadly for a lot of them, say a lot
the first idea that women just need access to contraception
and they will use it. Yeah, and they're they're they're
working on that, right, sure, but they've found in studies
it's something like ten percent or less of the women
who are defined as having unmet contraceptive needs cite a

lack of access as to why they're having unwanted kids. Instead,
they're saying it's things like family pressure or societal pressure
to have a bunch of kids. Like you're saying, like
not understanding contraception or how conception works.

Speaker 2 (22:33):
Yeah, they say they don't believe that they need contraception.
If you have sex infrequently or after birth, after I've
had one kid, we don't need to use contraception anymore,
like literally not knowing how conception works. Right, So that's
a big educational hurdle that Population Connection is trying to overcome.

Speaker 1 (22:52):
Right, So they're saying it's not just getting contraception to women,
it's educating them on how to use it and changing
their social outlook.

Speaker 2 (23:00):
Yeah, changing the culture. Yeah, largely men, you know, saying
one more babies, right, you know, like revolutionary road or something,
you know. All Right, so we're going to talk a
little bit after the break about what the critics of
zero population growth have to say.

Speaker 1 (23:42):
So we're back. Yes, we're talking about solutions to overpopulation,
but not everybody thinks it's a problem. Yeah, some people
say over population is a myth. Yeah, they say that.
Eric in and of it himself damaged his own argument.

Speaker 2 (23:58):
Yeah, he got a lot of personal heat.

Speaker 1 (24:00):
Yeah, still does because of the language he used. It
was so alarmist, starting his book off with you know
that we've already lost and no matter what we do,
billions of people are going to die. And then it
not panning out, saying that England wasn't going to be
around in thirty years. I mean, that was putting a
lot on the line, and so a lot of people said,

your specific landmarks or milestones were unmet. Therefore your whole
arguments out the window. And some people believe that other
people are like, that's not necessarily true. That is alarmist
as well, possibly your reaction area at least. But some
people say I still don't agree with erlik because humans

are smart. We can figure our way out of any problem.

Speaker 2 (24:46):
That's right. Critics will say that humans are not parasites
of the earth. We are the saviors of Earth, and
we are the ones that are coming up with these
solutions like the Green Revolution and longer lifespans and progress
sing medically to help people live longer.

Speaker 1 (25:02):
I don't know about saviors of Earth. I think that's
stretching it a little bit. I think we abstract a
little too much to be called saviors of Earth.

Speaker 2 (25:11):
Well, I guarantee you there's a lot of people that
think humans are saviors of Earth. Sure, you know.

Speaker 1 (25:15):
I would see us more as like Homer with Pinchy
the lobster again in the salt water and fresh water,
trying to strike the balance I wouldn't call him a
savior of either the Goldfish or Pinchy at that moment.
He's just keeping them both in stasis.

Speaker 2 (25:30):
How many times would you reference Pinchy the lot that's
probably seven seven. Yeah, it's not bad. It's one for
every one hundred shows roughly. Other critics will say that
low birth rates are no good for the economy, like
you were talking about earlier, older people and babies. Well,
I guess low birth rates wouldn't affect that, but older
people are more of a tax on society than they

are spinders right and investors right.

Speaker 1 (25:54):
But in the same way, if you have too many babies,
that's a big tax. Eventually that those babies will be
a workforce.

Speaker 2 (26:01):
Yeah, like we spend money exactly.

Speaker 1 (26:03):
So the baby boom and the post war boom economic
boom in the United States, it's not coincidental that they
went hand in hand. There are a bunch of people
having babies and eventually they grew into the workforce and
they made a bunch of money in the eighties for
the United States.

Speaker 2 (26:22):
Yeah, and it's also supported in developing countries. More than
seventy countries are categorized now as low fertility with two
babies or less per woman, and those areas are expected
to make big economic gains in the coming decades because
they're going to be people to spend money right and
be in the workforce.

Speaker 1 (26:43):
And there's kind of a few ways that the workforce
and wealth in the economy and birth rates are all
kind of tied together too. It turns out that if
you give a woman rights to her own contraceptive decisions,
ye sure, the birth rate tends to inevitably fall as

a result. And then when that happens, it happens because
some women have more babies than they want to when
they don't have right to their own contraceptive decisions. Another
reason is when they have those kind of rights, they
usually also have the right to an education. When they
enter school, they will tend to put off having kids

because once they graduate from school, they'll usually enter the workforce,
and so just by nature of getting to the whole
thing later on in life, they're having fewer kids as well.
And when you have more educated women in the workforce,
your economy is stronger too, So directly and by proxy,
lower birth rates are associated with the stronger economy. But again,

you don't want to get too low, because if you
get too low, then all of a sudden, the generation
before it started to taper off is going to be
bigger than the generation that's working. And if it costs
fifty thousand dollars in tax money to keep the average
retiree afloat, say in the United States, well that divided
by a thousand people is a lot easier to bear

than divided by one hundred people one hundred working people,
you know what I mean.

Speaker 2 (28:14):
Yeah, we got to keep the old folks and keep
them in stake and ovaltine right. You know.

Speaker 1 (28:19):
So if you're an economist, a demographer, whatever, everybody's kind
of saying like, you want to get a country developed,
and you want to get them at that two point
one replacement rate, and everything will be hunky dory from there.

Speaker 2 (28:31):
Yeah. And the other thing a critic might say, too,
is and this is what we were talking about earlier
about the environment, the impact on the environment, like we're
just going to destroy our world with so many people.
It turns out that impact carbon emissions aren't really tied
to population growth rates. It's tied to per capita income levels.

By evidence that China and the US have some of
the lowest fertility rates right now, and we are the worst.
So it's not because we have all these people, right
it's because we're consuming too much as Americans exactly, and
I guess in China as well.

Speaker 1 (29:10):
Which actually makes it seem kind of nerve racking that sure,
India and China with these enormous populations are starting to
become wealthier and wealthier, because that's just going to make
it even worse as far as the environment goes.

Speaker 2 (29:25):
Did you check out the Population Connection site?

Speaker 1 (29:28):
No? I didn't.

Speaker 2 (29:29):
They have a pretty interesting faq that if you don't
know where you stand, I mean, it's helpful to read.
Like they say things like, instead of we want to
focus on quality of life, not quantity, and instead of
saying how many people can the earth support, maybe how
many people can't orth support? Because right now, all these
people are dying from lack of you know, clean water

and sanitation and food. And there's the counter argument that
you hear from critics a lot. I've seen a stat
run around that the entire world's population could live in Texas, Texas.

Speaker 1 (30:04):
It's so mind boggling. I have trouble like believing it. Well,
I think somebody forgot to carry a one or something.

Speaker 2 (30:10):
No, it's true. Population Connection says, sure they can. You
could fit everyone in Texas. You could also fit forty
people in a phone booth. Yeah, but Texas, they said,
in no way has the carrying capacity to take care
of those people. So it's a little bit of a
hollow you know, fact that you throw out when you

say that, right, Like, sure you can jam everyone in there.
Texas would be like.

Speaker 1 (30:35):
What are you guys doing here?

Speaker 2 (30:38):
Yeah, exactly, But it's pretty interesting stuff. I recommend people
read their FAQ. It seems like they definitely have the
right mindset because what they want to do is, you know,
make sure people have a good quality of life all
over the world.

Speaker 1 (30:53):
Well, I will go read their FAQ because I suddenly
feel underprepared. But I will tell you that the impression
that I have from research them without going on their
website was I didn't find anything like beware population Connection
or the population Connection myth or anything like that. There's
definitely debate on the other side saying overpopulation is a myth,

but no one seems to be attacking Population Connection as
like a nefarious organization.

Speaker 2 (31:19):
Yeah, because they're not saying don't have babies.

Speaker 1 (31:21):
Right, And that's a really sticky situation to be in
because a lot of people are like, well, God wants
us to have as many babies as we possibly can.
Who are you to be meddling in that kind of thing.
It's a fine line that a group like that has
to walk, and they seem to be walking at fine. Yeah,
they're just saying like, here's some contraception. Maybe let's not

have unwanted babies. Let those little angels stay in heaven
and we'll just go from there.

Speaker 2 (31:48):
Yeah. I think that's their homepage, all right, the Behavioral Sink.

What where did you find this?

Speaker 1 (32:23):
I don't remember where I ran across it, but I'd
read it a while back. But I have to give
a shout out to Josh from Jersey, the original Jersey,
not New Jersey, who recently wrote in to suggest we
do an episode on that, and had perfect timing because
he wrote in after you'd selected this one, oh yeah,
and I was like, these two would go great together,
hand in hand. Yeah, So thanks Josh for reminding us.

Speaker 2 (32:46):
Well, thank you Josh for thanking Josh, which Josh, I'm
thinking all the Josh's Okay. So in nineteen seventy two,
this dude named John B. Calhoun. This is one of
his experiments. This guy, what he liked to do was
bill rat and mouse utopias.

Speaker 1 (33:03):
You've been doing it since the forties.

Speaker 2 (33:05):
Yeah, And basically with the aim to see what would
happen to a population, in this case mice or rats
if you gave them a perfect mouse world.

Speaker 1 (33:15):
Right, And he called these world universes.

Speaker 2 (33:17):

Speaker 1 (33:18):
And the one in nineteen seventy two, the one that
really like made all the headlines, I guess, was called
Universe twenty five. So he had twenty four under his
bell already, and it was pretty good size. It was
one hundred over one hundred inches square, The walls were
fifty four inches high. It had space for let's see,

what's two hundred and fifty six times fifteen, chuck.

Speaker 2 (33:44):
I'm gonna go with about in my head. I'm gonna say,
like close to thirty thousand.

Speaker 1 (33:50):
It is exactly thirty eight hundred.

Speaker 2 (33:53):
Yeah, that's what I meant.

Speaker 1 (33:54):
I meant three thousand, thirty eight hundred and forty okay, okay,
So there was enough room comfortably for thirty eight hundred
and forty mice. Yes, And long before that he introduced
four breeding pairs, so eight mice he first is introduced
to Universe twenty five.

Speaker 2 (34:13):
Yeah, and it was well stocked by the way.

Speaker 1 (34:14):
They had everything they want, food.

Speaker 2 (34:15):
Water that was cleaned out. They were all disease free,
no predators, yeah, no, yeah. He threw a cat in
there once.

Speaker 1 (34:21):
Right, just to keep them on their toes or something.

Speaker 2 (34:23):
Yeah, I mean it was it was mouse heaven is
what they called it.

Speaker 1 (34:26):
Yes, and he actually did in papers about these universes.
He would refer to them as heaven or utopia, and
he would use words like that.

Speaker 2 (34:33):

Speaker 1 (34:34):
So he introduces these four breeding pairs of mice to
Universe twenty five, and after one hundred and four days,
it took them to finally settle down and be like, Okay,
this place is actually pretty great. It's not too good
to be true, despite the fact that it seems to
be built by human hand, which is weird, and the

temperature never changes, but we're just gonna say it's probably fine, right,
and start breeding. And they started breeding pretty quickly. Oh yes,
they started doubling in population every fifty five days after.

Speaker 2 (35:06):
That, right, Yeah, like you said, because it was so
great there, they were just like Hey, let's eat and
do it and make little baby mice. Like you know,
there is no end in sight, so you're doubling every
fifty five days. This was all a big study to
study what overpopulation, what would happen. And what he found
time after time was that things went bad.

Speaker 1 (35:30):
Yeah, which is really something because remember Paul Erlick released
the population bomb in nineteen sixty eight, but for decades
before that, John Calhoun saw firsthand what the real problem was.
The real problem wasn't overpopulation leading to scarcity of food

and conflicts, conflict and resource wars and famine starvation. What
he found was that the real problem was overpopulation itself.

Speaker 2 (35:59):
Yeah, but just too many, too many mice and not
enough valuable roles for mice to play exactly.

Speaker 1 (36:07):
So there comes to be a point in any mouse
population as far as Calhoun was concerned. And again this
is Universe twenty five, and he wasn't making like one
a week or something. These were detailed, smart studies. He
was hired by the National Institutes of Health. He spent
like twenty or thirty years working there. He's like a
bona fide legitimate researcher, and he would find that at

some point the abundance would lead to overpopulation rather than
scarcely like he never ran out of food. They always
had enough food and water and everything. What came to
be an issue was space and social interactions. There were
just too many people. There are too many mice, I
should say to the mice. There people, sure, and they're

rubbing shoulders up against one another, constantly moving past one another.
There's not enough room. And like you said, there wasn't enough.
There were too many mice to fulfill the number of
social roles needed. Right.

Speaker 2 (37:06):
Yeah, it says by day three point fifteen, so this
is close to a year, a lot of mice are
living in there. And they said there were more peers
to defend against, so males were stressed out and stopped
defending their territory. Yeah, they abandon it. It said normal
social discourse broke down completely, Social bonds broke down. There

was like randomized violence for no reason. It seemed like
the female mice, the mothers saw this and would attack
their own babies, and it was procreation slumped, infant abandonment
increased mortality. Sword Then he talked about the beautiful ones,
which I thought was hysterical. There were these male mice

that just they never fought, They never sought to reproduce
or have sex. All they did was eat, sleep, and
groom and just sort of loaf around.

Speaker 1 (37:59):

Speaker 2 (38:00):
All these social barriers are completely being destroyed, right, these
social norms, I should say.

Speaker 1 (38:04):
Yeah, and these the females that could reproduce went off
by themselves, sequestered themselves away from society, and the males
that were capable of reproducing became those beautiful ones yeah,
and didn't seek sex either. So over time they lost
their ability to carry out these complex social interactions that
lead to reproduction, and they just stopped reproducing it in general.

Speaker 2 (38:26):
Yeah. By day five sixty, and this is I guess
that's the close to two year mark. Well, I guess
eighteen months they had twenty two hundred mice and then
growth ceased.

Speaker 1 (38:38):
Yeah, which isn't even close to the thirty eight hundred
and forty that this place could could conceivably hang on to.

Speaker 2 (38:44):
Yeah, So it was how many, was it, thirty eight hundred,
thirty eight to forty? Yeah, so at twenty two hundred
they stopped reproducing. Very few mice survive pass weaning. At
that point, the beautiful ones were still secluded the females.
They basically called this the first death of two deaths.
He did specifically call it a social death essentially.

Speaker 1 (39:04):
Exactly like the death of the spirit, the death of
the society, and then eventually the physical death the second death.

Speaker 2 (39:12):
Well, yeah, the one leads to the second, like there
is a point that you pass, and he came up
with a great name for it, called the behavioral sink
where they I think they refer to it as the
event horizon. Once you pass that, it's all.

Speaker 1 (39:25):
Over, right, there's no coming back from that. And once
there's no coming back from that, not only has your
society collapsed, or does your society collapse, your population becomes
extinct because reproduction becomes impossible. Even he found, which is
pretty startling. He found that even after enough of the

population dies off that it returns to those factible, ideal
numbers of the early days in Universe twenty five or
any of the universes, they still don't reproduction doesn't start
up again because remember, social norms and bonds have broken down, Yeah,
they were, so they can't even figure out how to
reproduce once there's room for people enough.

Speaker 2 (40:06):
Again, it's crazy, it is so interesting.

Speaker 1 (40:09):
He said that he wrote this really kind of blockbuster
paper called Population Density and Social Pathology, and it was
published in Scientific American in nineteen sixty two, and he
said that the individuals that are born under these circumstances
will be so out of touch with reality as to
be incapable even of alienation.

Speaker 2 (40:28):

Speaker 1 (40:29):
So like they can't even feel like they're not connected
as society anymore because there's no society for them to
ever connect or disconnect from.

Speaker 2 (40:38):
It's frightening, it really is.

Speaker 1 (40:39):
And a lot of people jumped on this and said, WHOA,
what's going on here? Because if you look at his data,
every time he ran this experiment, the results became the same.
There was an abundance of resources, there was never scarcity.
Population became overpopulation. Once it reached the point of the
behavioral sink, pulation slid into extinction. And on the way

there was violence, cannibalism and sexualism. Yeah yeah, in fan aside,
just like all the horrible things you can possibly think of, right,
you know, on the way toward extinction. And so a
lot of people said, you know, these mice kind of
are reflective of our own society, don't you think? And

Calhoun was kind of like, yeah, I would say that's
probably correct.

Speaker 2 (41:30):
Yeah, And there was a big boom at the time
because of this experiment in literature and movies with a
lot of doomsday scenarios. Tom Wolfe, the Great writer wrote
in The Pumphouse Gang in nineteen sixty eight he actually
referenced the behavioral sink in reference to New York City,

and he said, it got to it was easy to
look at New Yorker's as animals, especially looking down from
someplace like a balcony at Grand Central at the rush
hour Friday afternoon floor was filled with poor white humans
running around, dodging, blinking their eyes, making a sound like
a pin full of starlings or rats or something. And
there are all these movies that came out. There was
one called ZPG with Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chapman chaplain.

It was called Zuropopulation Growth.

Speaker 1 (42:18):
Yeah, like for a generation the government said no one's
allowed to have babies. Here's your robot.

Speaker 2 (42:22):
Baby, right, and they're like, no, we're gonna have a
real baby, and they're like, no, you're not. I think
I didn't see it, but I'm sure it ended very poorly.

Speaker 1 (42:30):
I didn't see it either. Yeah, I saw it on
IMDb though.

Speaker 2 (42:33):
And of course, of course Soilent Green. Yeah, great, great movie.

Speaker 1 (42:39):
From the novel make Room, Make Room, And there wasn't
no idea it's called that I didn't either. There's another
novel called stand On Zanzibar and there were people called
Muckers who ran amuck and just suddenly went crazy and
started killing a bunch of people. Oh no, it happens
from time to time in the news a lot of

people wood. We're saying, yeah, the stuff that Calhoun's finding
is clearly extrapolatable onto human society. And at the time too,
there was a lot of discussion about what to do
about inner city over population, crime, housing projects. There's this

really great documentary called The pruit I Go Myth and
it's about there was this the prud I Go project
in Saint Louis. This became I think we've talked about
it before, but it became like the the the poster
child for how no matter what you do for poor

inner city people, they're going to screw it up and
it's going to become crime ridden. And it's them, it's
not it's not their their their quality of life or education,
or anything like that. It's them and this this, this
documentary just totally demolishes that idea, but it's still a
long standing idea. And there were a group of police
policymakers who looked at Calhoun's research and said, clearly, we

need to do something. There's there's too many people, and
there's a lot of people who don't have valuable social
roles and they're turning to crime and everything. It was
very much open to interpretation because Calhoun, even though he
was putting these things in terms like heaven and utopia
and hell and behavioral sink and that kind of stuff,

he was still just kind of putting data out there
and it was up to society at large you interpret it,
And it really said a lot about your attitudes towards
your fellow human how you interpreted it. Yeah, but Calhoun
himself actually took something of an optimistic view of all
of this data, which is kind of mind boggling. Yeah,
I was surprised to read this. Actually it makes sense though,
if you think about it.

Speaker 2 (44:45):
Yeah, he found that there were outliers and that not
all the mice descended into hellish violence and looting, right
and mouse looting. He found that some could actually handle this,
and what he called the ones that could had high
social velocity, mice that fared well with a lot of
high number of social interactions.

Speaker 1 (45:06):
That is not me, And he said, I'm a type,
A blood type, blood personality type.

Speaker 2 (45:12):
He said that basically, these mice will thrive. And he said,
and even the ones who don't, what he termed the losers,
found ways to be more creative.

Speaker 1 (45:22):
Yeah, and he's so sufficient. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (45:24):
He had a son of your outlook, basically saying that
man is essentially a positive animal, and we will create
and design our own solutions.

Speaker 1 (45:34):
Right. And his solution was since and it makes sense
because he found that it's not scarcity or famines or
anything that leads to trouble. Yeah, it's overpopulation itself. His
idea was, well, let's go find more space.

Speaker 2 (45:48):

Speaker 1 (45:48):
And so he was a member of this group called
the Space Cadets, which was a group of thinkers that
were trying to figure out how to establish colonies on
Mars or the moon or wherever, right, which is exactly
what cal Who's point was is that we just need
more space. As long as we can sustain ourselves, that's fine.
But even if we don't stress agriculture, the planet or whatever.

We're still going to run into problems. So let's go
off to other worlds.

Speaker 2 (46:15):
And terror form.

Speaker 1 (46:17):
Oh and did you see the thing about the rats
of nim.

Speaker 2 (46:20):
Oh was that taken?

Speaker 1 (46:21):
Uh? It was based inspired by this, It was based
directly on his research. Oh really and that cool? Very
missus Brisbee and the Rats of nim nice. Yeah, so
go see that again and also go read the Behavioral Sink.

Speaker 2 (46:33):
Super interesting.

Speaker 1 (46:34):
Read an article on Cabinet by Will Wiles that informed
a lot of this episode.

Speaker 2 (46:39):
Yeah, this stuff is fascinating to me. I agree because
I see kind of both sides. Clearly, there are some
issues going right now, but I also think that there
are solutions around the corner.

Speaker 1 (46:51):
Yeah. I ultimately don't have a strong opinion either way,
And I think if I think about it, it's because
I think humans will yeah, becomeing ingenuitive.

Speaker 2 (47:02):
You can have steak tonight, tons me too grasped.

Speaker 1 (47:07):
Only you know it doesn't make it any better. I
mean that's why beef is so It uses so much
because it eats so much food that also requires water.
Yeah right, it requires water like two times over at
least Dumb cows yeah, I should feel bad about our
steak consumption, Chuck, I don't eat much steak.

Speaker 2 (47:25):
Good for you, buddy, it's because Emily doesn't eat beef.
So oh yeah, you know, usually I just will cook
chicken because it's not like I'll have a steak and
I'll cook her chicken every now and then. But usually
it's just easier, yeah, because chicken comes in like a
two or three pack, right, you know.

Speaker 1 (47:39):
Yeah, Plus you cook it until as dry as a bone,
so you can feel better about the water consumption.

Speaker 2 (47:44):
Right, that's right.

Speaker 1 (47:45):
If you want to know more about population growth and
specifically zero population growth, type those words into the search
bar housetiforks dot com. And since I said search bar
in there somewhere, it's time for listener mail.

Speaker 2 (47:58):
I'm going to call this linguist sticks up for us.
Oh right, right, Hey, guys, I studied linguistics in college,
so it always tickles me when you guys go on
tangents about words and language. The main reason I'm writing
is because I want to offer you a counterpoint to
the language police that have been harshing your vibe. Grammar
nuts are what we call in the biz prescriptivists. Yeah,

who like to dictate how people should speak. Linguists, on
the other hand, are descriptivists who make their careers out
of how people actually speak in real world situations.

Speaker 1 (48:32):
Oh, I didn't realize. I thought linguists could be one
or the other. I didn't realize that, like linguists tend
to be descriptivists.

Speaker 2 (48:40):
That's what she says.

Speaker 1 (48:41):
What is who wrote Infinite Jess David Foster Wallace. Yeah,
he was a big time prescriptivist. Oh really, you used
to drive him crazy, like how people should speak?

Speaker 2 (48:51):
Yeah, yeah, like that.

Speaker 1 (48:52):
There is a specific way that humans are supposed to
speak and write right and communicate, and if you deviate
from that, you're about as bad a human.

Speaker 2 (49:01):
Being as you can be, and that would be like
the downfall of society or pretty much. Come on, we
don't use the terms good or bad grammar. Instead, we
prefer standard and non standard Linguists recognize the social functions
of non standard grammars and observe their uses and functions,
rather than to try and micromanage them. A final point,

I'm certain your listeners still know what you mean when
you say things like there's a lot of something, even
if it isn't standard grammar and the laws of linguistics.
As long as you're interlocutor, which is a.

Speaker 1 (49:34):
Listener interlocutor interlocutor.

Speaker 2 (49:38):
Yeah, as long as they accurately understand what you mean,
you have successfully communicated. Okay, And that's why humans invented language,
isn't it. So go be free and know that I
will always love your show no matter how you speak.
And that is from Kristin.

Speaker 1 (49:52):
Thanks Kristin. The supportive linguists appreciate that. That's funny that
Kristin mentions that as long as you're interlocutor understands what
you're saying, you're communicating correctly. Sure, someone else I don't
remember who it was they wrote in and suggested we
do an episode on shorthand.

Speaker 2 (50:07):
Oh interesting. I was just talking about that with Emily
last night.

Speaker 1 (50:10):
Damn, it's all over the place.

Speaker 2 (50:11):
I took speed writing in high school and she was did.
She very surprised at that.

Speaker 1 (50:15):
So like speedwriting with hand.

Speaker 2 (50:17):
Speed writing is like like stenography, No, write with your hand.
It's basically a version of shorthand, but not exact shorthand. Gotcha,
it's a kind of shorthand.

Speaker 1 (50:29):
It sounds like shorthand, but like more aggressive. Yeah, like
max power or something.

Speaker 2 (50:35):
The joke was my friend Shannon, I won't say her
last name, but she would cheat in class because she
didn't learn the shorthand. So the test where they would
just read a long passage quickly and you would have
to do it and then transcribe that into long hand.
She was just super good at writing really fast, so

she would just write down everything in longhand super fast
and then figure out how to transcribe it back to
shorthand and then back to long hand. And she got
caught doing that. Yeah, and the teacher's like, that's cheating.

Speaker 1 (51:05):
Yeah, it sounds like it. She was like, well, mnd
me with fast still liven't. Nope, that's not speedwriting. That's
just writing fast.

Speaker 2 (51:13):

Speaker 1 (51:15):
If you want to get in touch with us, either
to show us support, criticize us, and even something neutral
is fine, you can tweet to us at sysk podcast.
You can join us on Facebook dot com slash Stuff
you Should Know. You can send us an email to
Stuff Podcast at HowStuffWorks dot com and has always joined
us at our luxurious home on the web. Stuff you
Should Know dot com.

Speaker 2 (51:37):
Stuff you Should Know is a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 1 (51:39):
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