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This House Believes that Population Growth is the Greatest Threat to Human Survival

Contribution by Alex Reid to debate organised by the Cambridge Society for the Application of Research at Churchill College, 18.4.16.

The proposers have made a case that unchecked population growth, coupled with climate change, may lead to immense human suffering arising from population movements, starvation, and wars over natural resources. But they have not explained how these events would lead to the extinction of the human race.

Even after repeated famines and nuclear wars, some humans would be likely to survive, and to reproduce.

I suggest that the only events that could lead to the extinction of the human race are a massive asteroid impact much greater than that which eliminated the dinosaurs or a deliberate act of genocide.

In the case of a massive asteroid impact, that is not an event which would be brought about by population growth. Indeed one could argue that the larger the population the greater the chance of some humans surviving.

Deliberate genocide which wiped out the human race would require an actor to have access to a technology capable of such destruction, and the motive to do so. Looking hundreds of years forward, it seems entirely possible that such technology might become available for example a transmittable virus which would render humans sterile. As to motive, it seems on the face of it unlikely that a group of people would want to exterminate the whole human race including themselves. But if that group had a strange religious belief based on the merits of the after life, it could happen. Like a suicide bomber on a global scale. There is also the chance that such a thing might happen by accident. But population growth would not be the cause of deliberate or accidental global genocide.

It is also conceivable that deliberate global genocide might be undertaken by an alien species, seeking to eliminate a threat or gain access to natural resources. Or the alien species could wipe us out by accident. In neither case would the extinction be caused by population growth.

In summary, population growth coupled with climate change may be the greatest threat to human happiness. But it is not the greatest threat to human survival. I ask you to vote against the motion.


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