Dan Brown’s current best-seller, “Inferno,” is an amazing story filled with gems of history and fact surrounding the fictional Robert Langdon in Italy. One of the several subplots is Transhumanism, which suggests that the world will end because of overpopulation.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus proclaimed, in an essay on the principle of population: “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” His theory was simply that the Earth would run out of food as the world became overpopulated.

Currently, the world’s population doubles every 61 years. We can expect the world’s population of 6.5 billion to become 13 billion by 2067 if current growth continues. The world’s growth rate peaked in the 1960s at 2 percent, with a doubling time of 35 years.

Increased population growth generally represents problems for a country. It means increased need for food, infrastructure and services. These are expenses that most high-growth countries have little ability to provide today, let alone if population rises dramatically.

According to world geographer Matt Rosenberg, the world population for midyear 2011 was estimated at 7,021,836,029.

His prediction of world population starts with 200 million in year one, building to 1 billion by the early 1800s, with 1.6 billion by 1900, 6.5 billion in 2006, and 8 billion by 2025 — with 9 billion by 2043. This geometric rate of growth surely will create pressures of unknown magnitude, and perhaps even an apocalypse.

Frank Fenner, deceased Australian professor of microbiology, once predicted that the human race would be extinct within the next 100 years. He claimed that the human race would be unable to survive a population explosion and unbridled consumption.

“Since humans entered an unofficial scientific period known as the Anthropocene — the time since industrialization — we have had an effect on the planet that rivals any ice age or comet impact,” he said.

Now parenthetically, I have two worries. I worry every June when all the college graduates toss their caps in the air that there is limited space for them in the job market. And what will become of those who are jobless? My other worry: When I cross N.C. 5 in my golf cart and see traffic at a standstill between stop lights from McKenzie to Morganton, I just wonder what it will be like in another 10 or 20 years.

I can think of a few ways the world might end, in addition to running out of food. Global warming could do the trick as melting north and south polar ice caps drown us. An asteroid could bang into Earth and knock us off our axis. Or a large volcano could split the globe into bits and pieces. Fresh water could dry up and leave us shrinking into oblivion. War is a doubtful cause, even with our little North Korean dictator rattling his sword.

What will happen when Medicare exhausts its funds sooner than later, say some? The health insurance program for the elderly spends nearly 30 percent of its budget on beneficiaries in their final year of life. Slightly more than half of Medicare dollars are spent on patients who die within two months.

One answer to this dilemma is the emerging right-to-die legislation that has been approved in a few states. It allows any individual to undergo voluntary euthanasia.

So many questions surround this morbid state of affairs — and so few answers.

 

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