LETTER TO THE EDITOR: How many people can a specific land area support?

The purpose of this letter is to comment on the conversation about Poverty between Joe Selvaggio and Elaine Klaassen. To be sure, they did not find the answers on how to solve Poverty, even though they seemed to wax eloquently around the subject.

Selvaggio had one very astute observation on sustainability, when he relayed the average number of children per woman in Niger, Africa, at 7.6, which he viewed as a problem for that poor country. On the other hand he tells of a billboard that he saw in South Africa, which urged young couples to use birth control until they can afford to raise children they bring into this world. Unfortunately, Klaassen did not respond to these facts as presented.

It must be eminently clear to all people that an uncontrolled population growth in a limited “area of land,” call it nation-state if you like, will lead to problems when the carrying-capacity (food, water, shelter, energy, etc.) has been exceeded. At that point one group of people in that “area of land” will use all means to appropriate more of the resources for their own use, no matter the political system of governance these people have claimed as their “guiding governing principles” (viz, the U.S. Constitution).

Population growth above a national carrying-capacity, if all members of any society are to obtain a minimal level of resources, will cause Poverty to spread like the recent Santa Ana Fires in California. To prevent this spread of Poverty to all, wealth will be hoarded by one group of people to keep themselves above economic worries, let us call these the ‘capitalists,” and the rest of the people be damned. And now we have a case of spreading Poverty, about which the above authors seemed to be sparring without resolving any issues.

I like to call this comparison the “pin-head” dance that people will indulge: namely, how many capitalists (the 1%) and their wannabes, can dance on the head of a pin, as compared to how many non-capitalists can dance on that same pin head. Obviously, there is no answer!

But the question of how many people can be supported by that specific “area of land,” say the State of Minnesota, or the United States of America, is not being addressed in the quest to find a solution to Poverty. I do not have the full answer, but I will point to a place where an answer can be found.

Those interested in pursuing the question, or giving the discussion a different direction, may wish to read the following book, by borrowing it from their local library.

Conly, Sarah. 2016. ONE CHILD. Do We Have A Right To More? Oxford University Press. New York, NY 10016
Perhaps when a significant number of people have educated themselves on the issues, as presented in this book, then we can develop a more educated discussion to bring light to this obscure and fuzzy matter of “Poverty.”

Enrique Gentzsch

Elaine Klaassen replies:
I’m glad Mr. Gentzsch brought up the question of how many humans a certain area of land can support (see Letter to the Editor, p. 3). The number of people trying to get food, shelter and health care makes a difference in how we live on the earth. When I grew up there were less than 3 billion people on the planet. Now there are approximately 7.5 billion. I’m not sure that a limit of one child per family is the answer, but birth control is probably more essential now than 100 years ago. Population control is another aspect of the ongoing and never-ending conversation on poverty.


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