This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Friday, February 2, 2018

Where Are We Headed as a Species?

Today I want to catch up on two links that readers have posted over the past few days. Both of them raise huge questions about the future of human society. Duane Miller provided a link to a 15-minute YouTube video called Humans Need Not Apply It has already been viewed nearly 10 million times, so perhaps you've already seen it. The point it makes is that just as horses were replaced by automobiles, robots are quickly replacing humans. Now, to be sure, this alarm bell has been ringing often over the past century and a half. In the middle of the 19th century Karl Marx got the attention of workers by arguing that machines were going to replace them. And, of course, he was right in many respects, even if history didn't go exactly his way. The argument in this video is that robots may be much more successful at replacing humans than any previous generation of machines. This seems likely to me and, as I have said before, this should be viewed as a way of relieving our angst about the "demographic bomb" inherent in an increasingly older population.

By the way, if you watch the video you will see a reference to the occupational categories that were supposedly listed in the 1776 census (this occurs about 13 minutes into the video). Fact Check! The first census in the U.S. was in 1790, and the first census to ask about occupation was the one undertaken in 1850. It always worries me when I see a glaring error about things with which I am familiar, because then I wonder about the accuracy of everything else...

Another message oriented to the idea that we really don't need to keep adding to the number of humans alive comes from a blog posted by Steven Earl Salmony, who lives in a beautiful spot in North Carolina called Fearrington Village. The bottom line is one that will be familiar to any reader of my book or blog--we humans are currently on an unsustainable path. We cannot continue to increase in numbers as we have been doing without ruining the natural environment upon which we are entirely dependent. Machines grow and process our food (creating massive environmental damage in the process), and machines bring food to our markets and we just eat it. The nutrition transition means that we have been increasingly eating more food of the kinds that our bodies are not too happy with, so we need to cut back our caloric intake while also shifting our dietary mix towards a healthier combination of more fruits and vegetables and less meats and sweets.

The future will be different, and only if we start acting now will it be better rather than worse.

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