Tragedy in Haiti

In the wake of the horrible tragedy in Haiti, as an advocate of overpopulation awareness, I thought a few words were in order.

First of all, no reasonable person, including those of us raising awareness about the dangers of overpopulation, is in any way pleased to see such loss of life, even in a country as badly overpopulated as Haiti.  It’s a catastrophe and we should mourn the loss of every life.  The Haitians are in my prayers.  And I’m happy to see the U.S. leading the recovery effort. 

My whole purpose in writing Five Short Blasts was to promote a slow and steady stabilization and, then, reduction in the U.S. and global populations through a reduction in the birth rate, avoiding an increasing death rate that would otherwise be inevitable.  Natural disasters come and go, but even ones as bad as this one, in which as many as 100,000 people have perished, have virtually no effect on the world’s population.  Within twelve hours, the world’s population was already higher than before the earthquake struck. 

The point I’m trying to make here is that those few people who may celebrate such natural disasters as a cure for overpopulation don’t understand that they make no difference toward population stability in the long run and they give the rest of us a very bad name and do the cause a disservice.  Such people should be ashamed. 

Secondly, there is a point to made here about overpopulation.  I’ve written and spoken of overpopulation’s role in driving unemployment and poverty, and that if something isn’t done to address the problem by reducing the birth rate, poverty will eventually drive our death rate higher.  With a population density of 800 people per square mile, the third highest in the western hemisphere (behind Puerto Rico and El Salvador), Haiti is also one of the most desperately poor countries on earth.  Two thirds of its people have no formal jobs.  Eighty percent live below the poverty line.  Their per capita consumption of everything except food is virtually nil.  While it would be over-reaching to blame all of Haiti’s poverty on its overpopulation – decades (centuries?) of political corruption have been a major contributing factor – it has had an effect. 

Island nations typically thrive on a tourism-based economy.  Consider the Dominican Republic, the other nation which occupies the same island as Haiti.  It’s population density is 40% less and, thanks to vibrant tourism, it’s about six times as wealthy, which isn’t saying much, but it’s a lot better than Haiti.  So why no tourism in Haiti?  Few tourists want to be surrounded by over-crowding and poverty, even when sequestered in private resorts.

Their poverty played a huge role in the death toll of this earthquake.  It’s estimated that it killed up to 100,000 people.  By comparison, the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989, a quake of almost exactly the same magnitude – about 7.0 – killed just 63 people.  Why the difference?  Such a poor country, even though it sits within a known seismic zone, simply can’t afford to require quake-hardened building techniques.  Seen in that light, the toll of the Haiti quake can be blamed almost entirely on its state of poverty.  It’s just one small example of how poverty, the greatest killer in the history of humanity, takes its toll.

Somewhere down the line there will be analysis of this tragedy and recommendations for preventing similar ones in Haiti and elsewhere.  No doubt poverty will draw some focus.  But somewhere in the analysis the role of overpopulation in driving that poverty should get some recognition.

6 Responses to Tragedy in Haiti

  1. ClydeB says:

    Well said, Pete.

  2. mtnmike says:

    Pete,

    First of all, thank you for having the courage to speak up, the truth doesn’t wait to come in season.

    I just finished a conversation with a friend that was eerily similar to what you have written. Haiti actually imports wood as they have denuded the countryside of trees. They have no resources with which to support their people, a hard and cold fact of nature.

    The majority of the population had no sanitation or clean water before the earthquake. If not for tourism, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, to name two, would be in the same sinking boat. Tourism is waning.

    Islands are nothing more than microcosms of the larger island of the Americas. That we call these larger islands continents has little bearing on reality.

    America is larger and has more resources, but we also have limits. As you constantly suggest, adding population is the ultimate method of reaching those limits, after which, as we cut down the last tree to promote population growth, we will represent a larger Haiti. Who will come to our rescue?

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Indeed. Among the nations of the world who are more densely populated than Haiti, the only ones who don’t exist in abject poverty thrive as the result of a trade surplus in manufactured products with the rest of the world, which usually means America. There are no other Americas out there that we can turn to for a trade surplus if we were to become so densely populated. Our economy is already characterized by a slow creep toward poverty as our population density inches higher.

  3. Benjamin says:

    The biggest problem of the human society is that we still do not have a common goal that would lead us joined and equal towards a clearly definite future.We still live and think like our ancestors, from day to day, unaware that the world has changed and that we must begin thinking, acting and living in a completely different way.
    We sit in a time machine, but we do not see our future.
    We see Haiti but we do not see that this country is overpopulated and has no future with so many residents. The environment will totally collapse. The environment of Haiti can take only about 2 million people and even this is possible only with a social system that takes care of them.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Benjamin. I’d say that even 2 million people (less than a quarter of Haiti’s current population) is still far too many to be supported by such a tiny island.

      Regarding your first sentence, the real problem may be that we do have a common goal for the future, as currently defined by the field of economics. And, unfortunately, that goal is the continued use of population growth as an engine for economic growth. Nothing will change until economists see such growth as cancerous, killing the global economy instead of helping it.

  4. Mark Hall says:

    The paltry initial donation of $1 million pledged for the Haitian Relief Effort by the world’s wealthiest super power (China) bares testament to the “true” nature of the beast that we are dealing with.

    To them, no resources, no market, no value.

    Another small competitor flattened.

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