Thursday, October 24, 2013

Overpopulation, and a Wayward Hyena

The other day I read an interesting article in The New Yorker about overpopulation. It discussed the wide range of expert theories, from the argument that we're having way too many children to the perplexing conclusion that we're having too few.

The planet's overall population boom has been driven by the invention of nitrogen-based fertilizers, and one expert asserts that the way to control population is to control or limit the use of these fertilizers. Now that's an interesting idea. Of course such a policy would require a very gradual system of implementation, so as not to create hunger.

On the other hand, some people say we need more children to support our aging populations and our social welfare systems. That, to me, seems ridiculously short-sighted. I don't see much evidence that the world will ever be in a position -- barring a huge calamity -- where there aren't enough workers. If the social welfare system is in danger of collapse, then the system is what needs reform. We don't need to pump out more people to prop it up.

Apparently some of the most fertile places in the world are also the poorest, as you might expect. In Niger, in the Sahel region of Africa, women have an average of seven children apiece. A Nigerién woman quoted in the article complained of the lack of milk in her village: "All we want is food so we can produce children."

The Japanese, on the other hand, are showing typical restraint, with 1.4 kids per adult woman. The population there has been dropping since 2006, last year by almost 300,000 people. In parts of rural Japan, wildlife is returning to depopulated areas -- bears, macaques, herons and eagles. How great does that sound?

Anyway, it's a fascinating article and a fascinating subject.

I've also been reading the short stories of H. H. Munro, who published back in the Edwardian era under the pen name Saki. I've seen books of Saki's stories lying around for years but I'd never read any until now -- and they are hilarious. The humor is very dark, with a camp streak -- lots of upper-crust Britishers sitting around making acidly witty remarks.

In one story, a pair of women are discussing a fox hunt at which they unexpectedly encounter an escaped hyena. The hyena, which they name Esmé, follows them and devours a "gipsy brat" before being hit by a passing car and killed. The motorist buries what he thinks is an overlarge dog before sending a brooch, by way of apology, to one of the women -- who then sells the brooch, having had no connection to the animal whatsoever.

Dark, but funny!

(Photos: Shopfronts in Brixton on Sunday morning; a student paper that I found in the library.)


  1. The short stories sound so interesting! Have you ever read the Patrick Wilson novels? They are wicked and dark and perverse, slightly, but incredibly well written.

  2. You would think that people who didn't have enough food for themselves or their existing children would refrain from having more. but it's impossible to ignore the prime directive which is to reproduce. unfortunately, the poorest women have no access to birth control and sex is just about the only entertainment they have. the planet would definitely be better off with less people.

  3. I didn't read that article but I think I should go back and do so. I read some Saki when I was young and even then, I recognized it for being pretty awesome.

  4. Your description of Esme intrigued me so I found it on line and read the story. Quite right, very dark humor indeed but very entertaining. I think my favorite line was "Evidently hasty roadside interments were contingencies that had been provided against."

  5. Ooh there's a Saki book available for download from my library. I'll have to add it to my wish list - the sample they had from the book seems right down my alley.

  6. We are a very successful species. Something has to give at some point, of course.

    I'm reading Alice B. Toklas's cookbook. I highly recommend it! It's not really a cookbook of course.