The Middle Ages, by no means, made use of the world’s resources as the population inhabiting it today does. Gies and Gies state that “energy sources were largely untapped.” (Gies 4) With approximately 6.8 Billion people on the earth and a new census count on the way it’s no secret that the 21st century population outnumbers Middle Age populations nearly 22:1 and we use way more that twenty two times the resources. Today we cry out that the world is overpopulated; that in as little as fifty years, we could be on the verge of a population collapse, yet the same cry rang out in the Middle Ages. With only 300 million people, in retrospect, it appears that this was a false alarm, but still the claim of overpopulation was made. Does this mean that the claims of our generation will prove to be a fallacy as well? I know it does not, but based on the premises of available resources and human ingenuity, there is a way to make overpopulation more a buzzword than an actual threat; the answer is not to have fewer babies, but to have more, so they can lead the next technological surge.
What I’m proposing is that if people fear overpopulation, then they need to populate; they need to put more people on the earth, so more people can use their brains to solve these problems. While there will come a time when the earth simply can’t hold any more people that time is very far away. It was Tertullian that, around 200 A.D, commented, “Everywhere there are people, communities-everywhere there is human life!” (6) This wasn’t a positive statement though as it first sounds. Tertullian feared that Earth did not have the ability to support us. He lamented, “The world is full. The elements scarcely suffice us.” (Gies 6). But the world was only “overpopulated” in the Middle Ages because men like Tertullian said it was. One must take an in depth look at the claims Tertullian made to realize why he felt that the population was too large, while by today’s standards 300 million people fit comfortably in the United States alone.
The beginning of Tertullian’s remark shows that “Everywhere there are people.” The fact is settlements in the Middle Ages were teeming with citizens. If you weren’t a farmer, you were crammed into an unsanitary urban area. With nothing but untamed wilderness outside the livable realm it was easy to see why the people were confined to only the area they could master. It was not wise to venture into the natural world, because the threat of the unknown, be it thief or beast, was as real as it was deadly. It stands to reason that putting more people in less space would cause crowding; it’s part of the concept of population density.
This same concept persists today, only with more people and with more land. A common belief of leading economists today is that the world is running out of room for individuals to lay their heads at night, but these people would be wrong. Amazingly enough, human settlement accounts for only three percent of the Earth’s land area! (Richman) This leads me to believe that in the Middle Ages, most “experts” believed that there was nowhere else to go for humans or that there was no way to make new land habitable. The fact that we have twenty-two times the population today proves otherwise. The good news is that humans know how to spread themselves out. The bad news is that we fear that having more people will be the end of us.
Fortunately for humans the impact we can make is immense enough to outweigh the burden we create. It wouldn’t help to birth 100 million extra dogs or cats, because the role they play in life is limited and miniscule, but humans can each contribute to the world. Taking a look at the grand scheme of things, adding a mouth to the already 6.8 billion mouths on earth barely adds to Earth’s burden, but adding one brain to that 6.8 billion could prove enormously beneficial. One man can be the impetus to solve our current influx of human life.
Yes, there are some people who take more than they give; I can’t even argue the fact that we give excess money and resources to men and women who don’t begin to believe in a greater good, but they count for only a small portion of the world’s population. I don’t wish to eradicate these people or to sterilize them, because the goal isn’t to run a giant, efficient, global business. If more people are born, then more can become helpful members of society and those that don’t help will not stop progress from happening. The goal is to first acquire more brain power.
With that said, we need to turn our focus past the concept of rapid growth and toward the possibility of a solution. We need people longing to adapt to the mounting population. Going back to the statement made by Tertullian, he claims that “The elements scarcely suffice us.” The biggest problem, it seems, with overpopulation in the Middle Ages was caused by a lack of resources per person. This too is a problem today, but solutions can be deliberated quite easily. If the elements Tertullian referred to were food supplies, then the people learned to make enough food. If they were natural resources then people learned how to procure enough. Either way, the problems were overcome with technological advances.
It is the same today as it was in the Middle Ages. There is a direct correlation between increased reproduction rates and new technology that supports the population growth. Gies and Gies note that there was driving force for Middle Age men to “develop new ways of exploiting nature;” (6) those ways “surely social and economic”. (Gies 6) In the Middle Ages, exploiting nature stemmed from the technology of iron working. This revolution allowed for enhanced farming with inventions like the plow and animal harness bindings, enhanced weaponry with new swords, shields, and armor, and enhanced manufacturing among other things. (Technology) All it takes is a few discoveries and then a few people to turn those discoveries into something useful. With people bursting at the confined seams, there were more than a few that could create a revolution in the Middle Ages.
Today we fear “pestilence, famine, war, [and] earthquakes” (Gies 6) as if they were judgment for having too many people on Earth, just as Tertullian feared them. We believe the world could starve because we somehow cannot make enough food. The simplest solution is to make more food, but a better, more permanent solution is to make more people. As I said before, people have an immense impact on the world around them. This includes food production and manual labor as well as brainpower. If we can put more people on this planet and put those in the abundance of free land that there is, they can make life better for others as well as themselves.
Now, while the Middle Ages asked only for the discovery of things such as a wonderful earthen metal, today’s world demands we work around governments and economic obstacles to allow food to be mass produced like it should be or to allow resources to be obtained from the earth. The next technological revolution will come from people who can be the most efficient and leave the smallest footprint on the earth in the process. Recent talk points to sources of abundant energy like the sun and atmospheric hydrogen or nitrogen, maybe seeming out of our grasp, but before we learned how to use steam, or petroleum, or even electricity those things must have seemed out of reach as well. The last point I’m trying to make is how we are to direct the new minds we are creating. If the problem really is as great as everyone says, then new and old alike must be attune with not only the definition of our overpopulation, but with the likely solutions. So we must first have the babies and then teach these new minds just what ails us. Through this, we can prevent overpopulation.
Jean Gimpel was one man who drew many parallels between “The Medieval Machine” and the twentieth-century industrial society. His view of Europe was “an over industrialized late medieval [continent] suffering from, overpopulation, pollution, economic instability, dwindling energy sources, and general malaise.” (Gies 4) With so many parallels between then and now, Gies and Gies had to qualify his statements. They noted that “energy sources were largely untapped… and population was excessive only in respect to limitations of existing agricultural technology.” (Gies 4) Tertullian felt the pressure of population growth in his time and cited it, but what he didn’t see coming was the “paleotechnic” phase that brought a rush of new iron technology and with it the promise of a better life for everyone alive.
If only we could move forward forty, fifty, or two hundred years and see exactly what has become of us, we would know just how overpopulation plays out. We cannot though and are left with simply the problem and no solution. Instead of throwing aimless claims out though, it is wiser to study our past and learn from it. Many people believe that we are running out of something as the population grows, be it land, food or resources, but regardless of what we are losing our only hope is to innovate. Innovation comes from the mind and each one of us has a mind resting neatly in his/her head. Having babies isn’t one answer in a list of ways to cure today’s population growth. It is the answer; we have to make this answer happen. There is room, there is food, there is need and there are new horizons to be reached. The sooner we do that; the sooner overpopulation will become more a buzzword than an actual threat.