Millions of people living in dirty, crowded conditions is actually an improvement, according to Brand and may be what saves us.
Most reading people won’t need to be told that Stewart Brand is a rather intelligent guy. Founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue and early influential figure in the ecological movement, it might come as a surprise to hear him speaking in favour of the mass immigration across the world to cities. But he’s been through the psychedelia of the 60’s, knows how to grow his own mushrooms with organic dung and is smart enough to look the facts in the face.
Most images of city slums evoke pity, disgust or outrage that people should be forced to live in such apparently miserable conditions. But as Brand observes, it’s a hell of a lot better than life in the country where survival is a bleak, relentless endeavour for the world’s poor. 1.3 million of them move to the cities every year and none of them are unemployed – perhaps the first thing the observant traveler notices in places like India.
What’s more is that population growth slows down rapidly as people adjust to urban lifestyles where you don’t need 10 kids to bring in the crops. The children you do have can get educated if the government has any interest in providing schools and it makes economic sense to have smaller families. According to Brand, the world population might level out in this way to around 9 billion and not grow any further.