The Words of the Carlson Family

Full Earth

Paul Carlson
December 31, 2004

In this article we’ll examine humanity’s situation on this busy planet Earth, and also the potential of other planets. In a second installment we’ll discuss the best ways to reach, and settle, alien worlds.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 1997.


In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote an essay on population. He believed that God, as a method of punishment, strikes lazy humans with famine. In 1838, Charles Darwin read Malthus’ essay. He decided it was partially correct, but with natural causes only, such as inadequate food supplies.

In the two centuries since, the world’s population has increased dramatically. Scenes of hunger in Biafra and elsewhere galvanized many people. By the 1970s, books such as The Population Bomb were predicting massive starvation, plus dire shortages of virtually every resource—in the 1980s. Zero Population Growth became a popular cause.

That alarmist mindset has since fallen afoul of ‘political correctness’ and ‘multiculturalism.’ The concern remains, largely unspoken, in the background of many sociopolitical debates.

The American government is always debating whether to fund birth control programs in poor nations. In fact, prosperity is the surest brake on population growth. Where children have an excellent chance of reaching healthy adulthood, couples will plan their family, and provide their kids with the best upbringing possible. Including college, each American child requires almost half a million dollars; a huge investment, but well worth it.

In the poorest countries, most women bear numerous children. In part, this is because her kids will cost relatively little to raise. Typically, she’ll consider herself lucky if half of them survive, and grow up to labor in nearby fields.

Is the world overpopulated, or even close? Anyone who’s flown across the United States knows just how vast, and largely empty, this nation really is. Some areas of the Great Plains are actually depopulating, as farming towns decline, and the land reverts to prairie.

Parts of Asia are far more crowded. Still, the Green Revolution has enabled China and India to feed themselves. Ocean farming is opening up a new source of food, and genetic engineering another. How much further can humanity increase?

There are limits. Roughly, the Earth has fifty eight million square miles of land area, and seven billion people. That comes to about five acres per person. But this includes Antarctica and Greenland, mountain crags, sand dunes, Arctic tundra, and other inhospitable areas. On average, then, each family of four "has" about ten livable acres.

To a family with a minuscule city dwelling, ten acres may sound big. However, that includes parkland, industries, and the farms which provide their food. Modern agriculture, not to mention timber and mining, requires large tracts.

Futuristic tales depict an Earth covered by towering structures, the bedrock honeycombed and the oceans mastered. Several trillion people could fit into such a ‘world city.’ (Think of Star War’s galactic capital Coruscant, or Asimov’s master planet Trantor.) Assuming you could sustain that many people, in reality, such a planet’s waste heat would be difficult to get rid of.

Family Plans

The family is central to human existence. Every traditional faith holds the marriage vow sacred, and honors mother and child as the closest bond of all.

Most faiths encourage large families. There are many reasons for this. At best, every person is seen as a unique expression of God’s nature, and each new child brings that much more beauty and joy into the world. At worst, organized religions are beset by rivals, and thus, seek to outpopulate them.

Zoroastrians are not known for large families, and some insist they don’t even want new converts. Israeli Jews face a local Arab Muslim population with a much higher birth rate, yet most have small families. While Israel does accept converts, as recounted in Jerusalem Report magazine, their leading Orthodox Rabbis make it a very difficult process.

Catholics are subtle, rejoicing in motherhood, while forbidding all but the oldest (and least reliable) method of birth control. The Mormons are out front with their ambitions, quoting Daniel 2:35, and comparing themselves to its world-filling rock.

True Father applauds large families. He explains that, in nature, animals raise all the offspring they can, as best they can. Outspoken Unificationists, such as John Godwin, have encouraged all our Blessed couples to have a dozen children.

This call has sparked lively debate, here in the Unification News and elsewhere. Some women have medical problems, and rare is the couple without financial concerns. Korea has long been a source of adoptable babies, and just recently, this has become true in Unificationist circles also.

There’s more to it than having babies. True Father says it’s unhealthy, physically and spiritually, for children to grow up in cities. He teaches that kids should come of age surrounded by nature, on a farm or in a small village. The Internet can facilitate a good education, and sophisticated careers, for even the most remote family.

There is one problem. If every family headed into the countryside, then rural areas would vanish, blanketed by a sea of humanity. ‘Empty stretches’ only remain because of the crowding in urban areas. Thus, the Earth is already too small. How would a Heavenly government deal with this issue?

New Horizons

Historically, when things got too crowded at home, folks would migrate. It’s only been a hundred twenty years since the wild frontier days of the American West, South Africa, and Australia. In Brazil, they’re still expanding into the Amazon basin. In every case, the aboriginals were driven back, or worse . . .

Now those frontiers are gone. However, in this same time period, we’ve developed aviation, then space flight. New worlds beckon.

A famous scientist once said, "The Earth is our cradle, but humanity cannot remain in the cradle forever." There are many reasons to spread out. Deadly plagues have swept the world. The dinosaurs were wiped out by a gigantic asteroid. Tsunamis, and other natural disasters, affect entire regions. These can happen again.

Mars is relatively close, but no one could live on its surface without substantial protection. The twin Mars Rovers have found that water once flowed there. Microbial life may yet survive, deep underground.

Buck Rogers and Captain Kirk have been "visiting alien worlds" for a long time, but only in the past decade have astronomers confirmed the existence of planets around other stars. Gradually they’re refining their methods, and spotting smaller planets.

When better telescopes are developed (and funded), scientists will be able to observe Earth-sized worlds. If liquid water and oxygen are detected, we can be fairly certain that life exists there also.


It may be that, under the proper conditions, life will arise quickly on any planet. Possibly those conditions are quite broad. Imagine animals with plastic bones, breathing a chlorine atmosphere. Or creatures living in ammonia slush, where different types of snow can fall upward and down—at the same time. How about fish with silicone blood, happily swimming in sulfuric acid? It gets even more bizarre. (Read Stephen Gillett’s book World-Building, and Robert Forward’s novel Dragon’s Egg.)

Is life common in the universe? We’ll soon know! Yet life does not imply intelligence, much less technology. After all, the Earth itself was without both for %99.999 of its history. (If you posit that dolphins, chimpanzees, and maybe giant squids are intelligent, it’s still recent.)

Astronomers are listening carefully for extraterrestrial radio messages. They have detected nothing. Despite the Hollywood hype, there is no solid evidence that alien spacecraft have ever visited this planet. Modern claimants are either confused, or frauds, or they have a screw loose. They may have had spiritual experiences. (Also, the Air Force is testing classified ‘wingless’ aircraft.)

If there are technologically advanced beings out there, they’re leaving us humans the hell alone. Perhaps rather literally . . .

Barren, lifeless worlds wouldn’t be very appealing to prospective settlers. Neither would planets with poisonous air or inedible plants. We could ‘terraform’ such worlds, making them habitable, and even pleasant, but that would require centuries at least. As noted above, we’ll soon be looking directly for verdant, earthlike worlds.

Any such worlds are extremely distant. Next month we’ll discuss how we might reach them, and how best to settle there once we do.

by Paul Carlson

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