Sunday, February 11, 2018

Science in Fiction (#37): Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

Welcome to this month's Science in Fiction feature! Science in Fiction is a meme I created to showcase the wonderful aspects of science in Young Adult fiction novels. For more information and previous feature, check out the "Science in Fiction" tag!

This month, I'm featuring Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre!

Honor Among Thieves is the first book in a new series by bestselling authors Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre. This is actually my next read, so I haven't read all of it, but I started it and got some inspiration for this month's Science in Fiction post. Honor Among Thieves is a hardcore space-y science fiction book - think Illuminae, or even Star Wars. One of the aspects of the world-building is just how crowded Earth is - so crowded that there are colonies on Mars, the Moon, and there are even alien ships that come and take one hundred volunteered humans on the Journey to the aliens' planet. Earth is completely out of space and out of options.

So today, I'm going to talk about human overpopulation!

It's a tough topic because there are people don't believe that human overpopulation is an actual thing. Maybe the Earth isn't running out of space? Maybe humans aren't over carrying capacity? Are we just overusing resources?

Human population growth has been exponential for years, so it's almost implied that human overpopulation is either in the process of occurring, or definitely happening. Take a look at the population growth since 7000 B.C.:

Figure 1.13: Human population growth since prehistoric times; an example of a steep exponential population growth curve.  
Human population growth since 7000 B.C. Source: Wilcox, Bruce & Jessop, Holly. (2009). Ecology and Environmental Health. 3-48. 

That's... pretty exponential. The human population of the Earth is predicted to be about 10 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100. But does it prove that the Earth is overpopulated with humans? The answer to that question is not necessarily. We don't know what the carrying capacity of humans is. Carrying capacity is the number of people that a region (in this case, Earth) can support. What is that carrying capacity? There is no way to know. The exponential growth of human population is unprecedented; therefore, we have nothing on which to base carrying capacity. Simply put: we don't know how to predict a population crash.

In 1789, Thomas Malthus published “An Essay on the Principle of Population”. He postulated that humans would reach humanity would run out of food within decades due to procreation and demand of resources. That wasn't true, of course, and humanity hasn't hit the population crash that his essay led people to believe would occur.

 David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London believes that it isn't the number of people that is the problem - it is the nature of the consumption of the people. I agree with this - there is more than enough resources (food, water, space) to hold the human population, but the entire population does not have access to these resources. In some cases, it's not our fault - Antarctica isn't exactly livable - but in some cases, it is (for example, looking at the amount of food wastage that occurs in some countries).

Very very recently I saw a news article declaring that Cape Town, South Africa would run out of water by April 2018 - less than two months from now. Cape Town is a major tourist destination, with African penguins, Table Mountain, and a beautiful view of the sea. The government is scrambling to address the situation with talks of desalination plants and water recycling programs.

Cape Town South Africa water crisis Theewaterskloof dam empty
Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town. AP Photo

How did this happen? There were three things

1) Worst drought in the city's history. 
2) Rapid population growth (4+ million).
3. Climate change.

And yet, according to CNN, residents aren't dropping water usage as quickly as they should be. (Granted, limiting water usage is so tough and no one should be subject to that.) Note two things in the list of causes that set off this looming "Day Zero" of no water - environmental factors, and human population growth.

BBC published an article yesterday, listing the top 11 cities to run out of water at the heels of Cape Town. Those cities are: São Paulo, Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, Moscow, Istanbul, Mexico City, London, Tokyo, Miami. These are major cities with massive populations.

Is human overpopulation something we should be concerned about? Absolutely. The exponential growth of humans is something the Earth has never experienced before, and we honestly don't know how to predict overpopulation because of that. Is overpopulation something happening right now? Maybe. Maybe not. Fertility rates are declining in many countries (due to many factors, like better health care, higher cost of living, etc.). So overpopulation might not be an immediate concern, but definitely could be something to fear in decades. Or tomorrow. We don't know. We do know that there is a coming shortage of resources, like clean drinking water, as depicted in the case of Cape Town, South Africa.

Did you find this post informative? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I do think overpopulation is a concern, but agree with David Satterthwaite that we need to manage resources better. Reducing food wastage (and indeed any wastage) would help, as would more of us switching to a largely plant-based diet.

  2. I don't think we're near overpopulation per se though it should be kept as an issue to watch, but I agree that over-consumption and uneven resources is more the current issue.
    Great post, Alyssa!

  3. I gotta say that your Science in Fiction posts are my favorite Alyssa and this was yet another great and informative post!! And yes I also think overpopulation is definitely something we all should be concerned about before it's too late.

  4. I found this so informational and important Alyssa! The way people are treating resources on the earth have been quite horrible. I'm glad to see more sustainable alternatives coming up these days though. I know in my own college, we've gotten rid of landfill waste and have converted to all recyclables and compost. (Which makes it a pain sometimes to organize trash, but worth it!) I can't wait for this book as well. Awesome feature!

    - Aila @ Happy Indulgence

  5. Great topic! I was just watching the news a few days ago about the first major city to run out of water it was very interesting.

  6. Ohh, this post was exciting and interesting :) Thank you for sharing about all of this Alyssa. <3 You are awesome. Hugs. It's an issue for sure. Ack. And also, ugh, this book. I must know what you think of it, if you read it :D Not for me, at all.. which is a shame, because SPACE :( So rude. I want more space books, but not with this weird romance, haha :D


I love comments! I will always try and reply to your comments, as well as leave some comment love on your blog! :)

Also, this an award and tag free blog. While I am flattered that you would think of me, I really do not have the time to follow up. Thank you!