So, recently co-curricular at my school has found me, and I've been attached to the year 7/8 debating ness. We have something like 9 teams, and meet every Monday from 330-430pm for debating coaching.
Today is Monday. It is now 4:52pm. Debating today was HILARIOUS.
We have an official debate on tonight, part of the on-going inter-school competition. The topic is 'That Australia cannot support a population of 36 million people', a figure drawn from a comment by the leader of our opposition recently as being the expected population in fifty years' time.
The session went well, and good points were raised on both sides of the argument, but just as we thought it was all done and were getting ready to go, one girl asked for clarification on a particular point: why does an increase in population mean we need to increase our production of resources?
Of course, being the utterly sensible person I am, I tried to explain it like this:
Imagine you have a teaspoon of vegemite* and one piece of toast. You can take your vegemite and spread it on your toast, and spread it right to the edges. HOWEVER, if you had TWO pieces of toast, how much vegemite would you then have per toast? Assuming that one teaspoon of vegemite to one piece of toast** symbolises our current standard of living, the answer any way you look at it is not enough. You need more vegemite.
...To which the girl responds - So why can't you just go to the store and buy some more?
Me: Because someone needs to make the vegemite.
Girl: How do you make vegemite?
Me: It's made out of yeast and salt and... never mind!
Girl: But why is it black?
Me: Because of the yeast.
Girl: But isn't yeast the stuff inside an egg?
Of course, by now the two debating captains are rolling around on the front desks gasping for air, but being the committed individual I am, I plow on.
Me: That would be yolks. The fundamental difference being that one is yellow and gooey, the other is white and powdery***.
Girl: But if it's white, how does it make the vegemite black?
Me: Because of the chemical reactions that happen when you mix it with other ingredients.
Girl: What reaction is that?
Me: I'm not a science teacher! I'm an English teacher!
Meanwhile, the debating captains and the rest of the class die of hysteria.
Me: ... Would it help if we started over with peanut butter?
Girl: Yes! Peanut butter's easy, it's just made from peanuts and butter!
Me: ... ... ... *headdesk*
Oi. But anyway, it struck me that the proper answer, the one that does not involve spreads of any kind, might be relevant to writing and world building. Because of course, if you increase a population and want to keep the standard of living the same, all your extra resources have to come from somewhere. Are you going to buy them from other countries, in which case you need more money? Are you going to keep them out of your own resources, in which case you have less surplus to export? Are you going to accept that a drop in living standards is simply a necessity? Are you going to increase your tech so that you can manufacture more goods faster and more efficiently, in which case the tech level of your country generally will increase - potentially also increasing standard of living and demand for even more goods that you have to make somewhere?
What are you going to do?
What will your near-future or far-future setting look like? How will these real problems that we're having to solve now impact what your society values, what it looks like?
People think a lot about levels of technology and increasingly about the environment in their future-set stories. But don't forget how these things interact with your population size.
Have a great week. And if you can, enjoy some vegemite on toast ;)
*Vegemite, I am told, is an acquired taste. It's very salty. Americans have been known to thrown entire jars in the rubbish upon receipt because vegemite is black, and the recipients assumed it had gone foul in the post. No. It's supposed to be dark black-brown with the consistency of rancid butter. It's okay.
**For the record, I think this is too high a ratio of vegemite:toast. Vegemite is very salty. Did I mention that? People who slather vegemite on their toast as if it were peanut butter have something wrong with their tastebuds, and will almost certainly soon have something wrong with their arteries.
***If you use the dried stuff, that is.