Population Growth Threatens Us All

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Any claim that unsustainable population growth is a threat is likely to provoke reactions that can become highly emotive. Go a step further, suggest something needs to be done about it, and you’ll probably have a range of accusations levelled at you, ranging from negativity through pessimism to doom-mongering.

You may even be labelled an evil advocate of eugenics, so let’s get rid of that nonsense right away: eugenics is controlled breeding to improve desirable characteristics in a species. Fine if we’re talking about racehorses or chickens, but given an irredeemably bad name as a result of the Nazis’ attempts to apply it to people. No civilised person is suggesting anything like that today.

Any discussion around the nature of unsustainable population growth needs to start with the facts, which are startling. By the year 1800, after around 200,000 years of human existence, there were 1 billion of us on the planet. It took a mere 100 years more to double our numbers, and a further 100 years to treble them again. So from 1 billion in 1800 to 6 billion in 2000, and already today we’re approaching 7 1/2 billion – 14% of all humans who ever lived. We’re now trending towards 9 billion by 2150 and 11 billion in 2100.

Most reputable authorities concur that we’re already way past the level that can be sustained in the long term, unless we’re prepared to end up living like battery hens, with no quality of life (which is already the fate of millions). So there’s surely no disputing that we “need to do something about it”. The question is what, against a background of many complicating factors. Chief amongst them perhaps is that our present economic system depends in large part on perpetual growth, to create jobs and rising living standards, and the easiest way to achieve those things is by finding ever more consumers. And a reliable way to do that, unfortunately, is by having an ever-rising population.

Resources are already being consumed at an unsustainable rate, and it would be wildly optimistic to expect technology to provide anything other than a partial solution. Politicians tend to think short-term, with their attention generally on “growth’, yet the situation arguably requires them to focus more on what many highly credible experts are advocating: an approach encompassing, of course, technology, but also environmental conservation, voluntary birth control, and sustainable lifestyles. And, perhaps, a search for new economic models based on sustained stability rather than permanent expansion.

In the meantime, since our leaders are heavily constrained by what we demand of them, surely we should acknowledge that we too need to play our part, as individuals?

There are a number of things we can do, and if you’re interested in what they are I recommend a visit to the website of Population Matters. The measures outlined there include a number of sensible, practical steps we can all take to help make the planet a fit place to live on for future generations.