You know those articles that are so prevalent online…9 tips to a flatter stomach, 6 ways to get her to notice you, 3 top ingredients for a souffle with coconut? I promise not to actually list 7 billion things in this article, but suffice to say that this Halloween, we have 7 billion reasons to be a bit spooked.
Globally, the human population is expected to reach 7 billion people at some point today, according to the United Nations Population Fund. There’s no two ways about it, our population is out of control. The “miracle” of human birth has now happened more than 10 billion times. In 1800, our global population was 1 billion people. It took 4 million years of evolution for us to reach that milestone. In my lifetime of 36 and change years, we’ve added 3 billion people to the planet. 9,512 people are added to our global population every hour.
As we move toward a sustainable future, with even companies that you might not guess were interested in sustainability like Sunny Delight going zero waste and cutting harmful ingredients from their products, you could be granted some allowance for hopeful optimism that we’re on the right track. However, does adding almost 160 people to our population every second for the last 36 years overwhelm any gains we’ve made in efficiencies, public health, clean tech, local food, etc.?
Paul Ehrlich, perhaps the best known authors about population issues, summed it up in a recent article on MSNBC:
Seven billion is already facing us with horrendous problems, including almost 1 billion people hungry and contributing greatly to the chances of catastrophic climate disruption. But the next 2 billion people the demographers expect by 2050 will cause much more environmental damage than did the last 2 billion added to our population — a classic nonlinearity. That is because human beings are smart, and picked the low-hanging fruit first. Thus each added individual, on average, must now be fed from more marginal land, supplied with water from more distant or more polluted sources, obtain the metals required to make the products he or she consumes from poorer ores, etc.
Many past human societies have collapsed, with overpopulation playing a significant role. But today, for the first time, a global civilization is in peril, and nothing significant is being done about it in societies insane enough to believe that growth can be perpetual.
I made the argument a while ago that the best non-profit contribution we can make to help us avoid environmental calamity is to provide birth control to the estimated 200 million women, mostly in Africa, who desperately want it, but can’t afford it, and instead end up having to drop out of school, have large families, and exacerbate the cycle of poverty. Planned Parenthood International is perhaps best capable of helping in this regard. Proactive family planning and use of effective contraception can not only reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions, but help women in the developing world to finish their education, earn more money, and break the cycle of poverty that they were born into. And…perhaps slow the blistering pace of global population growth.
What do you all think? Does sustainability even matter when we can’t control the one factor that underlies all of our global problems? Can a one-child policy like China’s ever take hold in nations like India, or the United States, for that matter? When will population growth become something that can be discussed in political circles without being politically toxic to those that bring it up?
Photo courtesy HarlanH on Flickr Creative Commons