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Human Overpopulation Threatens Our Survival

Human Overpopulation Threatens Our Survival

If we don’t halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature,
brutally and without pity – and will leave a ravaged world.
Nobel Laureate Dr. Henry W. Kendall

 

The human population is too big to really comprehend. Seven billion — how does one imagine that many people? And by 2050, we are projected to reach nine billion — two billion more individuals in under 40 years. That is so many that it is practically meaningless.

But it is very meaningful to the survival of life on this planet. In an article titled “Why the Real Victim of Overpopulation Will Be the Environment,” Time Magazine reports that “there’s an undeniable cost to all these people and all this growth: the planet itself.” The Guardian sums up the consequences of overpopulation in a piece called “Why Current Population Growth is Costing Us the Earth”: “Since we passed one billion in 1800, our rising numbers and consumption have already caused climate change, rising sea levels, expanding deserts and the ‘sixth extinction’ of wildlife.”

Not everyone agrees that 9 billion people are too many for Earth to sustain. But there is no arguing with the assertion by Roger Martin, Chair of Population Matters, in that Guardian article: “Indefinite population growth is physically impossible on a finite planet — it will certainly stop at some point.”

We may be nearing that point. The Independent reported that an “environmental assessment by the conservation charity WWF and the Worldwatch Institute in Washington found that humans were now exploiting about 20 per cent more renewable resources than can be replaced each year.”

That was six years ago. Things have only gotten worse.

The same article attributed to Professor John Guillebaud of University College London the calculation that “it would require the natural resources equivalent to four more Planet Earths to sustain the projected 2050 population of nine billion people.”

Becoming more green isn’t enough. Even if every one of us were more environmentally conscious, consuming and polluting less and conserving more, there would still come a point at which there were simply too many people. The Independent quotes an article by Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, explaining that “Although reducing human emissions to the atmosphere is undoubtedly of critical importance, as are any and all measures to reduce the human environmental ‘footprint’, the truth is that the contribution of each individual cannot be reduced to zero. Only the lack of the individual can bring it down to nothing.”

Unfortunately, that lack of an individual is a taboo topic. Professor Rapley calls reducing population growth “a bombshell of a topic, with profound and emotive issues of ethics, morality, equity and practicability. In interdisciplinary meetings addressing how the planet functions as an integrated whole, demographers and population specialists are usually notable by their absence.”

In an interview with Care2, Searle Whitney, President of population studies organization HowMany.org, illustrated the delicacy with which experts approach the question of halting (much less reversing) population growth. “We would like to see a stable, sustainable birthrate, where births and deaths are more or less equal,” he said, then stopped short of endorsing any policies that might make that happen. “Children are wonderful and raising them is a life-changing experience. We feel that having one or two, or none or three, are all good options,” he said.

As far as the planet’s ability to sustain life, they are not all good options, but as Professor Rapley noted, few will say so. The United Nations came close in 1992, but has since gone quiet on the issue. Back then it issued a “blueprint for sustainable development” called Agenda 21, which advised that “population policy should…recognize the role played by human beings in environmental and development concerns.”

Following the shameful history of eugenics and forced sterilizations in this country and oppressive laws like China’s one-child policy, however, policymakers are loathe to take any step that appears to limit individuals’ freedom to have as many children as they want.

The cost of this inaction could be dire. As Professor Guillebaud says, “We urgently need to stabilise and reduce human numbers.” On many levels, it is a matter of life and death.

 

Related Stories:

The Overpopulation Problem

Dare I Speak of Over-Population and Global Warming?

Anti-Immigrant Group Blames Global Warming on Immigrants

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Photo credit:World Resources

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226 comments

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10:35AM PDT on Aug 23, 2013

I was surprised to find this was the most current article on over population of humans. Why is no one talking about this? Better yet, why are we making abortions and birth control harder to get? It may even be too late to save the planet with as many people as we have now and with people living longer. When talking about deer people say there are too many of them. That is what deer and other animals say about us. Everyday there is an article about some species in danger because of hunting or lose of habitat to man's needs and greed. We have a very huge, sad population of feral cats because people are too lazy or cheap to fix their animals and let them run wild to breed. I see adds for feeding starving children here and other places in the world. Why are people having children they cannot feed? We should send money for birth control. Mankind is a plague on this earth and we will probably starve because we were too stupid to realize it and do something about it.

1:36PM PDT on Jun 14, 2013

YODA "Death is a natural part of life, rejoice for those who transform into the force. Moarn them do not, miss them do not. attachment leads to jelousy the shadow of greed that is"! We DO NOT NEED TO FIND CURES FOR CANCER, AIDS OR ANY OTHER FATAL DISEASES!

GOD CREATED THESE DISEASES FOR A REASON, TO HELP KEEP THE HUMAN POPULATION AT A HEALTH LEVEL. WAKE UP PEOPLE JESUS CHRIST!

2:42PM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

TOO ALL YOU ULTRA-RELIGOUS PEOPLE OUT THERE, IF YOU WANT TO HAVE 5, 6, 7 OR MORE KIDS AND CAN FINANCIALLY AFFORD THEM THEN THAT'S GREAT. BUT WHEN YOU START TRYING TO SHAME OR MANIPULATE OTHERS INTO HAVING AS MANY KIDS AS POSSIBLE THEN WE HAVE A PROBLEM! MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS!

2:38PM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

DON'T FIND CURES FOR CANCER, AIDS OR ANY OTHER LIFETHREATENING ILLNESS! THESE DISEASES EXIST FOR A REASON! THEY AREN'T COINCEDENTAL! OPEN YOUR EYES PEOPLE!

8:52AM PST on Jan 14, 2013

What an interersting article, and a pretty good 'debate' on both sides of the issue of population growth. Thanks for sharing.

9:25AM PST on Jan 1, 2013

Population is far more complex that most realize. There will be 10 billion soon and a vast percentage will be over 60. Most countries do not have a care system in place for those whose health is failing. In the US like most western countries are a pyramid scheme for retirement. It was assumed that the death rate would be at a level that would have x times as many to support that fund. Well that did not happen. In many countries the life expendency went up by 20 + years.
It is caused unnoticed social issues. Take abortion for instance:less kids = less people potentially to support the aged.

8:00AM PDT on Oct 23, 2012

Linda M: "We are a cancer. Hopefully a pandemic will come along and wipe out 90% of us so the balance of nature can be restored. I had no kids and, here's a news flash for those out there who had a shitload of kids like those Mormon morons in Utah with 19, your genetic code isn't the salvation of the earth so quit being such selfish bastards and stop spawning already. Human kind will disappear soon enough but people like them and that idiot octamom will hasten it. Of course with the partiarchal society we live in, ya' gotta' keep fuc!ing until you have a boy! We as a species are complete idiots."

Couldn't agree more. Those who have more than one kid are selfish and clueless individuals who are infecting the planet with their seed. And those homeless children keep being forgotten.

6:16AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012

Diane is right

6:12AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012

Overpopulation should be the number one issue today, yet it rarely gets mentioned. The "natural world" will go first, with all the "endless forms most beautiful". But here's the thing - mankind will soon follow. We already have the technology to solve this problem. Birth control at a modest price already exists. The other thing we need to do is to develop a new ethic that encourages small families. It is fortunate that we are at the cusp of communication technology at this point in our history. Each one of us should want to be part of the soluton, not part of the problem. I am very pessimistic about the future of planet earth, but not without hope. Is homo sapiens really wise enough to get out of the one?

5:33AM PDT on Oct 18, 2012

We knew this forty years ago. The movement was called ZPG - zero population growth. Do not confuse physical space with sustainability, which several people here are doing. Each person takes many resources: land to grow crops and livestock, water, shelter, clothing, medical resources, fuel, transportation, sanitation and myriad other services.

Education in general - but especially for women and girls - and cheap or free birth control are needed. Our Congress (the radical right) hampers the provision of these both within our own country and through international aide. International development program that focus on educating women shows it is the most effective way to promote economic growth and improve health for countries. Men do not put additional earnings back in to the family and community the way women do. When women earn money they feed and educate their children, and they invest in their community. Health improves, productivity improves; everyone benefits. Want to save the world? Educate women and provide birth control. When women have a choice, they voluntarily limit their family size.

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