Endless growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. –Edward Abbey
Today is World Population Day. It was established on July 11, 1987 when world population hit 5 billion. This year — just 24 years later — world population is expected to surpass 7 billion. There is hardly cause to celebrate when you consider it took some 50,000 years for the population to reach 5 billion, and just 24 to add another 2 billion.
Overpopulation is putting a huge strain on our resources. As it is, nearly a billion people don’t have enough to eat (1), one-quarter of our marine fish stocks are over harvested (2), and 20% of the world’s cropland is degraded (3). According to the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. topsoil is being eroded at least 10 times faster than its replacement rate. Pressure on our food supply has led to a chemically intensive agricultural system that pollutes our air and water and poisons other species. By 2025, 2.8 billion people will be living in areas facing water stress or scarcity. Thirty-six U.S. states are anticipating water shortages within the next 10 years (4). And demand for freshwater is supposed to increase by 85% over the next half century (5).
Surely, we were not “sent forth to multiply” until we could no longer sustain ourselves.
According to the Global Footprint Network, we would need 1.5 planets to sustain our current global consumption of resources. At our current rate of consumption and growth, by 2030, we would need the equivalent of 2 Earths to support us. If everyone lived like we live in the United States, it would take 5 planets to meet our needs. This “overspending” comes primarily from carbon, which accounts for over 50% of our ecological footprint.
For every person in the United States, 18.9 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted per year; in Canada, 16.9 metric tons per person; in the United Kingdom, 8.9 metric tons per person; and in China, 4.9 metric tons per person.
In addition to cutting our emissions, investing in renewable energy, and placing our hopes in new technologies, we need to proactively address the population issue to avoid crisis-driven change. We need to get over the taboo of talking about overpopulation and move toward solutions. Many people would prefer more for their kids rather than just more kids. Raising the global standard of living, improving health and education, decreasing infant mortality rates, empowering women, and making reproductive choice available to everyone are good in themselves; they will also help stabilize population growth.
Things you can do on World Population Day:
- Raise awareness of population issues. Why not donate your Facebook status to World Population Day. If we’re not discussing these issues then how can we address them?
- Donate to a family planning, reproductive health and justice or social justice organization that work to raise the global standard of living, improve health and education, decrease infant mortality rates, empower women, and make reproductive choice available to everyone.
- Cut your carbon footprint and consider having a smaller family. In the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than all of the “green” practices you might employ in your entire lifetime (driving a hybrid, recycling, increasing household energy efficiency, etc).
For more information on the link between overpopulation and environmental degradation visit: www.howmany.org.
Gaffikin, Lynne. “Population Growth, Ecosystem Services, and Human Well-Being.” A Pivotal Moment. Ed. Laurie Mazur. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010. 124-135. Print.(2)(5)
Sterling, Elaeanor and Erin Vintinner. “How Much is Left? An Overview of the Water Crisis.” A Pivotal Moment. Ed. Laurie Mazur. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010. 193-204. Print. (4)