Seven billion people are on the earth in 2015 and the number is increasing exponentially. By 2030, it is expected to reach 8.5 billion and 9.7 billion by 2050. Considered for years to be the biggest threat to the planet earth, it is mainly a result of the agricultural revolution and medical science development .
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, methods of slowing human population growth have been the major topic in the aftermath of the book The Population Bomb (PDF) by Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich. China’s One Child policy, enacted in 1979, is estimated to have prevented about 400 million births, but in October 2015, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission said a two-child policy will be ratified in March 2016 for an estimated 90 million eligible couples to boost its economy.
Suzanne York, spokesperson for the Institute of Population Studies in Berkeley, California, said, “We need to raise people out of poverty, give them better health care, and educate them.” That idea is based on the sociological principle of demographic shift, or survival instinct on a societal scale.
Years before our industrial society, couples had many children because people, including children, were dying young. Society and industry progressed to a wealthier, healthier, more educated state with a drop in mortality rate and eventually birth rate. In countries like Africa, whose population is expected to double by 2030, there remain regions where family planning is necessary as the gap between birth and death rates increases.
A concern about population control is that it will lead to totalitarian government with abusive policies leading to steps like forced abortions. But Corey Bradshaw, ecologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, warns that unregulated reproduction leads to the problems of density ecology. “When you increase population in a finite space, you increase per capita aggression, and increase competition for resources. You see more conflict, more suffering, more pain, more death.”
Bradshaw co-authored with Barry Brook a paper titled Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems (PDF) in 2014. In it they noted that population control of unplanned pregnancies or even famines and wars will not stall population growth. In addition to family planning, there must be technological methods of reducing individual environmental impact. They do evaluate several population control methods, among which targeting the about 33 million unintended births annually Bradshaw says would have about “the same net effect as having a global one-child policy in place by 2100.”
Back in 1968, Dr. Ehrlich emphasized that no changes in behavior and technology can save humans unless they achieve control over human population size. He said that underdeveloped countries must establish population control and ecologically sound agricultural practices, at the same time reversing environment deterioration before Earth is ruined for human habitation. He more recently has added the need for reducing overconsumption or we will have a “planet where life becomes increasingly untenable because of two looming crises: global heating, and the degradation of the natural systems on which we all depend.”
Where the main symptom in poorer countries is starvation by the millions, for Americans it is the “environmental deterioration and increased difficulty in obtaining resources to support their affluence.” Before the birth of Christ, the population took one million years to double. In 1968 the doubling time seemed to happen every 35 years. In 900 years that would be sixty million billion people, 100 people per square yard of the Earth’s land and sea surface. To figure the rate of population increase, subtract the number of deaths per thousand people per year from the number of births per thousand people per year.
Even if became possible to move the people to other planets, British physicist J. H. Fremlin calculated that it would only take 50 years to have the same population density as Earth’s on Venus, Mercury, Mars, the Earth’s moon, and Jupiter and Saturn’s moons. The population in underdeveloped countries (UDCs) like most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, all containing two-thirds of the world’s population, doubles within 20 to 25 years or less. When over 40 percent of the population in the UDCs was under 15 years old, it meant a population explosion in 2000.
The overdeveloped countries (ODCs) like the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and most of Europe use more than their share of the world’s natural resources, minerals, water, and energy; are major polluters with waste disposal issues; and double in more like 50 to 200 years. Crowding in urban centers is not as bad as in the UDCs like Calcutta, but overcrowded highways and rising crime rates are increasing in the United States. In the attached video, Maude Barlow explains these effects of ODC consumption.
As long as the birth rate exceeds the death rate, either population control steps must be taken to decrease birth rate or death rate must increase through war, famine, pestilence, and extreme weather effects. One positive result from governments’ reluctance to deal with climate change may be the rising death rate from excessive heat, flooding, mudslides, and killer storms. Voluntary population control, unpopular with some religious groups and those who receive larger welfare checks for having more babies, is unlikely.
The current attitude of most Americans is that with our intelligent minds and creative technology, someone will come up with solutions to the sustainability crisis so there is no need for concern over population growth or consumption levels. Derrick Jensen in his essay Beyond Hope writes, “When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free – truly free – to honestly start working to resolve it.”
Now is the time to stop relying on false hope and demand action on population and consumption growth worldwide, involving governments, scientist, industrialists, the media, and citizens.