As if 9 Billion People Weren't Enough

Published on May 13th, 2011

Maria FotopoulosEnvironmentalists such as former Vice President Al Gore have continued to sideline the overpopulation issue by citing estimates that global population will stabilize around 9 billion. The new United Nations report should have Gore and others scrambling to answer how they can continue not placing overpopulation at the top of the environmental agenda. The U.N. estimates now have the global population exploding to 10.1 billion by 2100. Of that, one of the biggest problem areas for severe overpopulation will be Africa. Now with 1 billion people, Africa is expected to more than double in population by 2050 (to 2.2 billion) and rocket to 3.6 billion by 210 With global population on track to tip over 7 billion in a few months – a mere dozen years since passing 6 billion – it seems preposterous that there is no U.S. population policy, let alone real U.S. leadership on this issue globally. Globally, we do an exceedingly poor job of meeting the needs of hundreds of millions of people. Nearly 1 billion people are chronically hungry. Just on the very basic essential of life – water – we know that nearly one in eight people (1 billion people worldwide) doesn’t have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion don’t have access to toilets. While living standards for hundreds of millions are deplorable, we simultaneously are seeing large scale environmental degradation and decimation of flora and fauna. We are not good stewards of the planet. On a routine basis, we displace wildlife, wreck havoc on natural ecosystems, destroy species on land and sea as we overfish, and release toxins into our air, water and lands. Clearly, the overpopulation, environmental abuse and species assaults all are interconnected – more people means more pressure on Earth for resources, often at the expense of other species. We’re not getting the job done for our current 6.9 billion people, so how will we meet the needs of 3 billion more people? In a New York Times commentary section about the U.N. report, various experts chimed in with their thoughts. There was the attempt to minimize the numbers (“projections … are risky”), a popular response to overpopulation estimates, which often goes hand-in-hand with decrying linear thinking. There was the technology-is-the-solution response, lauding almighty technology, with its “cultured meat” or “growing meat in factories from stem cells” (both of which make me think of “Soylent Green”) and “molecular fabrication technologies.” Supposedly too by “convincing global companies to maximize efficiencies in their supply chain producers, this challenge can be met.” Perhaps I lack vision (I know I’m certainly neither intrigued by, nor interested in, lab-grown steak). But looking at the world as it is now, it’s very difficult to see how we can create a sustainable world, one in which most of the people have an acceptable standard of living and our natural environment isn’t destroyed, if 3 billion more people are added. We haven’t managed to create that world now with the vast resources and knowledge we have. Living in what’s an essentially bankrupt United States now, many are calling for more of an inward focus and leading by example, rather than placing so many resources outside of the country (foreign aid in Israel and Egypt, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and military bases around the world, for example). As it relates to the overpopulation issue, it would be wonderful to see the U.S. lead by example. What would that look like? First, it would mean acknowledgment by our elected officials, idea makers, business leaders and other leaders that overpopulation is a problem. It would mean reducing legal immigration and having zero tolerance for illegal immigration. As well, it would mean advocating for smaller families. And to back up the importance of creating a sustainable population to create a sustainable nation, from a policy-making view, it would mean taking a look at limiting child tax credits to one and imposing a tax for larger families. Essentially, it would mean getting our own house in order. With U.S. population projected to grow from the current 311 million (already considered too high for a sustainable country by some) to 478 million by 2100, we really have no more time to procrastinate. Of course, if we can get our own house in order and work on providing assistance to lower fertility rates globally at a much higher level than we do now (for instance, through the United Nations Population Fund) – work on two tracks – all the better. To begin the work to stabilize and then reduce human population, do we really need any more of a wake-up call than hearing that there likely will be 10.1 billion people covering the globe by 2100? I don’t think so. What do you think?

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