With Halloween this year comes the world’s seven billionth person, according to the United Nations Population Fund. It goes without saying: that’s a lot of people. In 1999, the population was already soaring at 6 billion, and now, some 12 years later, we see it bumping up that population peg. It forces one to wonder what the fate of the planet and its people will be in just 30 years time.
The Growth of Population
How do we even measure population growth? And how quickly is the population growing currently, per year?
The first thing we must realize is that population growth not only depends on birth and death rate, but also current population level. There is a fairly simple equation to measure this with (left). Here, as explained by Jennifer M. Wenner of the University of Wisconsin’s Geology Department, “r is the rate of natural increase and is usually expressed as a percentage.. t a stated interval of time and… N is the number of individuals in the population at a given instant.” Simply put, more people = more babies. With more babies comes more people. And so the cycle continues.
Now, while the world’s population growth is sitting at or around 1.2 percent currently, developing countries around the world are seeing population growth rates at much higher levels. What’s more, people in developed countries consume massive, disproportionate amounts of the resources. Americans, only representing 4 percent of the global population, consumer nearly 25 percent of the world’s resources, a lifestyle many people wish to emulate. This sets up a very unsustainable situation.
Will the Resources Hold?
With population growing exponentially, we naturally ask the question, “Will the resources hold? Does Mother Earth have it in her to sustain us?” Economist, demographer, and scholar Thomas Malthus asked this same question some 200 years ago. In his famous work “An Essay on the Principle of Population”, Malthus laid out the problem of population growth. In Malthus’ day, the population was under one billion and the problem still seemed salient.
Lucky for us, advances in science, medicine, and agriculture have enabled the human population to grow – all factors Malthus could not see coming. Today, availability of food isn’t even much of an issue – an unfortunate truth (what really prevents people from getting food is politics). While there is chance the same advancements seen by the modern world could occur again, it seems far off to think a panacea will come rearing its head for a world of 7+ billion when the going gets tough.
Let’s take it for what is is: resource depletion is a real threat.
A Closed System – A Harsh Reality we Must Face
With population booming and our space only getting smaller, there is a harsh reality we must face: we are on a closed system and there are currently no signs we will be able to 1) somehow increase our land availability or 2) colonize or further the human species elsewhere in the Universe. With that said, we must be vigilant and forward with conserving and protect the Earth that remains. What are our options?
The first puts a bad taste in my mouth just writing it: population control. Without a shred of doubt, the best way to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere, the demand for food, water, and land, and decrease the waste is to prevent the demand from arising. It’s tough, but essential that we limit the number of humans on the Earth to some degree. By ignoring this need, we jeopardize the lives of young ones and future generations. We may even risk our whole species. So how do we “control” population? No, not soylent green. Instead, educating young men and women, providing contraception, and working to create healthy learning and living environment will be the way we keep a finger on our population.
The second option isn’t as bad: we must be more sustainable in our lives – starting now. Start today – plant a garden, upcycle, recycle, bicycle to work! Do everything you can in your power to reduce your footprint. We must start to make these things mandatory. Soon enough, people will be wishing they had a grocery store in their backyards.
Finally, we’ve got to choose the businesses and policies that keep the earth in mind. Too many businesses today blissfully assume that no amount of pollution is too much, and as long as they can make a quick buck, then bollocks to the effects on the planet and its people. This selfish mentality has to stop, and we can help it do so by voting with our wallets and rights.
Maybe – just maybe – if we start to implement control and prudence over our world, we’ll curve the future in our direction. It will be tough, and hard decisions will have to be made. Now’s the time to go forward though. Let’s make the right choice.