Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The World at 7 Billion

Our kind is in steep ascent.

Just over a decade ago, there were 6 billion people on the planet. At the end of this month, there will be 7 billion of us. Associated with rapid increases in human population is urbanization. By some estimates, only 30 % of the world’s population lived in cities. It is estimated that by 2025, 60 % of the global population will live in the cities.

The challenge of providing adequate water, food, shelter and atmospheric resources for 7 billion people, a majority of who are urban dwellers is incredibly complex.

A crowded and more urbanized planet could touch off an environmental crises and inevitable lead to social, economic and humanitarian catastrophe. To produce more food, especially with current technologies, we will strip the earth of the vital vegetation resources, especially rainforests, coastal forests, savannas and wetlands. The attendant loss of biodiversity will be colossal, triggering further crises in the delivery of critical ecosystem services.

At the current population and with the projected growth of a another billion in 14 years, is it possible to offer all human beings a chance for a productive and prosperous life while sustaining vital services including provision of food, water and a place to live?

Our planetary resources are no doubt finite. For centuries, since the industrial revolution, we have deployed technology to mechanize production and processing of goods and services. The use of global atmospheric resources to fuel growth has generated a veritable tragedy of the commons. The global impact of climate change presents a singular lesson on the limits of growth.

Could population be the trigger for the end of how civilization, at least as we know it today? Is there any such thing as sustainable development?

The easy thing to think about in these circumstances is population control. One might argue that we must stabilize the global population at some point before the mid century. This is hard enough especially when you have to confront the deeply private and sacrosanct dimensions human sexuality, culture, religion and more importantly, gender power relations.

Consumption, our demand on the planets ecosystems has become especially problematic. Per capita consumption of global resources has grown geometrically. We use more water for domestic use, we need more “atmospheres” to dump green house gases, and we need more food and hence more carbon, land, fertilizers and water for agriculture.

Global consensus and cooperation is needed to achieve two goals; slow down human population growth and scale down our demand and use of planetary resources.

Maybe we need another planet if our civilization is to continue to exist.

1 comment:

  1. "Maybe we need another planet if our civilization is to continue to exist." - I think we do, the problem really is going there. How can we transport several millions if not a few billion people to another planet right?
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