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Is humanity a plague?

Sir David Attenborough, patron of Population Matters, has talked in an interview with the Radio Times of humanity being a plague on the Earth.  What did he mean?  Surely he does not mean that we are a disease?  More probably, he was thinking of a plague of locusts, which consumes all that it sees, and then dies off.

That analogy is apt.  Human numbers have doubled in the last fifty years to seven billion.  Natural habitats, wildlife and fish stocks are falling around the world, due to development, overexploitation and climate change.  Resources, too, are being steadily depleted, whether that be water sources, fertile land, fossil fuels or key minerals such as fertilizers.

What does the future hold?   The UN projects growth of another three billion people, 40% more, by 2085, mainly in the poorest countries.  At the same time, per capita consumption is growing as the billions in developing countries seek to improve their living standards from the current very low levels, including moving to a more western style, meat and dairy based, diet which requires much more input for the same nutritional output.  While demand for food and other resources is thus on a sharply rising trend, supply is constrained by limited availability and the impact of climate change on rainfall, temperature and sea levels.

The consequence, which we are already seeing, is increased competition for food.  Prices are rising, as are land sales as investors and countries position themselves for future shortages.

Rising food prices particularly affects the poorest countries, such as Ethiopia, whose population has more than doubled since the famines of the early 1980s, or Mali, whose population triples every fifty years.

Commented Simon Ross, Chief Executive, Population Matters, “We are heading for difficult times if we continue to fail to take population growth seriously.  Lowering fertility to sustainable levels is essential if we are to have a prosperous future.  This means providing family planning services, encouraging women’s employment and promoting the benefits of smaller families.”