The problem is too many people! Addressing the world’s excessive population is essential for long-term sustainability.
A paper entitled Human Population Reduction is not a Quick Fix for Environmental Problems was recently published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
This is a valuable and informative paper despite there being some valid criticisms of it. There unfortunately is a danger that the title may lead some not to read the paper and thus miss some important points:
- “The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system.”
- “Sustainability requires an eventual stabilization of Earth’s human population because resource demands and living space increase with population size, and proportional ecological damage increases even when consumption patterns stabilize.”
- “…if worldwide average fertility could be reduced to two children per female by 2020 (compared with 2.37 today), there would be 777 million fewer people to feed planetwide by 2050…”
- “…our model comparisons reveal that effective family planning and reproduction education worldwide have great potential to reduce the size of the human population and alleviate pressure on resource availability over the long term, in addition to generating other social advantages, such as fewer abortions, miscarriages and lower maternal mortality.”
It is the case that most people live to an increasingly ripe old age and that, given the surge in numbers in recent decades, more mothers will mean more children. In other words, over the next few decades, we cannot reduce the population significantly by reducing the birth rate.
Drawing the right conclusions
Commented Simon Ross, Chief Executive of Population Matters, “This paper absolutely does not conclude that efforts to slow and reverse population growth through voluntary means should be scaled down or abandoned. It does say that addressing population should run alongside other approaches to limiting unsustainable consumption. We agree. Addressing population is not an alternative to social and technological approaches but an essential complement to them.”
There are three important relevant points not covered in the paper:
- family planning is relatively inexpensive;
- fertility reduction, unlike many social and technological approaches, is based on proven and usually reliable technology, tends to have positive health, economic and social side effects and is popular with most users; and
- that the environmental benefits of fertility reduction are delayed is not a reason to delay policy implementation but rather a reason for accelerating it.