Do too many humans live on our planet?
The current world population stands at 7, 221, 819, 415 at the time of this writing according toWorldometers, a site that provides “real time world statistics.”
As the numbers on the meter climb higher and higher, so does the impact of people on the earth’s social and environmental systems, according to Dr. Camilo Mora, of the University of Hawaii. Mora’s article, calling for more education and research into population growth, is published in the journal Ecology and Society.
In the article, Mora notes that two critical concerns are “to improve human welfare” and “to prevent the ongoing loss of biodiversity.” Yet, Mora argues, we suffer from a “missing awareness” of population growth as a contributing, if not causative, factor.
Improving Human Welfare
Mora contends, “overpopulation and family planning are rarely considered by leaders in different endeavors as mitigation solutions to improve the health of impoverished people.” Extra births burden the economic system.
Mora blames lack of employment opportunities on an overabundance of people. “even though labor productivity has increased by 70% since the 1970s, average wages, adjusted for inflation, have remained constant and have actually declined by ~20% among unskilled workers in the United States.”
Technology and outsourcing have led to a need for fewer workers; a growing population means more young people will be looking for work.
Individuals at both end of the life spectrum put a burden on public funds. While care of the elderly is expensive medically, children need “knowledge and training in skills necessary for technological innovation and competitiveness in a globalized world.” If inadequate resources are available to teach children, more gender inequality may ensue, with a domino effect on unwanted pregnancy and poor maternal health.
The author admits that there are two divergent and contentious views on population growth and its impact on human welfare. While he takes the view that the overall effect is negative, others support the idea that a growing population provides an “economic force and an avenue for inventiveness and ingenuity” that will allow for more people to enjoy a high standard of living.
Mora states the evidence is not in favor of population growth, “recent reports have found that rapid population growth can exercise a quantitatively important negative impact on the pace of economic growth in developing countries” and that a “rapid fertility decline can reduce incidence and severity of poverty.”
Preventing Loss of Biodiversity
Mora argues that key reports on lowering greenhouse gasses and food security skirt around the issue of human population growth. More writes that ‘excessive consumption and increasing population” have an “equivalent” impact on rising greenhouse emissions. While efforts to reduce carbon emission may be effective, “growth in human population can overwhelm those efforts.”
“By 2050, in part because of population growth, food demand is forecast to increase between 70% and 100%.” But the earth has a limited supply of land and water to meet that demand, especially with “intense drought events expected from climate change.”
In his interview with Decoded Science, Mora notes “Right now even if we stabilize fertility rate at 2.1, given longevity and earlier reproduction, we could easily stabilize our population at 9-12 billion people by the middle of the century. True stabilization is achieved when mortality is equal to natality and by today’s demographics that will be analogous to one child per couple.”
But scientists appear reluctant to endorse efforts to curb population growth. Mora explains that one reason may be that it is uncomfortable to discuss population growth if scientists themselves have more than one child. In his interview with Decoded Science he states, “many of us already have many children of our own and that kills our moral ground to ask others to have fewer children.”
Assuming we can begin to talk about the topic, how would humanity achieve a stable population?
Rather than passing legislation such as in China, which the researcher states was bound to be problematic as “the mixture with culture led to right violations and skewed genders” referring to reports of forced abortions and a preference for male infants; Mora states he would “prefer a publicity education campaign, about the family, social, environmental and climate costs of child bearing.”
Hoping for Awareness
“Ideally, humanity could achieve a level of “wiseness” on how many children we, our state and our planet can afford. A level of understanding as we did for tobacco and HIV, in which communication and education generated a global degree of awareness.”
In a world where education, health care, jobs and food may become harder and harder to obtain, it is time to restart the discussion on population growth.