Seven Billion Viewed By Seven Notables

            For some, it’s a cause celebre that 7 billion-plus people now inhabit Earth. After all, it means that child mortality rates are lower and people are living longer. In an article ”Is Population a Problem?”  in Seed Magazine, Maywa Montenegro refers to speculation by journalist Fred Pearce that population isn’t the problem; but what he calls “bad agriculture,” is.  Innovation such as small-scale farming prevents land degradation in places where there are population pressures, Pearce says.  

            Not everyone agrees that so many billions of humans, and counting, constitute a positive trajectory. James Eng of msnbc asked seven prominent experts to identify both the problems and solutions facing us as we deal with the 7 billion.

            Professor of population studies and biological sciences at Stanford University, and author of the 1968 best-seller, The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich believes we are facing “horrendous” issues, which include about 1 billion hungry people and catastrophic climate problems.

Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich

He points out that in times past, human societies have collapsed partially due to overpopulation. Now he warns that for the first time, our global civilization is in deep trouble. Ehrlich says that solutions include equal rights for women in every country so they have access to effective birth control along with “backup abortion” in case contraception fails or is overlooked; curbing overconsumption by the rich; and transitioning away from fossil fuels, beginning immediately.

            Alfred Spector, vice president of research and special initiatives at Google, focuses on technology. He sees access to information technology as a necessary life-improving skill, but how do we ensure that 7 billion people will be able to access IT? Spector recommends increased education for everyone on the planet. Well, good luck with that. The United Nations Development Programme reports that over 70 million children receive no education, most of whom are girls. He does see good news on the education horizon: decreasing costs of smart phones and tablets allow many to access the Internet. And learning itself is evermore possible online.

            Actress and environmental and political activist Alexandra Paul considers women’s rights and gender inequality to be major problems for the 7 billion. She points out that overpopulation hurts the weakest in society, because strained resources go to those with more power. She points to those countries where women have low social status and very few rights. These women need access to education—which usually leads to women delaying marriage until they are older—birth control, and the likelihood that they will send their own daughters to school. If Ms. Paul were to get her way, the world population would decrease to a sustainable 2 billion people, as it was 80 years ago.   

            John Carr, Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, believes that global climate change is the main problem facing our overpopulated Earth. Those who are poorest will suffer the worst consequences: water scarcity, intensification of natural disasters and declining resources. The U.S. Catholic bishops, encourage Catholics to reduce their carbon footprint and advocate for climate policies that show concern for “creation.” (It goes without saying–but we’ll say it anyway– there’s no mention of overpopulation here).

            Robert Engelman, President of the Worldwatch Institute, predicts that overpopulation will impact those over 65 years of age who will need health care. It will also exacerbate advancing and possibly catastrophic climate change, as well as the cost of fossil fuels. We should not be keeping the ratio of young to old constant by encouraging women to have more children. Instead, we should be moving toward simpler lifestyles, in which we consume less energy and resources.

            Deputy Editor of The Futurist magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society, Patrick Tucker talks about energy demand doubling by 2050. This is a conservative estimate. Part of the increased demand will come from population growth. Much of it will derive from increasing numbers of people moving into the middle class along with its insatiable appetite for electrically powered devices. As reported in the magazine, alternatives to petroleum are growing at just 30 percent per year, which isn’t nearly fast enough.  He is an advocate of halophytes (salt-water algae) as a replacement for oil and as a way to significantly reduce global carbon-dioxide levels. Such an innovation would also create more livable areas in “wasteland” regions such as Libya, Chad, Sudan, and the American Southwest.

            Aklog Birara, former World Bank economist and author, believes that unchecked population growth in South Asia, Africa and Central America is a “time bomb.” He warns that this “insane growth” creates a potential for regional wars over water resources, which encourages extremism and perpetuates poverty. His solution is for the world community to aid poor people in creating their own farms, thereby teaching them to be masters of their destiny. We refer you back to Fred Pearce’s idea in the first paragraph. Becoming empowered will encourage women in rural areas to choose family size, rather than to mindlessly go with the flow, so to speak.

            Read for yourself and see how many of these experts (and others) talk about exploding population as part of an impending global catastrophe.  Earth is running out of time, space and resources. How we can we keep on denying that there are more than enough of us?


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