For years now, we have been ranting about what seven-billion-and-rising-fast human population portends for the environment. By “environment” we mean the physical condition of the planet’s surface, the threats to human sustainability, and Earth’s capabilities to provide all life on the planet with quality-of-life essentials.
A friend handed Ellis an article from the September 3, 2013 San Francisco Chronicle, “Population Growth Adds Climate Fears,” by reporter Carolyn Lochhead. As alarmist as we are about these concerns, this article induced a feeling of hopeless dread. Imagine a drug addict who has had the monkey on his back for a long time. He knows that sooner or later his next drug fix will, if not kill him, debilitate him for the rest of his life. Well, instead of coke or heroin, the addict is us, humanity on the whole, habituated to reproducing itself, consequences be damned.
“California has 157 endangered species or threatened species, looming water shortages … and 725 metric tons of trash washing up on its coast each year.” So begins Lochhead’s unsettling report. California makes a good metaphor for the western world because it is culturally, economically, geographically, and environmentally diverse enough to be its own country, with a population of 38 million. The state has 32 million vehicles, about one per adult.
A consensus statement issued by Stanford University and signed by more than 1,000 scientists warned that our planet “is reaching a tipping point.” With an addition of 2.5 billion, world population is headed well past nine billion by 2050 – just 37 years from now. Increase is larger than the world population of 1950. It took millions of years for human population to reach 2.5 billion and just another hundred years for it to almost quadruple. Hello-o-o!
Domestically, that means that California’s population is headed for 51 million by mid-century. U.S. population will grow from 313 million to 400 million before it hits somewhere around half a billion by 2100, possibly putting it in fourth place behind – trust us, you may not be ready for this – Nigeria, an African country about half the size of Alaska.
“By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that the Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence will be irretrievably damaged,” according to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere at Stanford University.
Let’s make this more specific and concrete. Here are a few cheery problems to chew on:
- Each year, we over-consuming addicts produce about 100 million tons of synthetic chemical compounds that are so environmentally widespread in our air and water that they show up in whale blubber and in human baby umbilical cords;
- Forty percent of the earth has been converted to cities or farms. Much of the rest has been fragmented by roads and structures.
- “A quarter of known animal species, 43 percent of amphibians, 29 percent of reptiles and 14 percent of birds are threatened. African elephants may be extinct within a decade,” according to Lochhead. She adds:
- “A third of the world’s fisheries are exhausted or degraded,” meaning there is no commercially useful harvest or that harvests are anemic, respectively; and,
- Forty percent of coral reefs and a third of mangroves have been destroyed or degraded.
The Chronicle report extracts some compelling projections from a report in Demographic Research, volume 28, article 39, on May 30, 2013. This is the one that is most dramatic for us: If the fertility rate were at 1.5 children per woman – which is a bit below that of the average European woman today – it would keep the world’s population at about its current level of approximately seven billion in 2100. That’s three billion fewer people than current predictions.
Projections are, of course, just that, projections. But certainly more than Enough of Us inhabit this planet. In our next installment we will deal with what changes are in store for future generations. We wish them the best of luck.