The last part of this six part series further explores and summarizes the important issues resulting from overpopulation.
In an hour of viewing this program the world will add 9,000 more inhabitants.
Because of overpopulation and the consequent depletion of natural resources, ongoing damage to the environment and earth’s ecosystems, human beings must use their abilities to act rationally, study and plan ahead.
Most of us inherently know that when we continue to damage the natural world we also continue to damage ourselves, but can our intelligence save us.
Do we have the courage and foresight to choose wisely how many people this planet will be able to reasonably support?
Part five of this six part series begins with the fact that we now need 1.5 earths to support our current lifestyles around the planet. In other words we are living beyond our means for the environment to support our growing population.
There are only three ways to reduce our impact on a rapidly depleting environment: stop consuming, change the rate and focus of technological development, or reduce population growth. We certainly should do all three.
In 1979 China instituted their One Child policy with heavy fines for people that have more than one child. It has reduced their population today by 400 million people. That is a greater number than the total population of the United States today (310 million).
But the most effective way to reduce populations is through education, particularly for women, and universal access to contraception and family planning. Educated people choose to have smaller families, and available contraception is the prerequisite technology.
Part four of this six part series focuses on two major ideas: carrying capacity and overshoot. Carrying capacity refers to the limits of an environment to support any given population. Overshoot is consumption which exceeds the environment’s ability to provide water, food and energy. In 1994 Rwanda, within three months, mounted a genocidal rampage by two ethnic groups that led to the slaughter of over a million of its inhabitants. The cause was related to fighting over resources and land which could no longer carry the population of much of Rwanda, and the consequences of ever increasing overshoot that reached the breaking point.
The world now consumes 85 million barrels of oil a day and demand expects to increase by 40% in the next two decades. If the world’s carrying capacity is compared to the resources consumed by Rwanda, the carrying capacity for all of the world would be 18 Billion people. On the other hand if resources consumed by say the United States is the yardstick, the carrying capacity for the planet is 1.5 billion people. If in fact we are moving to a population of 10 billion by 2050, overshoot by American and Western Europe standards becomes a cataclysmic event.
Part three of the six part series explores the importance of water from another angle: the production of food. Without enough water there is not enough food. Huge fresh water reservoirs are being drained at an alarming rate, not only for drinking water but for food crops. We are going to need to double the productivity of available land if we are to feed the coming billions of more people in the next fifty years.
Mechanization, fertilizers and new varieties of crops in the preceeding century increased yields dramatically, but with available land reaching a plateau, water resources shrinking quickly and subsistence farming plots being diminished by large families, it is clear that crop production and fresh water will no longer be able to keep pace with increases in populations.
Developed countries such as China and England are already purchasing land in Africa for exporting food back to their own countries, leaving the poorer African nations even fewer resources to feed their own exploding populations.
Part two of this six part series delves into how much it takes to support us on this planet, particularly water. Thomas Malthus was the first to warn us of our ability to reproduce faster than the planet’s ability to support us, and of course we have struggled mightily with the help of technology to feed and provide fresh water to exploding populations.
Seventy percent of the planet is water, but only about three percent of it is fresh water, and only about one percent is available to us. One billion people today lack access to fresh water, and it is estimated that half of the world’s population will be water stressed. With a population of 20 million, Mexico City represents all of the problems associated with too many people and too little fresh water. It is very likely that future wars will be fought over water rather than oil.
A BBC production, David Attenborough narrates this series of six You Tube videos. Part one summarizes the dramatic numbers that have evolved since 1800, moving from one billion people then to almost seven billion today. That means today, everyday, there are two people added every two seconds, 200,000 every 24 hours and 80 million at the end of each year.
What are the forces at work that have escalated the population of the planet from two billion, only a 100 years ago, to almost seven billion today? How will we provide the food, water, and energy required to support an ever growing population, and what is our responsibility to the other creatures and environment we share with this planet?