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Bursting point: The World’s Unsustainable Population

Graham Strouts, Zone 5
…Population is a sensitive subject. It is not only political leaders who are reluctant to address it; most environmentalists also feel it is quite beyond their remit in working towards sustainability. It is often seen as an unmentionable subject, something only touched upon by racists and xenophobes –which is exactly why environmentalists need to engage in the debate.

For example, piecemeal responses to climate change which encourage individuals to save energy by changing light-bulbs or turning off appliances will likely be more than outweighed simply by the population increase. Simply stated, more people = more carbon emitters, but this obvious fact is entirely missing from most public debate about the issue.

Global over-population is becoming more and more pressing every day and needs to take centre stage alongside resource depletion and climate change as one of the great issues of our time.

The environmental crisis is essentially a result of the total human footprint on the Earth’s systems. This is a combination of both population and consumption rates. There is just one planet, and its ability to sustain life is being sorely tested by both our lifestyle and our numbers.

…Environmental educators and activists can help create a more sustainable world by addressing the world’s population crisis. Practical actions can be taken. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start the conversation. Everyone interested in sustainability needs to incorporate the population issue into their work, however challenging this may be. If population is not considered, environmental work in other areas may be futile.

  2. Inform and educate others. Increased understanding of the issues surrounding population growth will lead to a culture in which everyone recognises the need to voluntarily limit human numbers by having less children, creating a sustainable population with a reasonable standard of living for all. Coercive population control strategies are not helpful.
  3. Support relevant organisations. …

(11 November 2007)

Three’s a crowd

Juliette Jowit, The Observer
The more children we have, the more stress we put on an already overburdened planet, say campaigners. Observer environment correspondent Juliette Jowit meets the modern Malthusians who, for the sake of the planet, are choosing to ‘stop at two’

As a young architecture student, Richard Grant heard a statistic which would change his life and the very possibility of his children’s lives. ‘I heard on the Home Service a gentleman speaking who said the world’s population, the way it was going, would double. That frightened me because I was a student looking at structures – you can’t just double things; the structure must change. If you double the size of a man, his bones won’t support him.’

Back then, just after the Second World War, the population of the world was nearly 2.5bn. By the late Eighties it had doubled, and it has now reached 6.6bn. By the middle of this century, the United Nations’s mid-range forecast is that there will be 9.2bn people living on the planet – nearly four times the number that scared Grant when he was a teenager.

A few years later Grant married Irma who, fortunately, agreed they should, in the words of so many people who share their concerns, just ‘replace themselves’, not add to the growing population.

…Few have considered or are willing to go to such lengths, but with growing public awareness of the issue in Britain, a number of public figures, from the government’s sustainability advisor, to the new head of the Science Museum, to TV naturalist David Attenborough, have felt able to voice the once-taboo view that efforts should be made to reduce the number of people being born. Emboldened, the Optimum Population Trust (OPT) has launched a voluntary campaign to ‘stop at two’.

But there are others who object to the premise that we should not have children as a way to protect the planet, and not just for religious or ethical reasons. They argue that the central premise is wrong – that it is not too many people who are destroying the planet, but the lives of a rich, profligate few, mostly in the Western ‘developed’ world. Some even detect a worrying threat that the incipient debate on curbing consumptive lifestyles is being undermined by the renewed focus on population. One of those is Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth (FoE).
(11 November 2007)
In-depth article.