Seven billion elephants
In February last year I posted about sustainability and the growing global population as part of the month-long Global Population Speak Out initiative. In the year since I last posted on the topic, the Earth has gained another 80 million people. Can you imagine that many human beings? I certainly can't.
My last post on the subject was titled "The elephant in the room" following John Feeney's article in the BBC's Green Room - it's a topic of huge importance to the sustainability of our world, but one that is frequently ignored or glossed over. The human population currently grows by about 80 million annually, right now there are more than 6.7 billion of us on this one tiny planet. Can you imagine if there were 6.7 billion elephants? Mankind would probably call it an infestation and start a cull.
One common objection to the assertion that we're heading for overpopulation is that we need a growing population to sustain the economy. This is probably a more common argument since the financial crisis, but think about it for a moment. An economy such as we currently have does require a growing population because it's designed that way, but that doesn't mean it can go on forever. Infinite growth in a closed system just cannot happen. We live on a single planet with a finite amount of land and a limited set of resources. Those resources must sustain not only us, but the rest of the ecosystem on which we fundamentally depend.
Sitting in an air-conditioned office or a heated home, the modern western world can make us feel quite disconnected from the rest of the biosphere, but we are still a part of it. What we do affects the environment around us, the decisions we make affect more than just ourselves. Whether we like it or not, we are part of that ecosystem and it simply can not sustain infinite growth. Ecology tells us this. Physics tells us this. Continued economic growth is simply unsustainable. It cannot continue indefinitely on a finite planet.
February once again sees a global effort to bring the topic into open debate. Population has been a very political topic here in Australia for various reasons - there is a big push to increase the skills base by encouraging the immigration of skilled workers, but there is also an ongoing debate as to how much population growth is physically sustainable both in terms of the economy and general infrastructure. This year, Australian MP Kelvin Thomson has added his voice to the GPSO effort, giving a speech at a public meeting of Sustainable Population Australia in Canberra on February 10th. Last October, PM Kevin Rudd sounded his approval of population growth and his allegiance to a “big Australia.” The political backlash was significant. In the meantime, Thomson released a plan for stabilizing Australia’s population at 26 million by 2050, and a new political party is reportedly being formed by an entrepreneur from Sydney - specifically to address population concerns in Australia. It will be interesting to see how the debate progresses over the next twelve months.
It's a big subject. Check out the resources and contributions at the GPSO website and join the debate.