Hans Rosling gave a TED talk in 2010 that addresses the rising (soaring) global population. In 1960 our population was at 3 billion. In 2010, we hit 7 billion. By 2050 most statisticians believe that we will hit a global population of over 9 billion people. Barring nuclear war, extreme drought or famine, or a new plague our population will have increased 300% in just over a century.
This sort of exponential growth is staggering, and completely nonviable. We simply cannot sustain a population of that size – we do not have enough resources, especially if we continue to consume resources at our current rate. We are like bacteria growing in a petri dish: the bacteria grow and grow, forming colonies and consuming food and nutrients from the world around us. However, eventually the environment can no longer support the sheer numbers of bacteria and they begin to die off, smothered by their own waste.
Rosling argues that the only way of reducing our population growth is by increasing global child survival rates to at least 90%. It sounds backwards when you first hear it, but he does provide the data to back his claim. As childhood survival gets better, families will have less children. Education, family planning, healthcare, and access to basic necessities (food, clean water, shelter, etc.) are all aspects that influence if a person will live past childhood. As of right now the countries with the quickest expanding populations are not the affluent ‘western world’, but poor, underdeveloped countries. We have to first elevate these countries so that their children survive infancy. As child survival rates go up, the number of children had per woman goes down, and the population growth will slow or stagnate.
He ends his talk with a quote about our role in the global future: “The role of the old west (western countries) in the new world is to become the foundation of the new world. Nothing more, nothing less.” We need to be the base for these burgeoning countries to meet our standard of living, instead of simply leading the globe in consumption.
The largest impact we have on our environment is population growth. As more people are born, every other influence on the environment (global warming, deforestation, over-fishing, etc.) is simply compounded. Ethically we must stem the never-ending tide of humans first and foremost if we ever want to truly preserve our environment and our world.
- Jennifer Brees