The Elephant in the Room, by Roger Blanchard
The End of Infinite Growth, by Rex Weyler
Development: A Failed Project, by Julia Schöneberg
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis, by Erik Assadourian
Platform for the Planet, by George Monbiot
Inside the Battle for Another World, by John Feffer
Solidarity Economy Roads ~ Chapter 7 - The Road of Alternative Development, by Luis Razeto Migliaro
Neither Trumpism Nor Capitalism Is The Real Problem ~ It Is 1% Capitalism that Is the Problem, by Carmine Gorga
Power, the Acceleration of Cultural Evolution, and Our Best Hope for Survival, by Richard Heinberg
It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won't End the Climate Crisis, by Andrew Nikiforuk
Certain Technologies Are an Existential Threat. Is Technology Itself an Existential Threat?, by Randy Hayes
Decision Making in Our Times of Environmental Stress, by
Marc A. Cirigliano
Economists and Climate Change: Building Castles in the Sky, by
'Everything Is Not Fine': Nobel Economist Calls on Humanity to End Obsession With GDP, by Jon Queally
A Green New Deal Between Whom and For What?, by Nicholas Beuret
Ninety-Nine Unanswerable Questions and the Unintended Consequences of the Future We're Creating, by Thomas Frey
Recession Ahead: An Overview of Our Predicament, by Gail Tverberg
A New Generation Is Rising Up to Resist Neoliberalism Across the Globe, by Nicholas Powers
The Most Urgent Measure Against Climate Change: Stop Growing, by Margarita Mediavilla
Techno-Fix Futures will only Accelerate Climate Chaos ~ Don't Believe the Hype, by Joanna Boehnert and Simon Mair
Calculating the Value of the Environment With New ISO Standard, by Elizabeth Gasiorowski
Greta Thunberg: A Letter to My Non-Western Friends, by Ugo Bardi
Human Trafficking, the Most Evil Enslavement by Shay Cullen
"Original Sin" is the Root Cause of the Patriarchal Culture, by Luis Gutiérrez
The Elephant in the Room
This article was originally published in
Resilience, 3 December 2019
under a Creative Commons License
Discussion about climate disruption and mass extinction rarely mention human population as a significant factor in exacerbating those problems. In the last ~100 years, the human population has increased dramatically as shown in Figures 1 and 2. The global human population, as of 2019, was 7.7 billion and climbing. At this point, experts are estimating a global human population of ~10 billion by 2050.
Not only has the human population increased dramatically over the last 100 years but the average level of human resource consumption and pollution generation has increased dramatically over that time, particularly over the last 30 years due largely to the increased affluence of people in developing countries like China and India.
Human population and the level of resource consumption have a dramatic effect upon both mass extinction and climate disruption. A larger human population means that more land area has to be devoted to activities such as agriculture and that land must be used more intensively. That leaves less habitat for wild animals so their populations decrease (See Figure 3). With a larger human population, water related resources are used more intensively leading to population declines of species in that water environment.
A larger and more affluent human population leads to a higher level of greenhouse gas emissions and higher level of climate disruption. At this point, no level of technology can make the impact of population and affluence compatible with what is needed to prevent serious climate disruption consequences.
In 1970, the gloal human population was 3.7 billion people while the U.S. population was 203 million. At that time, I thought the global and U.S. populations were above sustainable levels. The situation has only grown substantially worse. Those figures are now (2019) 7.7 billion for the global population and 327 million for the U.S. population.
Figure 4 shows the relative impact of various efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is a function of both population and affluence.
The human population was able to grow rapidly over the last ~100 years due to five main reasons:
(1) The discovery of nitrogen fixation in the early 1900s, which led to synthetic fertilizer
(2) The discovery of methods to prevent infectious diseases, which lowered death rates, particularly in children
(3) The intensive use of fossil fuels
(4) The development of high yielding grain seeds
(5) The use of fossil water in agriculture to improve yields
We have now essentially run the course on what those five developments can produce. We’re rapidly depleting fossil fuels and fossil water. We’re also rapidly building up atmospheric greenhouse gases which will negatively affect agriculture.
If humans don’t desire to control human population, nature will find a way to adjust the human population to fit the available resources.
Credits: (Graphics) J. You/Science; (Data) Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters (2017)