For the environment, the human population is already at nightmare levels, and still climbing. This page explores alternatives for the future of population, and the possibility that Earth is headed to a peak population never to be repeated.
- Introduction and Recap.
- The Fragile Starting Point.
- Endless Climate Summits: And We Need Them.
- Don’t Mention Population.
- Recap: Understanding How We Got To This Many People.
- The Fragile Starting Point.
- The Possible Futures:
- The UN projection: stability.
- Futurist Views:
- The Most Common ‘Sci-Fi’ Future, continued growth, and the elimination of nature.
- Collapse: The Dystopian Alternative.
- Descent To A Lower Plateaux: Leaving The Population Peak.
- Population Growth Propaganda? We can’t Afford To End Growth!
- to be continued….
Introduction and Recap.
The Fragile Starting Point: Should A Climate Summit Mention Population?
Endless Climate Summits: Governments Are Feeling The Need To Respond.
Recent human advances have provided great benefits, but have also come at huge environmental cost.
Huge strides in reducing infant mortality came too quickly for birth rates to compensate, producing a huge population explosion. In parallel, other advances such as plastics, automobiles and refrigeration have compounded the problem by increasing the environmental footprint per person.
There is now worldwide majority consensus, that the environment, under the strains of supporting over 7 billion people living as they do currently, is extremely fragile. Logically, two steps are required:
- Change how we live.
- Manage population going forward.
It has taken a very long time to get the current level of agreement on step 1: that we need to change how we live. Despite the at time of writing upcoming Glasgow Climate conference being the 26th climate summit (hence ‘Cop26’) , there still not universal agreement on a plan.
But Don’t Mention Population.
Step 2, population, described by many as the elephant in the room, is a topic avoided at current conferences, despite the widespread acknowledgement that population itself poses an existential threat to the environment.
The naturalist David Attenborough once said the creature he finds “most extraordinary” is a nine-month-old human baby. But now he believes the planet can’t sustain many more.
In an interview for BBC Newsnight, the 92-year-old British broadcaster said: “In the long run, population growth has to come to an end. There are some reasons for thinking that will happen almost inevitably.
“But it is very alarming at the rate we’re going, and although people will say, ‘In the long run, we are going to stabilize’, they’re going to stabilize – as far as I can see – at a rather higher level than the Earth can really accommodate.”BBC Newsnight, via churchandstate.org.uk.
It is true that action on how we live is more urgent, but what happens with population cannot be ignored.
Recap: Understanding How We Got Here.
I have been on a journey to understand what has been happening with global population since 2013.
I continue to uncover new surprises as I came to grok the pieces of the puzzle. The two most recent, and critical pieces of the puzzle were:
- “Full planet”: The realisation that there has been a similar total amount of life since life on land began, and therefore increases in one species population always means decrease in the population of other species.
- “Normal Population”: That most advanced life controls it rate of reproduction to reproduce at the optimum time and optimum number to ensure survival, and not beyond that number.
These follow from the realisation that, given it only takes a few thousand years of exponential population growth for any creature have enough individuals to occupy every millimetre of the surface of the earth, and even humans have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, there has been enough time to grow the population from just two people and carpet the entire earth with humans, or any other organism, time after time after time.
If it was our nature to reproduce until we overpopulate the planet, then this would have happened long ago. The reality is humans, like other advanced animals have managed to maintain a ‘normal population’ that results in a sustainable existence. While reducing infant mortality was worth almost any cost, doing so triggered the recent and abnormal population explosion.
That population explosion is coming to an end, as indicated by a return to ‘peak child‘.
Ending the explosion is only part of the solution, as we are still overpopulated.
On one hand, normally unusual population booms in nature soon end, population return to normal population, and the environment recovers.
But we have never seen a global population boom like this before, and the trigger for the boom remains in place, even though humans seem to be adapting birth rates to match the new normal of almost all children surviving.
The Possible Futures:
The UN projection: stability.
There are many graphs that plot population growth as asymptotically approaching zero, as if stable population is the lowest rate of reproduction possible. How can growth get below zero?
With everyone alive today born during a population explosion, and their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great great grandparents only ever experiencing a population explosion, it is perhaps understandable that even stable population seems a foreign concept, despite thousands of years of history revealing that stable population is the normal reality.
Perhaps in this context, it makes sense that the UN, with all the politics of member states at play, is reluctant to predict any population reduction. There is a cost to population reduction, for leaders of government, for big business, and for the extremely wealthy. Although these groups are small in number, they make up for it in influence, and do need delicate handling.
The graph here is from a 2013 BBC article entitled “Is population growth out of control?”. In this article David Attenborough suggests that UN population projections at that time were higher than reality, but even reality was a population too large.
The difference between UN projections, and those such as Deutsche Bank who are financially motivated with no real need to watch politics, can be seen in this data.
A strange note on this data, is that, despite the projections for the year now seen as critical, year 2050, being almost identical, that the difference between projections was the difference between “out of control” population, and “no problem”. The difference in reality is the size of the problem beyond 2050.
The key point here is that all figures from the UN project a population that continues growth. These figures are now almost 20 years old, and now the UN projects stability at some point in the future, but UN projections have always been reluctant to project any population ever decreasing.
The Most Common ‘Sci-Fi’ Future, continued population growth, and the elimination of nature.
With future fiction, a genre of science fiction, when a positive future is envisaged, the future Earth almost always has a population that has continued to increase, potentially well beyond the carrying capacity of the Earth, where the number of inhabitants makes experiencing nature simply not feasible given the number of humans who would want to experience nature at the same time. Imagine your favourite wilderness area. If you visit with your family it is wonderful, but if 1,000 other families want to visit at the same time, it is no longer wilderness.
Yet this future of a crowded Earth filled with humans who never get to experience nature is the most common science fiction view of a positive future.
Examples: Fifth Element, Total Recall,
Population Collapse: The Dystopian Alternative.
From H.G Wells “Time Machine”, through “Planet of the Apes” and “Logan’s Run”, and to “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, stories of a future where an inevitable apocalypse that dramatically reduces population in the future is a very common way to picture the future of humanity.
Descent To The Plateaux: Leaving The Population Peak.
Yet there is another possible future. Back in the section on the UN version of the future, I referenced a BBC article from 2013 with projections and assessments of future population.
In just those almost 20 years, “births per woman” numbers have fallen to 1.1 in several countries, which given the required rate for population stability is around 2.3, suggests that, not did major organisations predict a future when population moves naturally towards a sustainable number of humans, the predictions are now being supported by reality.
Consider the following:
- Fertility rates and sperm counts are falling worldwide, including in areas not linked to a toxic environment.
- Family sizes continue to fall globally.
- There are an increasing number of couples not desiring children at all.
Understanding my perspective on what is happening requires reading “normal population“, but there is significant supporting data, as well as analysis by experts who predict global population will be falling by 2055.
Population Growth Propaganda?
You may hear, “we can’t afford to end population growth”. The conundrum is, that while population growth now it no longer enables accessing more resources makes the average person poorer, it does limit revenue growth for the wealthiest on the planet.
Historically, the wealthiest and most influential humans on the planet have always sought to increase their ‘subjects’, the people who generate their wealth. Right now that may be Geoff Bezos:
Jeff Bezos gave a heartfelt thanks to Amazon employees and customers following his record-setting trip to space Tuesday — noting that they “paid for all of this.”
“I … want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this,” the 57-year-old Amazon founder told reporters after returning from his trip to the edge of space.
“So seriously, for every Amazon customer out there, and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart, very much. It’s very appreciated.”Jeff Bezos thanks Amazon workers, customers for bankrolling trip to space
Or perhaps Elon Musk is the wealthiest as you reach this, but whoever is wealthiest at the time, the same principal applies and would be smaller if their customer base was smaller. Wealth comes from “farming humans” and the more humans to farm, the greater the wealth.
Not every billionaire, or ruler, is focused on maximising population. It tends to be more those who hold shares in the largest companies, rather than those busy actually running the companies that turn their attention to how their own wealth is also increased by the largest populations. In fact often it is those who simply report on the economics of the largest companies that create believe what is best for these companies must be best for all, and end up generating population growth propaganda on how all will be better if there are simple bigger markets. The rhetoric of how economic prosperity some people do, and some of those are motivated to what they can to ensure population growth returns.
Plus, our current economic system is based on what is basically a ‘Ponzi’ scheme, that like all Ponzi schemes, collapses the moment the exponential growth stops. The growth to drive the scheme has already stopped and the GFC was just a sign of the start of unravelling that scheme. However there are governments who bemoan the “ageing population” problem, that some argue can only be solved by a return to continual exponential population growth.
There are several sources of population growth propaganda, all arguing that the “economic pie” must grows larger, confident they will have a larger slice as a result, even if the slice per person grows smaller.
Conclusion: Return To Sustainability Is Natural, But Not Guaranteed.
more to come…. where is sustainability?
Good article, reads well, makes sense.
I have noted just a few typos, add in marked in yellow, remove in red text, create link in blue.