Monday, 5 April 2004

Where has the human population gone?

One answer to this question is of course, ‘Through the roof’. Human populations are spiralling upwards virtually out of control. Another answer would also be ‘Off the agenda’, since there seems to be virtually no mention of the impacts of human population when major environmental issues, such as global warming are being addressed. Yet without question, the world’s spiralling human populations are to blame for the current environmental crisis.

Increasing populations coupled with increasing aspirations lead ever greater demands for energy, and despite treaties, despite pollution control, there is no sign that energy demands are slowing down or that global pollution is decreasing. And the reality is that if the world’s population was to aspire to live at well below the accepted ‘poverty’ level in the UK, for instance, there would not be enough resources to go round. And yet the world’s population continues to climb.

As was predicted over a quarter of a century ago, resource wars will increase -- the war in Iraq was probably only the first of many – and natural disasters will claim larger and lager numbers of victims. When (not if) the San Andreas fault finally slips how many people will die, and how much damage to property will there be? What would a volcanic irruption the size of Thera (Santorini) 5000 years ago do?

In South America, forests are cleared by squatters, in Africa deserts are over-grazed by pastoralists. The world’s oceans are almost universally over fished. And yet even if the populations of the poorest, most rapidly growing countries stabilised, it would have virtually no effect. Simply because it is the developed nations that are causing the real damage. It is in Canada, Denmark, Britain, America, Germany and the rest of the EU that the consumer-orientated societies are based, and even a tiny increase in population leads to a dramatic increase in resource consumption, and all its concomitant problems.

However, there is a significant group of people who are in total denial over the population issue. A quick search of the internet reveals several sites claiming that the world can cope with even more people. The denialists rely on distorting and misrepresenting data, and not acknowledging the inequalities of distribution of wealth and resources. And most important of all, never acknowledging the dramatic and rapid depletion of the world’s natural resources and ecosystems, which are irreversible processes.

So how do we put the world population back on the agenda? Probably difficult, looking at the world's current political situation, and attitudes of its leaders. But we must, if we are going to save the remaining wild places.

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