8 billion humans on a planet with inelastic resources

published on Monday 07 November 2022 at 05:12

We will officially be 8 billion people on Earth on November 15, is it too much? Not necessarily, answer the experts, who rather warn about the excessive consumption of the planet’s resources by the richest part of humanity.

“Eight billion is a great milestone for humanity,” says the director of the United Nations Population Fund, Natalia Kanem, hailing the increase in life expectancy and the fall in infant and maternal mortality.

“However, I realize that this is not a moment necessarily celebrated by everyone. Some worry about an overpopulated world, with too many inhabitants and insufficient resources to live on,” he adds, calling not to be “afraid” of a number.

“Too much for whom? Too much for what?

“I see the question of how many people the Earth can support as a two-sided question: natural constraints or limits and human-made choices.”

– “Gluttons” –

Choices that mean that we consume far more biological resources (forests, fish, land, etc.) than the Earth can regenerate each year and that this excessive consumption, particularly of fossil fuels, always leads to more CO2 emissions responsible for warming.

In terms of resources, it would take 1.75 Earth to meet the needs of the population in a sustainable way, according to the NGOs Global Footprint Network and WWF.

On the climate side, the latest report by UN climate experts (IPCC) noted that population growth is indeed one of the main drivers of increased greenhouse gas emissions, but less than economic growth.

“We are often stupid. We have lacked vision. We are gluttons. That is where the problem and the options lie,” insists Joel Cohen, calling despite everything not to consider humanity as a “plague.”

“Our impact on the planet is determined much more by our behavior than by our numbers,” adds Jennifer Sciubba, a resident researcher at the Wilson Center think tank.

Whereas if we all lived like an Indian, humanity would only need 0.8 planets each year, compared to more than 5 planets for an American, according to the Global Footprint Network and WWF.

Too many or not, these 8 billion people are already there, and the population will continue to grow, with 9.7 billion projected in 2050 by the UN, which notes that due to the large number of young people, much of this growth would occur even if countries with greater fecundity today descended to two children per woman.

– Women rights –

A question of fertility directly linked to women’s rights, which provokes immediate defensive reactions even from those who would lean towards a “yes” to the question “are we too many on this Earth?”.

The NGO Population Matters thus advocates for a decrease in the world population, but “only by positive, voluntary and rights-respecting means”, its director Robin Maynard explains to AFP, opposing any “birth control policy imposed by the Condition”.

The Drawdown Project makes education and family planning one of its 100 solutions to curb global warming: “Globally, a smaller population with sustainable consumption levels would reduce demand for energy, transportation, materials, food, and natural resources.”

Because “every person born on this Earth adds additional stress to the planet,” said Vanessa Perez, an analyst at the World Resources Institute.

“There were already too many of us years ago,” but “it is a very thorny issue,” he admits to AFP, denying that “the elites take over this narrative to ask that the demographic growth of the countries of the South be limited.”

A narrative that prefers to center around “equity” and the “distribution” of resources, in particular access to food.

Just like Joel Cohen. Although mathematically enough food is produced for 8 billion people, “800 million people, one in 10 people on the planet, are chronically undernourished,” he insists.

“The concept of ‘too many’ is a distraction from the real issues surrounding the well-being of the human species and the species with which we share the planet.”

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