One of the fundamental environmental challenges that we are confronting is the growing population of this world. In 2011, the world population reached 7 billion people and it is predicted to grow in current trends by another 2 billion in 2050.
The issue of population always creates a tension for those concerned about environmental issues. By simply looking at numbers, many wonder how the earth can support such population growth. As I have written in other articles, posing such an equation is much too simple. Sure, carrying capacity is an issue, but more importantly are issues around resource usage. There is no way the earth could support such a population if everyone used resources as many of us do that live in wealthy nations.
Furthermore, a number of problems arise when we look at population as the fundamental challenge rather than resource usage. The first is that there is a tendency to ‘blame the poor’ for over breeding. The irony here is that we point the figure at those who use the least number of resources: resources that if they do abuse, are usually to meet the demands of the wealthy world. The second problem is that it gives rise to what has been labelled as a ‘life boat’ mentality and a greening of xenophobia: we create borders around us as we fear being overrun by expanding populations elsewhere. Just how this manifests itself in the policy environment is obvious in the mainstream debates about refugees in Australia.
The third problem is the policy framework that emerges around ‘controlling population’ numbers. This issue is the focus of an excellent three part BBC series by Professor Matthew Connelly of Columbia University (New York) which documents a global campaign that began with humanitarian ideals but led to authoritarian control over some of the world’s poorest citizens.
It is worth listening to and reflecting on how simple policy solutions to complex problems only lead to disaster…