Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


Pop­u­la­tion growth is killing

pub­lished 02 March 2012 | mod­i­fied 18 Decem­ber 2016

The global pop­u­la­tion size is expected to reach over 9 bil­lion indi­vid­u­als by 2050, accord­ing the United Nations. Feed­ing all these peo­ple requires an enor­mous increase in global food pro­duc­tion com­pared to cur­rent pro­duc­tion lev­els. But there is a limit to the world’s resources. To pre­vent a col­lapse by global star­va­tion imme­di­ate action is necessary.

There is more to it than just a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion size and an increas­ing food demand. It started more or less with the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, and the asso­ci­ated growth in knowl­edge, wel­fare, health and pop­u­la­tion size. This led inter alia to an enor­mous food and energy demand. The increased edu­ca­tion and knowl­edge even­tu­ally led to a lower increase rate of a wealthy pop­u­la­tion in indus­tri­alised, devel­oped, coun­tries, but an increase, still. Which is exactly oppo­site to the sit­u­a­tion in devel­op­ing coun­tries, where the poor pop­u­la­tion do not see bet­ter edu­ca­tion as the way out of their mis­er­able sit­u­a­tion (long term). Unfor­tu­nately, they think that an increased work­force (more chil­dren) will alle­vi­ate their prob­lems and pro­vide sus­tain­abil­ity (short term). This has been recog­nised already in 1972 by the Club of Rome in their pub­li­ca­tion Lim­its to Growth, and its update in 2004. Planet Earth can­not cope with human demand via its nat­ural ecosys­tem ser­vices (e.g. food, clean water, energy,…), and over­ex­ploita­tion is expected. In other words the eco­log­i­cal foot­print of human beings exceeds the car­ry­ing capac­ity of Earth. A well writ­ten syn­op­sis can be found here.

What about the solu­tion for achiev­ing a sus­tain­able eco­log­i­cal foot­print? For me it is absolutely clear that first of all a decrease of the global pop­u­la­tion size is required or at least a stop to the growth, before the lim­ited resources lead to global star­va­tion. But how can this be achieved? Per­haps we should stop invest­ing in med­ical care to pro­long life, because how much fun is life when your body has reached its expi­ra­tion date and depends on med­ica­tion or surgery to sus­tain your men­tal abil­i­ties. Even worse when it is the other way around. It is also impor­tant that we dis­trib­ute our accom­plish­mens over devel­oped ánd devel­op­ing coun­tries evenly, with improved wel­fare in devel­op­ing coun­tries as a result. This will take away the pres­sure from devel­op­ing coun­tries to increase the growth rate of their pop­u­la­tion size.

An inter­est­ing con­cept has been sug­gested and devel­oped by the Dutch artist Arne Hen­driks. He sug­gest to decrease the size of man as such instead of decreas­ing the pop­u­la­tion size. Smaller indi­vid­u­als require less food to sur­vive. In a way this enhances the effi­ciency of han­dling the avail­able food. See the incred­i­ble shrink­ing man for how Hen­driks want to solve future food short­ages. Although I like the cre­ative artist’s mind, the evo­lu­tion­ary steps to shrink man to a 50 cm size will take too much time. A recent pub­li­ca­tion shows that a 100-​fold evo­lu­tion­ary decrease in body size will take about 160.000 gen­er­a­tions, and accord­ing Lim­its to Growth, The 30-​Year Update the human eco­log­i­cal foot­print already has grown beyond sus­tain­able level. So, we should speed up the process of shrink­ing man. This requires genetic mod­i­fi­ca­tion, alter­ing the humane genome, and lots of eth­i­cal dis­cus­sion. To me this seems like a no go area.

Another way of being more energy/​nutrient effi­cient is eat­ing less meat. Feed­ing ani­mals to pro­duce meat with maize, wheat or other grains is far less effi­cient than using these grains as human food. In other words it is bet­ter to eat plant pro­teins than ani­mal pro­teins to achieve a sus­tain­able eco­log­i­cal footprint.

When do we come to our senses, and do the right thing?

(Sources: PNAS, 30.01.2012; Sci­ence Alert, 01.02.2012; United Nations — World Pop­u­la­tion Prospects, the 2010 revi­sion; Lim­its to Growth, The 30-​Year Update by Mead­ows, Ran­ders and Mead­ows, 2004; The Incred­i­ble Shrink­ing Man by Arne Hendriks)

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