Monday, 31st October 2011, is ‘7 billion Day’, the day chosen by the UN to represent symbolically the world’s human population reaching 7,000,000,000.
In 1800, the world’s population was approximately 1 billion. We ‘achieved’ 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1960, by 1999 it had doubled to 6 billion, and it has taken 12 years to reach 7 billion. By the middle of the century the best estimates are that it will be around 10 billion. (You can find the UN’s figures here.)
Medical advances and public health measures have led to much lower infant mortality and much greater longevity. Industrialisation and technology have enabled the earth’s resources to be exploited with greater efficiency.
BUT… our poor Earth cannot sustain even our present population. Already the average citizen of the planet consumes its renewable resources at a rate of about one-and-a-half times the rate they can be replaced. If everyone in the world consumed resources at the rate of the average European, we would need three and a half planet Earths; at the rate of the average North American, some five planets.
Already some areas of the world face serious water shortages; we see the result of drought and famine daily on our television screens. By 2025, according to the UN, two-thirds of the world’s people will be living in water-stressed countries. China, the US and other rich countries are already buying up vast tracts of the developing world so that they can produce food for their own use rather than giving locals the opportunity to use the land to feed themselves.
Oil, copper, and other minerals, formed over hundreds of millions of years by infinitesimally slow geological processes, are being consumed as if there is no tomorrow. Carbon emissions, climate change, damage to the environment, over consumption of dwindling food and fresh water stocks and a burgeoning human population, are all linked.
‘All environmental problems become harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people’, Sir David Attenborough.
Reducing our carbon footprint is important, but the most important environmental decision we each take in our lives is how many consumers we produce, for the next generation. In other words, how many children we have.
There are several voluntary organisations who are trying to tackle this problem of over-population – not, as some would have you believe by coercive means, but by getting this message out to those who are in a position to decide how many children to have – two maximum, one, or none are the recommended figures, and to leave child-bearing later rather than earlier.
We also need to get contraception to those 215 million women in the world who at present have no choice, because for whatever reason they cannot use contraception. 40% of pregnancies in the world are unintended. (The site www.populationmatters.org is excellent for more information.)
Many detractors say population increases aren’t a problem of the developed world. But celebrities like the Beckhams are having four to five children each, and people are starting to emulate them.
Westminster is still paying people to have children but financial incentives should be introduced to discourage more than two pregnancies (simply replacing ourselves is a step in the right direction). It is time the decision-makers woke up to ‘the elephant in the room’ and made difficult but vital decisions for the sake of those who follow us.
I made the choice not to have children for this very reason.
Councillor Marc Oxley is the group leader of Rutland Liberal Democrats.