7 Sensible Statements on Population and Consumption

Population distribution across the planet, as of 2002.

I. The unprecedented growth of world population during the 20th century has greatly impacted all life forms and the entire natural environment on this planet.
The 20th century was one of revolutionary demographic developments, unparalleled during all preceding centuries.  World population nearly quadrupled during the past century, growing from 1.6 to 6.1 billion, greatly impacting all the world’s ecosystems. In the future, historians may well conclude that the most significant event of the 20th century was the rapid growth of world population.

II. Current rates of population growth are unsustainable over the long term.
While world population in the distant future remains uncertain, several things are clear today. First, if growth rates were to remain fixed at today’s levels, world population would nearly double around mid-century and leap to 40 billion by 2100. Second, although slowing down, the rapid growth of the world’s population is not yet over and will continue to stress the earth’s environment. In the near term, there is little doubt that the world’s population will likely reach the 8 billion mark around 2025.

III. Stabilizing world population would help enormously to tackle environmental problems.
The growth of world population is clearly an important aspect of environmental stress and degradation, as every man, woman and child requires water, food, clothing shelter and energy. Moving towards population stabilization, while not a panacea for the world’s problems, will make it far easier to address problems such as environmental degradation, climate change, shortages of water, food and critical natural resources as well as poverty and development and human rights abuses.

IV. The developed nations, a fraction of world population, are disproportionately responsible for many global environmental problems.
The rich industrialized countries, representing less than a fifth of world population, have greatly impacted the environment. For example, they are responsible for approximately four-fifths of carbon dioxide buildup, which has accumulated in the atmosphere over decades and centuries.  The imbalance is even more striking on a per capita basis. The CO2 contribution to the atmosphere of the average American is roughly 5 times that of the average Mexican and nearly 20 times as much as the average Indian.

V. While raising the living standards of the growing populations in developing countries is a certainly a desirable goal, it will likely worsen the planet’s ecosystems.
Understandably, the growing populations of the developing countries hope to raise their living standards. However, even small improvements in their relatively low living standards will have negative environmental consequences. Moreover, continuing high rates of population growth, especially in Africa and Asia, will make matters even worse, exacerbating environmental degradation as well as retarding economic and social development.

VI. Overpopulation and overconsumption are both central to resolving the planet’s environmental problems.
Reducing rapid rates of population growth has a central role to play in safeguarding the earth’s environment.  There is hardly any environmental problem whose solution would be easier with a larger population.  In addition, sound environmentally sustainable technologies need to be developed now along side significant reductions and reversals in damaging patterns of production and consumption.

VII. Global agreements on resolving population and environmental problems already exist and simply need to be implemented.
During the past two decades the international community of nations has adopted various recommendations relating to population and environment at United Nations conferences and summits. The following recommendation from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development reflects the global consensus that now requires implementation:

“Recognizing that the ultimate goal is the improvement of the quality of life of present and future generations, the objective is to facilitate the demographic transition as soon as possible in countries where there is an imbalance between demographic rates and social, economic, and environmental goals, while fully respecting human rights. This process will contribute to the stabilization of the world population, and, together with changes in unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, to sustainable development and economic growth.”


This excerpt has been republished from Seed Magazine