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Population Explosion: Can the Planet Cope with 15 Billion Humans?

Posted on the 25 October 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Population explosion: Can the planet cope with 15 billion humans?

Getting a bit crowded? Photo credit: Anirudh Koul

On Monday 31 October 2011 the population of humans on the planet is expected to exceed seven billion. The rapidly increasing number of people around the world has some people very concerned, while the estimate that the population could reach 15 billion by the end of the century has been met with no little alarm in some areas. But as we fill up the globe with ever-more people, are we creating problems for ourselves? Do we have the resources to maintain such huge populations, and, if we don’t, what can be done to stem the flow of humans into this world?

The world could cope. Populations expert Joel Cohen, writing The New York Times, said that, harvested evenly, the “world is physically capable of feeding, sheltering and enriching many more people in the short term.” The population growth need not necessarily lead to mass starvation, he said, but action must be taken to address specific priorities: “There is no panacea, though some priorities are clear: voluntary contraception and support services, universal primary and secondary education, and food for pregnant and lactating mothers and children under 5.”

“We are standing at a reproductive crossroads, with 1.5 billion adolescents and young people entering their sexual and reproductive years. What the future holds for them depends on whether we can work together to develop sustainably”, wrote The Independent’s Marie Staunton.

A cue for sustainable development. Marie Staunton, writing for The Independent Blog, said that population growth could be controlled, “by reducing unmet need for contraception, empowering women and increasing education for girls.”

Costing us the earth. Roger Martin, chair of the Population Matters charity, wrote in The Guardian that “population is rising while our ability to sustain life” is shrinking. He cautioned that climate change, resource depletion and damage to the environment will only be exacerbated by population increase. We must reduce the growth, or “nature will do it for us.”

Calm down, dear. Vanessa Baird, also writing in The Guardian, called for a less hysterical reaction. The problem, she said, is not one of population numbers, but one of human behaviour and activity. She reminded that the population estimates for 2100 range from 6 to 16 billion, “which should serve as a bit of a warning about the nature of projections.” Furthermore, she said, blaming climate change on increasing populations is flawed: “so unequal are global consumption levels that one European or North American may be responsible for more emissions than an entire village of Africans.”

“The excessive focus on population is a dangerous distraction from the core problem, which is not how many of us there are but how we use the planet and share its resources”, said Baird.

Money or education? Former Irish President Mary Robinson, quoted by Reuters, cautioned that the only way to curb population growth is to better educate women, and improve healthcare. “We know what works. What works is education of girls and women and access to healthcare, so that mothers will know their children will survive,” she said. Tim Worstall put his faith in money and the economy, in a Forbes article. Contraception is not the key, he said, “after all, giving condoms to a woman who desires to get pregnant doesn’t help matters very much: what changes population is the desire to have children in the first place. And here we do know what changes this desire: wealth.”

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