8 billion humans and dwindling resources

United Nations (United States) (AFP) – Are eight billion humans too many for planet Earth? As we reach that milestone on November 15, most experts say the biggest problem is the overconsumption of resources by wealthier residents.

“Eight billion people is a milestone for humanity,” said UN Population Fund director Natalia Kanem, hailing an increase in life expectancy and a decrease in maternal and child deaths. infantile.

“Still, I realize that this moment might not be celebrated by all. Some are expressing concern that our world is overcrowded. I am here to make it clear that the number of human lives is not a cause for fear. “

So, are there too many of us for the Earth to support us?

Many experts say this is the wrong question. Instead of the fear of overpopulation, we should focus on the overconsumption of the planet’s resources by the wealthiest among us.

“Too much for whom, too much for what? If you ask me, am I too much? I don’t think so,” Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University’s Populations Laboratory told AFP.

He said the question of how many people the Earth can support has two aspects: natural limits and human choices.

“Stupid and Greedy”

Our choices cause humans to consume far more biological resources, such as forests and land, than the planet can regenerate each year.

The overconsumption of fossil fuels, for example, results in more carbon dioxide emissions, responsible for global warming.

It would take the biocapacity of 1.75 Earths to sustainably meet the needs of the current population, according to the Global Footprint Network and NGOs WWF.

The latest UN climate report mentions population growth as one of the main drivers of the increase in greenhouse gases. However, it plays a less important role than economic growth.

“We’re stupid. We’ve lacked foresight. We’re greedy. We don’t use the information we have. That’s where the choices and the problems lie,” Cohen said.

However, he rejects the idea that humans are a curse on the planet, saying people should have better choices.

“Our impact on the planet is much more about our behavior than our numbers,” said Jennifer Sciubba, a researcher at the Wilson Center, a think tank.

“It’s lazy and harmful to go back to overpopulation,” she added, because it allows people in rich countries, who consume the most, to blame the planet’s woes on developing countries where population growth is the highest.

“Really, it’s us. It’s you and me, the air conditioning I enjoy, the pool I have outside, and the meat I eat at night that cause much more damage.”

If everyone on the planet lived as an Indian citizen, we would only need the capacity of 0.8 Earths per year, according to the Global Footprint Network and WWF. If we all consume like a resident of the United States, we would need five Earths a year.

The United Nations estimates that our planet will be home to 9.7 billion people by 2050.

Women’s rights

One of the most difficult issues that arise when talking about population is that of fertility control. Even those who believe we must reduce the population of the Earth are adamant about protecting women’s rights.

Robin Maynard, executive director of the NGO Population Matters, says there must be population decline, but ‘only by positive, voluntary and rights-respecting means’ and not by ‘deplorable examples’ of population control. population.

The NGO Project Drawdown ranks education and family planning among the 100 best solutions to halt global warming.

“A smaller population with sustainable consumption levels would reduce demand for energy, transportation, materials, food, and natural systems.”

Vanessa Perez of the World Resources Institute agrees that “every person born on the planet puts additional stress on the planet”.

“It’s a very tricky question,” she said, adding that we should reject “this idea that the elite is taking this narrative and saying we have to limit population growth in the South.”

She thinks the most interesting debate is not about numbers but “distribution and equity”.

Cohen points out that even though we currently produce enough food for 8 billion people, there are still 800 million people who are “chronically undernourished”.

“The concept of ‘too much’ avoids the much more difficult problem, which is: are we using what we know to make the human beings we have as healthy, productive, happy, peaceful and prosperous as possible?”