Want to skip the scientific stuff? Scroll to the bottom for “Breaking it down” – simplifying concepts and getting right down to it.
This past Monday, the world population reached 7 billion. Not only is that a lot of people, that’s a lot of food, water, electricity and material goods that need to be produced and distributed. Half of those 7 billion currently live in urban areas. More than 60% of the world population will be urban by 2030. Although technically this reduces our overall ecological footprint, that is still an enormous number of people to service! Furthermore, urbanization has the tendency to promote consumption. Not just of food either – of material goods, electricity, heating – everything!
So this poses the question of whether or not our planet can sustain so many people. This is not just a recent debate either, this debate has been going on for centuries – literally.
Doomsters vs. boomsters:
Doomsters are people who believe that are world is essentially, well, doomed. We are in the middle of a downward spiral that essentially started with the Industrial Revolution and the fate of the human species is inevitable – we will drive ourselves to extinction. Thomas Robert Malthus was a population theorist who made the now-famous 1798 prediction that the human population was heading for a “gigantic inevitable famine”. He claimed that while food production may have been increasing linearly, population growth was increasing exponentially – clearly a bad combination.
Boomsters on the other hand, are the optimists of the debate. They believe that the strength of the human spirit will shine through, and we will overcome all obstacles in our path. They argue that more people means more labor, technological innovation, and economic growth. Some the world’s highest population densities in fact —such as Singapore and the Netherlands—also have some of the world’s strongest economies and environmental commitments.
Approximately half the land on Earth has been transformed – about 11% each for farming and forestry, 26% for pasture, another 2-3% for housing, industry, services and transport. Those percentages only grow as the human population does. Building cities, roads, and landfills aren’t the only way we degrade the environment. Agriculture (including crops, factory farming and pasture space for grazing) takes up huge amounts of space.
So what do we do? Enter the Happy Free Laborers!
Norway has cunningly developed a way to integrate livestock pastures right into their homes (or should I say, on their homes). Now that is how an environmentalist needs to think! Norway seems to be on the techno-optimist bandwagon, and maybe we should all hop on a enjoy the ride. That’s not to say we should all continue to over-consume (gluttony is a sin you know), buy things we don’t need just to throw them out when the “updated version” comes along, and throw away perfectly recyclable water bottles because the recycling bin is too far (ie. across the street) because technology will save the world and Mars is looking more and more habitable every day in case we run out of room here on Earth. But at least we know there are alternatives out there, if we care enough to look for them.
Breaking it down
- World population – 7 billion (as of Monday October 31st 2011)
- People that live in cities – 3.5 billion.
- Ecological footprint (aka environmental footprint): human demand on nature
- large footprint = large impact on the environment
- Reason why living in an urban area (the city) reduces our footprint: good and services reach more people faster if they are in the same area. That’s right, suburban living may seem more green without all that pollution, but at least it’s concentrated in one area, which means less environmental impact than if those same people were to be spread out all over the surrounding area and taking up more space. Now don’t go pointing fingers at suburban dwellers just yet – consumption rates in cities are much higher than in suburban and rural areas, which is a whole other problem in itself.
- Doomsters (modern version = techno-pessimists): Humans are doomed – we will not be able to produce enough food to sustain our population. The only solution? Population control.
- Boomsters (techno-optimists): humans excel under pressure and we will develop technological and agricultural innovations that will pull us through.
- half of total land on Earth has been altered by humans and almost 40% of this is due to agriculture practices (farming, forestry, crops, pasture for grazing)
- the bad news? we may be running out of space. the good news? we have learned to think outside the box (Happy free laborers!)