Woolwich & Wellesley Township's Local Community Newspaper | Elmira, Ontario, Canada
Help
Follow

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

Enter your email to subscribe. Unsubscribe anytime. We may send you promotional messages.
Please read our privacy policy.

With growth, we keep adding to our problems

How much is enough? With turkey dinner, for instance, it’s the point before you feel the urge to undo the button on your pants. When it comes to the number of us scurrying around on the surface of the planet, however, the answer isn’t as clear.
There are those who say our technology and ingenuity will make room for plenty more than the 6.7 billion of us around today. Other researchers argue we’ve already far exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity.

I side with the latter. The last thing the Earth needs is more of us.

It took thousands of years for us to reach a population of one billion by 1804. However, it took only 123 years for us to double to two billion in 1927. The population hit four billion in 1974, and just 37 years later, we’ve added another 2.75 billion. Such is the power of exponential growth.

As a closed system with finite resources, the planet can only do so much for its inhabitants, which includes a long list of animals and plants not labeled ‘home sapiens,’ a fact we overlook at our peril. Every person, even one living the most basic of existences – an altogether too common scenario in much of the world – puts a demand on the ecosystem. We all need air, water and food as a minimum. Providing just that places another burden on the planet; those of us living in the consumption-mad West each place far more stress on those resources.

We are deluged with stories about climate change, food shortages, peak oil, epidemics and a host of similar unsettling facts. At the root of all those problems is the issue of population. Quite plainly, there are too many of us.

That, says Madeline Weld, is the elephant in the room. It’s there, but nobody wants to talk about it.

Weld, a biologist at Health Canada, is president of the Population Institute of Canada, based in Ottawa. The organization’s mandate is to raise awareness about the perils of overpopulation. It’s something of an uphill battle, she notes.

Politically correct thinking dictates the topic be swept under the rug. Because the largest growth is taking place in the developing world, it looks paternalistic for the West to talk about population control. Birth rates have fallen dramatically in Canada, the U.S. and Western Europe, with immigration spurring much of the growth.

Not talking about it, however, doesn’t mean the problem does not exist. It certainly won’t go away simply by ignoring it, says Weld.

The institute advocates that each country take responsibility for its own population growth. In Canada, that would involve immigration flows.

Weld takes issue with the idea Canada is a large country with plenty of room. Geographically large, the country is full of uninhabitable stretches. The fact is, many people end up in southern Ontario, for instance, where prime agricultural land is disappearing rapidly.

Even here, where the climate change debate is front and center, we can do our part by controlling population numbers, she says, challenging the need for continuous growth.

“If we’re trying to reduce our carbon footprint, then why do we need more feet?”

Every additional person adds to the demand for resources. Because Canada is a cold country, we need to heat our homes and we need to import food for much of the year, meaning more fossil fuel consumption, as an example.
Along with restricting our own numbers, Canadian officials can act by tying international aid and investment to the population-growth policies of recipient countries, Weld adds.

It’s evident much of the problem lies in the Third World: Asia, Africa and South America. China and India are the largest countries, with the latter set to outstrip the former in a matter of years. China has a one-child policy that has helped – there are about 400 million fewer people than there would be otherwise – but even small percentages add up when you’re talking about 1.3 billion people.

Globally, the population increases by about 75 million a year. To put things in perspective, she says, the 2004 tsunami that wreaked havoc in the Indian Ocean killed about 250,000 people, representing a little more than one day’s population growth.

The impacts of overpopulation are clearly evident, particularly in Africa. Wars are fought over territory. Ethnic and tribal battles are commonplace, most recently in South Africa. Economic and environmental refugees abound.

And food riots are breaking out in places.

The problems will only get worse as the population grows and resources get scarcer. That’s true of everything from oil to water. Weld expects conflicts to grow more common as time goes on if nothing is done to reverse the trend.

“The more of them that there are, the less likely people are going to have any resources.”

Given that we’re short-term thinkers, change is unlikely to come any time soon. For those of us in the West, our habits will continue until external forces require us to change: most notably, when we feel it in our wallets.

A little intervention now could prevent a disaster down the line, though she’s not overly optimistic about the prospect.

“There might be no way to avoid a catastrophe – it’s likely were going to pursue growth until we hit the wall.”

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

Enter your email to subscribe. Unsubscribe anytime. We may send you promotional messages.
Please read our privacy policy.

Total
0
Shares



Related Posts
Total
0
Share