Just as world leaders are discussing ways to halt global warming at COP27 in Egypt, the world population has officially surpassed the 8 billion mark. What does this mean for our planet and what can we as individuals do to mitigate the catastrophic impact that population growth has on the environment and our lives?
The 8 Billion Mark
On November 15, the world’s population officially surpassed 8 billion people, reaching “a milestone in human development,” the United Nations said.
The reasons behind such unprecedented growth are obvious: high fertility levels and drastic increases in human lifespans – thanks for the most part to remarkable advancements in public health and medicine as well as nutrition and personal hygiene – have accelerated population growth significantly over the last century.
According to UN projections, however, while there is no doubt that we will reach 10 billion by the turn of the century, the overall growth rate is slowing. “While it took the global population 12 years to grow from 7 to 8 billion, it will take approximately 15 years – until 2037 – for it to reach 9 billion,” the Organization said in a statement.
The world’s population increased by less than 1% this year, whereas just a little over 50 years ago, the yearly growth rate was three times higher. The slowdown means that we are probably going to reach a peak – estimated at around 10.4 billion – sometime before the end of the century.
What Does This Mean for Our Planet?
For decades, scientists have warned of the catastrophic consequences of overpopulation on the environment and climate change. Having 8 billion people in the world means humans will increase their reliance on the Earth’s resources, inevitably adding pressure on already stressed and highly overexploited ecosystems. More people means more emissions, more pollution, and more waste.
There will also come a point at which humans will have to compete with wildlife for already scarce resources such as water, food, and space. The more the world population grows, the fewer resources will be available, making them a commodity over which wars are fought.
“As the world’s population reaches 8 billion, our human family is growing more divided.” – said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Unless we bridge the yawning chasm between the global haves & have-nots, we are setting ourselves up for more tensions & mistrust, more crisis & conflict.”
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Despite Affecting Countries Differently, Overpopulation Is A Global Issue
As Manoj Pradhan, co-author of the book “The Great Demographic Reversal”, it is worth noting that the real problem of population growth lies where this phenomenon occurs. Indeed, the world’s regions experiencing the most growth are developing nations that do not have the capacity to support fast-growing populations.
According to estimates, eight countries in Africa and Asia will account for more than half of the 1.8 billion people added betwee now and 2050, when the world is expected to hold around 9.8 billion humans. By then, there will likely be 2.5 billion people in Africa alone. But what does this all mean?
As American conservation activist and book author Tom Butler puts it: “In the developing world, the problem of population is seen less as a matter of human numbers than of western overconsumption.”
What he is referring to is quite easy to grasp.
The unsustainable economic models followed by most wealthy nations on the planet are behind the reckless overexploitation of resources across the Third World; and it is exactly this excessive reliance on natural resources that has led to some of the worst environmental issues the world is currently experiencing, from extreme weather events to food insecurity and conflicts.
This phenomenon, added to poor infrastructure as well as adaptation and mitigation mechanisms, makes developing countries significantly more vulnerable to climate change, despite their nearly insignificant contribution to planet-warming emissions. As if this wasn’t enough, these struggling nations are now expected to grow their economies to sustain their demographic dividend.
Chances wanted that this historic moment took place as world leaders are discussing the future of our planet at COP27 in Egypt. Their action (or inaction) will determine what the future of humanity looks like.
As repetitive as this might sound, there is only one way to lessen the burden of population growth and climate change – not just on developing countries but across the whole planet. We must shift away from our unsustainable economic models of production and consumption and focus on prioritising the global energy transition and climate adaptation efforts.
World human population growth coupled with badly designed socio-economic frameworks and misaligned political structures is resulting in horrendous pollution, over-exploitation of natural resources and the unabated extermination of wide swathes of other lifeforms on this planet.
This short-sightedness will have fatal consequences as (starting the second half of this century) human society will find itself on a potentially miserable pathway that leads to further destruction, with colossal suffering and loss of life for most if not all communities on the planet, unless we adopt more farsighted values.
What Can I Do?
1. On A Personal Level
Ways to approach climate action within our personal lives (hint – it evolves personal action but is not focused on small behavioural changes, which whilst worthwhile will not get us there):
- Joining a community can be one of the best ways to increase your impact. First, it can enable you to make hundreds of connections in one go. Second, a group of people working together can have more impact than individuals. If you are not already, take action by becoming an EO Member to support our mission to encourage a billion climate activists.
- Reflect on the concept of Effective Altruism, a project that aims to find the best ways to help others, and put them into practice.
2. On A Professional Level
Ways to approach climate action within the workplace:
- Maintain your career path but consider donating a portion of your income to organisations that are focused on achieving meaningful & impactful goals and call out your boss if the company or organisation you work for does not have clear policies that will result in reduced harm to the environment and a pathway to Net Zero.
- Ask your boss to support EO by bringing the whole team onboard with EO company membership – and take action together.
- Reconsider your career path, with excellent advice here.
3. On A Political Level
Ways to approach climate action as a voter or political actor (even if you can’t vote):
- Protest – make your feelings known – become a vocal and passionate advocate with friends and family (without being over pushy) of the need for climate action. We need a billion activists to turn this ship around.
- Join organisations that are organising climate actions and protests locally, whether in your city, district, or even at school.
- Vote (if you can) for politicians who will champion effective climate action by governments.
- Vote for parties or organisations that espouse self-reform and the adoption of ‘Ministers of the Future’ into government.
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