Once, more people on earth meant there was more innovating minds, more people to share the load, more ideas to spur on societies, but today and in the future, it will mean less for everyone.
Currently, our population of 7.6 is set to rise to 10 billion by 2050. Amid drastic changes to climate and weather patterns, compounded with a shrinking land mass due to rising sea levels and expanding deserts, the resulting drop in available resources from food to water and living space will mean many will have to fight to survive. Every extra mouth on the planet has the rights to food, water and shelter, but the brave new world of climate insecurity means many will not be afforded the luxury.
The population is not an easy topic; it straddles the vast majority of the taboo subjects that both polite and political conversations sensibly steer clear of. Sex, ethics, ethnicity, control are among the headlines, and it strays dangerously close to religious ideals and women’s choices. But regardless of how difficult it is to discuss, avoiding it will not make it go away.
Though almost half of all the population increase will come from developing nations, the ecological strain of babies born into this tumultuous time will not be shared equally. The environmental impact of a baby born in the UK is equivalent to that of 65 babies born in Nigeria, even though the African nation has a fertility rate four times higher than the UK.
This puts the responsibility of mitigating climate change through population control in the hands of the industrialised world. Governments and organisations in developing nations have been working tirelessly on reducing population growth through education, family planning, women’s empowerment and reducing poverty rates for decades. But in the developed world, where we continuously consider ourselves beyond the need for intervention, is where transformation is most needed.
Greenhouse gases and their associated impacts are inexorably tied to the relentless consumption of the global north. And in an unfair underline to our exploitation of developing nations for the very resources that aided our wasteful society, it is the poorest countries who will experience the worst of the effects of our lifestyles through the changing climate.
To unravel this ethical and ecological disaster without throwing anyone overboard, the footprints of citizens in industrial societies need to be dramatically overhauled through new technological developments and lifestyle changes.
In the global north, population is equivalent to family size. More and more people are now considering the environmental and population situation when contemplating family size. Having a family is a fundamental human right, but the size of the family you decide to have is part of your responsibility to the rising billions of people on the planet. You can’t roll back population; once people have been born, you want them to go on and lead full and happy lives that will hopefully be environmentally conscious. But reducing the planets strain from massively consumptive individuals means not having a child when you otherwise would have. A world with fewer people increases the possibility that everyone on the planet can live a decent and fulfilled life not stricken by poverty, on a planet that can provide for them fully.