“Here’s a view of the world at 2050 – if you dare to look”, The Age, 21/3. This opinion piece presents a dismal view of the world midway through this century, with environmental devastation and extensive biodiversity loss due to human activity and overpopulation. It is not dissimilar to the hellish Earth presented in the Avatar movie. The Environmental Outlook to 2050 is available online, though annoyingly it is subscriber-0nly.
The report asks whether the planet’s resource base could support ever-increasing demands for energy, food, water and other natural resources, and at the same time absorb our waste streams.
The huge amounts of various waste products produced by 7 billion people does not get much attention in population arguments, but most of this waste is toxic and not recycled, so it ends up polluting the environment we depend upon – the land, air and oceans.
The purpose of reports such as this is to motivate rather than depress. The report’s implicit assumption is there are policies we could pursue to make population growth and rising living standards compatible with environmental sustainability.
We’re not yet at the point where the sources of official orthodoxy are ready concede there are limits to economic growth. But this report comes mighty close.
I very much doubt that the current rate of population growth can be sustained without even more damage to the environment – the outlooks are mutually incompatible. Implementing restrictions on such growth would be met with much resistance in the present day, but if things get really desperate as described in the article, I wonder if this opposition would change.
There is a tendency amongst many to mock and dismiss such opinions as alarmist, and assert that humans will find a technological fix (cramming us all into megacities seems to be a favored option). Indeed the very first reader’s comment below the article is breezily dismissive:
No i don’t worry about it because like most humans you are exaggerating. The worst thing never happens just like the best thing never happens … it will sort itself out. You will look back on this and feel somewhat foolish.
A saying I like is, “A pessimist is an informed optimist”. In other words, it is a realistic viewpoint.
A 22/3 letter in response:
The population threat
ROSS Gittins wrote about the release of various reports regarding climate change and the response to it based on these reports. These reports are designed to inspire people into action. Issues such as carbon emissions, economic growth, energy needs, alternative sources of energy, emerging or developing countries and so on. However, every time a report is mentioned or discussed in the media, the glaring omission is population growth.
Population growth is a hot topic that is difficult to discuss and even harder to deal with. Surely the time has come to raise this as a matter of urgency. While the world may be able to deal with increased growth, should it?
The world has enough problems with 7 billion people; what would it be like with 8, 9 or 10 billion people?
– David Love, North Balwyn