News: too many humans?
Population growth seems unstoppable – the crisis of its impact on wildlife and the planet’s resources is rarely acknowledged, but what can be done?
Exponential population growth is pushing wildlife to the brink – but what can be done?
When the sun rose on 1 January 2019, an estimated 7.54 billion humans were there to greet the new year. Some of them may have said something like: “Well, it doesn’t feel very different to last year.” But they would have been wrong – compared to a year previously, there were nearly 79 million more humans on the planet – an extra France, Thailand or South Africa.
The sheer number of people living on Earth, and the rate at which that number is rising, causes many to worry that we’re headed for catastrophe. The list of existential environmental risks that we face is unending – from mass species extinction, to new pandemics, runaway climate change, desertification, ocean acidification, conflict over diminishing resources, inadequate fresh water supplies, famine and malnutrition. In 2013, David Attenborough described humanity as “a plague on the Earth”.
Fears of overpopulation are nothing new. “Our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly support us,” wrote Tertullian, a resident of Carthage, in the second century CE, when the population of the world was about 190 million. “In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.”
Since then, similar concerns have re-emerged on a regular basis. The person most associated with the idea in modern times is Thomas Malthus, an early 19th-century intellectual. He set
Polar bears left hungry by melting Arctic ice ransack a rubbish dump in a remote part of Russia, sending a powerful message: rising human populations impact every corner of the planet.