- A future with fewer people offers increased opportunity and a healthier environment
Declining populations will ease the pressure eight billion people put on the planet. As the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, I’ve seen the devastating effects of our ever-expanding footprint on global ecosystems. […]
Every person on the planet needs food, water, energy and a place to call home. And if we want to increase wealth equity and quality of life — as we should — the demands per person will increase, even with the best-case scenario for sustainable development.
For example, as China grew in population and wealth, so did its demands on the planet. China’s per capita environmental footprint is less than half of the U.S., but the country’s total environmental footprint is twice as large, with the nation responsible for one quarter of imported deforestation and one third of global greenhouse emissions. Reducing consumption in high-income countries is necessary, but insufficient on its own if global population continues to rise.
As the human population has doubled over the past 50 years, wildlife populations have plummeted by an average of 69 percent. We’ve already altered at least 70 percent of Earth’s land, with some reports putting that number at 97 percent. Our activities have driven wildlife from their homes and destroyed irreplaceable ecosystems.
The loss of biodiversity is tragic in itself. A world without elephants, hellbender salamanders and the million other species at risk of extinction in the coming decades would be deeply impoverished. Wild plants and animals enrich our lives and hold vital ecosystems together. The fresh water we need to survive, the plants we rely on for food and medicine, and the forests we depend on for clean air and carbon sequestration are all the product of complex interactions between life-forms ranging from microbes and pollinators to carnivores and scavengers. When even a single thread is pulled from that tapestry, the entire system can unravel.
For those more worried about economics than life on Earth, the World Bank estimates that ecosystem collapse could cost $2.7 trillion a year by 2030. Deloitte recently estimated climate chaos could cost the United States alone $14.5 trillion by 2070 as we respond to the increasingly frequent and intense damage caused by extreme weather and wildfires, and the threats to communities, farms and businesses from droughts and unpredictable weather. While many assume population decline would inevitably harm the economy, researchers found that lower fertility rates would not only result in lower emissions by 2055, but a per capita income increase of 10 percent.
Source: Stephanie Feldstein, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/population-decline-will-change-the-world-for-the-better/