The population issue can mean many things to different people including those who for some reason think that it’s a taboo subject to discuss to those who intimidate, injure and even murder those in the medical profession who are involved in the related termination of human foetuses or in any form of birth control.
The problem for those with very polarised views of it being a taboo subject is that they appear to have in general a very limited knowledge of how the the physical processes of the planet work and also a limited awareness of time. To gain an insight into what a sustainable human population is it is necessary to step outside of the small bubble that most individuals live in. It is necessary to look at what is happening from a non human perspective and regard humans as just another animal along with all the other lifeforms from plants to animals currently existing today. That in itself is impossible to do as many see the world through human centric eyes even after Galileo disproved that the Earth was the centre of the universe hundreds of years ago.
We therefore need to look at where we are. It can be stated using numerous statistics but two of the most important are 7.79 billion humans, a 2020 UN estimated population number and 417ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, recorded in May 2020 at the Mauna Loa observatory. The two numbers are critical to the debate and those individuals who do not want to see them together will come up with numerous replies such as:
It’s racist to talk about population – to which it is necessary to consider humanity as a single species and single issue as none of the imaginary lines that we consider as borders to our nations can be seen from above the Earth. Neither will climate change respect any of the borders that humans have decided to define each other by. Another ice age would, if it happens, wipe northern countries off the human map. Similarly, with that already high level of CO2 in the atmosphere we are starting to see wet bulb temperatures where humans would not be able to survive. This will make parts or possibly whole countries unlivable. It is therefore necessary given the time and place we are in to consider these two numbers as a problem for humanity to solve. That means looking at human numbers and a given lifestyle.
If we all became vegans – well yes that would help but there are two issues here. Firstly can we expect everyone to become vegan overnight without some form of global authoritarian regime running the world? Rather a change to eating less animal products through pricing and education would be more acceptable to most. The other issue with all becoming vegans is that agriculture is not something natural. We made the change to become farmers within the last interglacial period. Before that we were living naturally as hunter gatherers. While we probably could have comfortably lived in the equatorial regions from fruit, nuts and other plants our march out of Africa would have had to have been fuelled by eating animals because there would not have been enough seasonal food in northern latitudes to support our ancestors’s brains or bodies. Again where we are now we could plan to evolve or adapt into non meat eaters but that has to come about by consensus and will take time.
Therefore, few of the people who refuse to discuss a sustainable human population at any given moment on Earth, think about how their own lives may not be that sustainable if scaled up to 7.79 billion people. What they take for granted from a cup of coffee to a bar of chocolate to a delivered pizza are not enjoyed by all and probably cannot be enjoyed by all. The delivered pizza is an ideal product to demonstrate that it is necessary to have a sustainable human population alive at any one time. Sustainable development goals, SDGs, as and if they are achieved will be followed by both local and global businesses and many will be delivering pizza. Why? Because as the standards of living improves individuals are drawn towards global trends and try a find a global corporation that doesn’t want to expand its market. So what’s the problem? Setting aside whether the pizza is vegan or not, well there’s the box the pizza comes in as it was a tree before it was a box. Let’s forget about the PFAS chemicals for the moment that the box is covered in because that’s another story. Then there is how it is delivered. Yes it could be by bicycle but more often than not it is by a two or four wheeled vehicle powered by fossil fuels or stored electrical energy. These resources need to be dug up from somewhere and we would need a lot more of these vehicles to deliver pizza to potentially billions of customers. Then of course as animals there’s the other end of the process and we have a problem with that too. There are 800 million people without access to acceptable potable water and 1.25 billion without adequate sanitation. Toilet paper does grow on trees but trees take time to grow. Those pizza eaters are going to need toilet paper and therefore more trees and of course clean water. So where is all this going to come from as we have already converted so much of the planet to our needs and pushed so many species to extinction? That figure of 417ppm CO2 is hanging over us and not everyone is able to have a pizza delivered yet. Numbers are the answer to all our problems and they must not be swept under the carpet. That 7.79 billion number with so many still not able to enjoy the “normal” life of a delivered pizza and a flushing toilet is still growing. Egypt for example adds another million humans every six months. What will they do for a living? Maybe they will be chopping down trees to make toilet paper and pizza boxes, digging up materials to make vehicles to deliver pizza in or on. Maybe they will be growing vegetables for the pizzas but there’s a problem with that. It is possible with the new dam being finished in Ethiopia, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, that the amount of fertile land in Egypt will be reduced so maybe it will not be so easy to grow the materials for the pizzas and yet the population continues to grow.
We therefore have to realise both as individuals and as a species that we, by our very number and our desire to have what is a basic lifestyle, delivered pizza and flushing toilets, are living beyond what the planet can support. None of this is normal in terms of the planet’s long history, only for those individuals in their small human centric bubbles and restricted views of both the world and time.