A World with Fewer People

population

Human population will not grow forever. In fact, it is forecast that human population may very well level off in the 21st Century around 9.5 billion people, which is about 2.5 billion more people than are living today. The prediction of population leveling off at 9.5 billion is predicated on the assumption that there will not be an ecological collapse prior to the time the 9.5 billion level is reached.

Given that we are already living beyond the carrying capacity of the planet with 7 billion people, the only way for the earth to be able to sustain anywhere near 9.5 billion people is for us to dramatically lessen humanity’s overall ecological footprint, our overall impact on the biosphere. Current trends in human consumption do not bode well for us being able to reduce our ecological footprint and live within the carrying capacity of the planet with our current 7 billion people, much less the projected 9.5 billion.

The stark reality we face is this: given current human consumptive activity, we are on a course for ecological collapse at some point probably before the middle of the 21st Century. This collapse will be exacerbated by climate change, especially if we do not make a radical reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. Such a collapse will most definitely lead to a sharp human population decline, marked by great suffering, conflict, and death on a scale none of us has experienced before. This is not alarmism. This is simply the reality of too many people consuming too much, and the carrying capacity of the planet is being overwhelmed. All of the major ecological indicators are pointing in this direction.

There is only one way to avoid the ecological collapse that we are facing in the not too distant future, and that it is to reduce humanity’s overall impact on the planet so that we are not consuming more each year than the planet is able to produce in a sustainable way. This will require a significant reduction in how much of the planet’s resources we consume, and it will take a radical shift in how we produce and consume energy. If we cannot find ways to live within the carrying capacity of the planet with 9.5 billion people, we will need to find ways for there to be fewer people living on earth. We can either do this in humane ways by our choice (educational and economic opportunities for girls and women have proven to be the most effective) while simultaneously changing our consumption habits, or we can choose to continue to live beyond the carrying capacity of the planet and allow an ecological collapse to decrease our numbers. Some argue that making a case for there needing to be fewer humans on this planet is misanthropic (anti-human), but I think it is much more misanthropic to continue down a path that will inevitably contribute to human suffering and death on scale never known before. Finding systemic ways to reduce human consumption and having fewer children are two simultaneous approaches to take for a future with less rather than more suffering.

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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is The Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. From 2009 to 2015, Mark was dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences and Wimberly Professor of Social Ethics at Oklahoma City University. Previously, Mark was dean of the Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University and Founding Director of the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership. Prior to becoming dean of the Wimberly School of Religion in 2002, he was associate dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma City University and chair of the department of philosophy. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University.
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