Population and consumption

Every day there are 220 000 new people. They naturally expect food, shelter, education, security, basic health and some prosperity. Meanwhile, a range of factors are leading in precisely the opposite direction – towards rising toxification and resource depletion which translates to food, energy and economic insecurity.

In the 20th Century medicine and public health programs lowered mortality, while dense and powerful fossil carbons and modern agriculture fed the rising numbers of people and allowed for economic growth. But too little was done, and too late, to lower fertility though education of women and access to reproductive health. Too few questions were asked what increasing human numbers do to the carrying capacity of the planet.

FOOD World food production kept up with population growth for some time, and only began lagging behind in the 1990s.

The “Green Revolution” monocultures and high yielding crops demand more water and more pesticides. Now about six times as much chemical fertilizer and 25 times as much pesticides are used as they were in 1950 – despite that, yields per hectare seem to have reached a physical ceiling. Irrigated land produces 40% of the crops – but irrigation uses about 70% of water consumption while rivers are going dry and water tables are declining in China, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Mexico and the western North America. By 2050, 47% of the entire population is expected to be under severe water stress.

Arable acreage per capita is declining just as top soils are degrading in quality due to nutrient depletion and agrochemical (fertilizers, pesticides) impact on the soil microbiome. Meanwhile, the fiber and chemical industries are posed to compete for more land to grow crops to replace fossil hydrocarbons as feedstock.

Now hope for higher yields rests mostly on solutions such as further marginal land overtake (despite such land’s vital role of supporting pollinators and predators of crop pests, protection of soil erosion, and water retention/purification), dramatic deforestation, and genetic modification – all quite dangerous ventures in their own right.

What’s more, new technologies promising solutions to food insecurity, such as hydro culture, ultimately rely on more fossil energy inputs, and thus exacerbate the CO2 deposits to the atmosphere and the oceans.

Modern agriculture already heavily depends on fossil carbons – petroleum and gas – to run its heavy machines and provide feedstock for fertilizers and pesticides. As more complicated extraction processes of fossil carbons demand even more energy inputs, the long-term viability of maintaining the current yield levels and new technologies to improve them is dubious.

Acquiring food from the oceans will be problematic. Most fisheries have been decreased so significantly from their original levels, that the only way to increase production is to decrease production, while populations can recover. For the most part, this is not happening. Over-fishing continues.

Meanwhile, rising water temperatures, ocean acidification due to CO2 emissions, spreading eutrophication zones from excessive fertilizer use and growing toxification – all add to rapid disaster in the making.

As with other areas, any attempts to solve the problems with technology create new problems of their own. For example, aquaculture pollutes the water with harmful chemicals, competes with livestock and humans for grains, and adds to wild fish population collapse as wild fish are fed to farmed fish.

LIFE The urban population was 732 million in 1950. It is expected to be 4.9 billion by 2030, an almost 7- fold increase in 80 years. Much of that increase is propelled by desperate peasants moving to cities to stay alive.

Calls for economic growth to provide jobs for the growing masses of people dominate almost every political discourse. But they miss the point. Besides the fact that the drawdown of finite resources to fuel the growth on to infinity is impossible, technology brings efficiencies and automation to drive productivity up, so growth is not generating jobs anymore. The solution to combat unemployment and low wages is fewer workers competing for jobs.

Thus the problems of poverty and the competition for resources are producing tensions and conflict, either in the form of intensified migration to the OECD countries, terrorism, failed states or local wars and insurrections. These are likely to increase as population growth continues.

Today out of the 7.3 billion people, about 800 million are so malnourished that their bodies and brains have not been able to develop properly. As global epidemic of chronic diseases testifies, many of the overfed and underfed on adulterated food lack access to essential nutrients, besides being loaded with chemical toxicants.

Food security cannot be achieved even now, and unlikely to be improved and sustained eternally for 8, 9 or 12 billion people. Neither can energy security, and – what follows – economic security.


MOTHER : Caring for 7 Billion

Urban population growth and demand for food could spark global unrest, study shows

The Forecast in Morocco: Smells Like Revolution

Lester Brown in a short video (5 min) discusses some issues of food security. Earth Policy Channel

Murky Waters: Shrimp Farming in Bangladesh

How population growth is changing and challenging our world

MOTHER : Caring for 7 Billion - Version française

Man by Steve Cutts

Opinion: Sadly, Malthus was right. Now what?

The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers

False Promise by George Monbiot

World Population

Bradshaw and Brook: Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems.

Former career mining professional Simon Michaux gives a public lecture describing the onset of 'peak mining' and its various implications for natural resource management

Our editorial on the deceptive promise of “feeding the world”

Article in ENSIA: to “feed the world” we have to change course challenge

National Geographic 2 min video about feeding the world

Trailer of one of the best film on most basic social problem

As World’s Population Booms, Will Its Resources Be Enough for Us? Dennis Dimick, National Geographic article.

The Other Inconvenient Truth, University of Minnesota, 2:40 min video

It is a plastic world 4:40 min video showing also depletion of oceans and how it relates to “feeding the world”

The myth of feeding the world, Beth Hoffman article in Forbes magazine

Reductionist science is not the answer to the problems engendered by a finite biosphere with a human population in overshoot. Aricle about GMOs as the false solution to world hunger.

José Mujica's interview for the movie Humans. Former President of Uruguay, advocates for a philosophy of life focused on sobriety: learn to live with what is necessary and fairest.