Over the past two centuries, the Earth’s population has grown exponentially, from about one billion people in 1800 to more than eight billion today. But this rapid population increase is putting strain on our planet’s resources and ecosystem, leading to an unsustainable situation that could result in a “population correction” within this century, a new study says.
The study, conducted by population ecologist William Rees of the University of British Columbia, warns that the current rate of resource consumption is not sustainable and that our natural human inclinations make it difficult to address the problem. Rees argues that Homo sapiens has evolved to reproduce exponentially, expand geographically, and consume all available resources. Although historically negative feedback mechanisms counteracted these expansionist tendencies, the scientific revolution and the use of fossil fuels reduced these feedbacks, allowing us to realize our full potential for exponential growth. The study is published in World
Rice emphasizes that we have forgotten that we are still subject to natural selection and that our short-term thinking, which has served us well in the past, has led us to consume as much as possible when resources are available. This has led to over-consumption and pollution, which will only get worse as our population and financial security grows.
While climate change is a visible symptom of the strain on our planet, Rees argues that it is only part of the overall problem of resource overconsumption. Our dependence on fossil fuels exacerbates other interrelated problems, such as biomass consumption and disrupted nutrient cycling, which are causing Earth’s sixth mass extinction and jeopardizing its life-support systems.
Switching to renewable energy alone will not solve the underlying problem of exponential population growth and may even contribute to further consumption growth. The key question is whether technological progress can keep pace with the growing demands of our consumption. If not, the study warns, food shortages, habitat instability, war and disease could begin to affect the population.
Reece believes that addressing “overspending” is crucial because none of the underlying symptoms can be adequately addressed in isolation. In this way, we can simultaneously reduce the various symptoms of overspending and reduce the risks of population adjustment. However, it remains to be seen whether our technological innovations can effectively address these problems.
In conclusion, unsustainable global population growth poses a serious threat to our planet and civilization. Without addressing resource overconsumption, we may face a catastrophic collapse before the end of this century. Urgent action is needed to reduce consumption, develop sustainable solutions and ensure the long-term health of our planet.