The population explosion
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As you probably know, the human population reached 7 billion last week. Do you remember when it hit 6 billion? You just might–it was only 12 years ago, in 1999. But for thousands of years, our population was apparently pretty stable.
In 1800, there were 1 billion of us. That’s when we managed to harness the power of fossil fuels, and the population explosion began. By 1930, there were 2 billion people; by 1975, 4 billion. That means that the number of humans on the planet has nearly doubled in the last 35 years; in 2020, we will reach 8 billion. No large vertebrae animal has ever grown so much, so fast, and one of the many tragic results of our growth is the mass extinction of other species. Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson estimates that extinction claims 30,000 species a year–or 3 every single hour. 12 percent of mammals, 12 percent of birds, 31 percent of reptiles, 30 percent of amphibians, and 37 percent of fish are threatened with extinction. There have been other mass extinctions before, but they were caused by planetary or galactic physical processes; the fault for this one rests entirely on our many, many, many, many, many (etc.) shoulders. We are watching species are disappear at a rate approximately 1,000 times faster than is typical for the planet’s history.
From the Center for Biological Diversity:
- Humans annually absorb 42 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial net primary productivity, 30 percent of its marine net primary productivity, and 50 percent of its fresh water.
- Forty percent of the planet’s land is devoted to human food production, up from 7 percent in 1700.
- Fifty percent of the planet’s land mass has been transformed for human use.
- More atmospheric nitrogen is now fixed by humans that all other natural processes combined.
We now know that a major cause of all this resource-draining activity is animal agriculture, which does more damage to the planet than all the transportation in the world combined. And we also know that one of the best ways to help the planet is to go vegan. But is that really enough? Even a planet with 7 billion vegans would be stretched way beyond capacity! Canada has one of the highest per capita ecological footprints in the world. It’s time for us to recognize the overpopulation crisis, and to consider very seriously what we can do to combat it.
By the way, I got a lot of the info for this post from the aforementioned Center for Biological Diversity, which promotes “the empowerment of women, education of all people, universal access to birth control and a societal commitment to ensuring that all species are given a chance to live and thrive” as a solution to the overpopulation crisis. Be sure to check out their website for lots more facts and for fun stuff like their Endangered Species condoms!