The population explosion

  • 6

The population explosion

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.

Graph from the Center for Biological Diversity

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!



November 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm

So what do you suggest we do about it, Becci?


November 22, 2011 at 8:59 am

Hi Isla! Obviously what the planet needs is for people worldwide to have fewer children, something that will only be possible when birth control is more accessible and people are more educated about their options. Apparently 1 in 2 pregnancies in North America are unplanned. I think that the Center for Biological Diversity has some pretty good suggestions of how we ought to handle this issue, and if you check out their website you’ll see other ones that I didn’t even mention in this post. Another group doing similar work is the Population Institute of Canada (, which has a crazy counter on their page that shows how much the population is jumping in realtime.

Thanks for your comment!


November 22, 2011 at 9:42 am

Hi Becci,

Always a pleasure to chat with you.

Firstly, I don’t know if the word ‘overpopulation’ is accurate since there is no magic number but I fully acknowledge that humans are eating away at the Earth like a cancer. It is obvious that the solution is simply less people? Or is it also a question of resources and land-use? Should we look at our wasteful and damaging economic systems as much as we look at the sheer number of individuals?

The world is in debt to itself, which perpetuates a cycle of taking more than we need to just to keep up. Also, not only does the military industrial complex suppress knowledge of advanced, clean, sustainable technology from being produced and circulated, but it sabotages these initiatives to maintain the domination of the current trillion dollar nuclear and fossil fuel systems. Maybe the solution to humans as the Earth’s cancer requires vegans and environmentalists to look at the economic and governmental systems in place, since we have more control over this than global birth rates.

In addition to your stats that 1 in 2 pregnancies in North America are unplanned, some other numbers to consider:
– North America represents 5% of the world’s population.
– 2/3 of Canada’s population comes from immigration.
– In about 2030, the number of deaths will outweigh the number of births in Canada.

I also want to ask: beyond unplanned pregnancies, is Liberation BC suggesting for people to reconsider having biological children?


November 22, 2011 at 10:13 am

Hi again. 🙂 Nope, we are not saying anything concerning biological children or adoption, only that overpopulation affects all of us and that there are so many options when it comes to dealing with it–including intelligent resource allocation, among other things, just as you mentioned!


November 24, 2011 at 11:23 am

That’s good because I find it alienating when the vegan community takes a singular stance on this issue. As you know many vegans are against having biological children due to concern of overpopulation. Other animal rights groups in Vancouver are publicly ‘speaking out’ against people having children and it’s nice to know that Liberation BC is taking a neutral stance on the issue.

Mother Earth

January 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Thanks for this article! This is very important topic. One that affects just about ever social/environmental justice issue on this planet. It would be great if we can give the planet and all the other species a break from this growing cancer. However, I have very high doubts that humans will learn to hold back our “right” to over populate this planet and take more than our fair share. We don’t own the planet but that won’t stop us from acting like it. I guess it doesn’t matter what anyone says. The human race will not stop until we’ve raped and exhausted every resource and wipe out every species on this planet because we are the only ones with the “right” to procreate. Everyone else just has to go extinct. Problem solved.

Leave a Reply