Feeling the Heat of Population Growth

Image credit: Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist Joel Pett

In the month since our last release approximately 40 million people in the western United States have been put on alert for a lasting heat wave, while those in the southwestern US are grappling with severe drought, which some scientists warn could happen up to five more times before the end of the summer. Climate researchers say the heat and drought are part of a feedback loop enhanced by climate change, and that although there have always been heat waves, droughts and wildfires, climate change is making these events worse.

We’ve also learned that Arctic sea ice, which moderates the global climate, is thinning twice as fast as researchers previously thought. The Arctic region is now warming at THREE TIMES the global rate.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government recently changed its two-child policy to three after its once-in-a-decade census, released in May, showed its population grew at its slowest pace in decades. Given that China implemented the sometimes draconian one-child policy because it was concerned about its large population, it seems strange that it would take such a negative view on the decreasing rate of population growth. Yet we continue to see many more stories in the media about the dangers of population decline. Given the disastrous impact that the current human population of nearly 7.8 billion and growing is having on the planet’s ecosystems and natural resources, this alarmism is hard to understand. Fortunately, there have also been some articles recently taking a positive view of population decline, including this one published by Project Syndicate.

It is perhaps ironic that with all the ecological stress being placed on the planet by the growing human population, a crucial UN wildlife summit – the largest biodiversity summit in ten years – continues to be postponed, thanks to the effects of the current pandemic. The summit was originally meant to take place last October but was delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic and may now be delayed a third time, prompting a summit co-chair to say “The world is running out of time to reach an ambitious deal to stem the destruction of the natural world.”

And of course he’s right. As we find ourselves in the sixth mass extinction, our global population is projected to reach 10 billion people a mere 36 years from now. Whatever the origin of the coronavirus still creating havoc around the world may be, our patron Jane Goodall is correct in noting that: “by our disrespect of the natural world, forcing animals closer to people, [we make it] easier for a pathogen to jump from an animal to a person.”

While many environmental organizations are timid about making the connection between human population growth and environmental degradation and climate change, PIC and its sister population organizations (such as Population Media Center, Population Matters, and Sustainable Population Australia) have been sounding the alarm for some time. Our patron Dr. Bill Reese recently spoke very cogently about the problem of overshoot and the human condition to the Canadian Association of the Club of Rome. If you haven’t already seen the video, we’d encourage you to watch it and share it with your community.

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