Monday, June 13, 2011

7 Billion: A Demographic Milestone

As we approach a new milestone−−7 billion of us trampling about the Earth−−it's time we ponder on where we, homo sapiens, are headed to. Are we advancing toward a brighter and ever more powerful future, as little gods in the making, poised to discover, colonize, and eventually exploit new extraterrestrial worlds? Or are we headed toward extinction like most pre−Man inhabitants of our planet Earth, only this time with an implosion metaphorically comparable to the Big Bang?
Most people enthusiastically believe that our technology-driven world all but assures us of an infinite future. Only few will argue that Man is destroying the Earth; and often those who say it are vilipended, accused of being naysayers and fear mongers. So, where lies the truth?

When 30 years ago Americans celebrated the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, universities across the country put a halt to their anti−war protests and instead rallied against pollution and population growth. The day would acquire historical significance, for it marked the beginning of a new era of reckoning. It also served to line up the two opposing forces that would govern the attitudes of people toward our environmental problems−−the unrelenting materialists who cling to the notion that nothing must be done that may hurt the economy, and those who see beyond the Now and warn us that unless we shift into reverse, not only our civilization but our Earth itself will be heading toward catastrophe.

Global Footprint Network (GFN), an alliance of scientists who examines the Earth's sustainability, calculates that at our current growth rate, and using our current technology, we will soon need the land and water equivalent to more than 1.5 Earths to produce the resources we consume and absorb the waste we produce. GFN further warns us that we are growing at a rate that is using up the Earth's resources much faster than they can be sustainably replenished. At this very moment, our growth is using the equivalent of about 1.5 Earths. One doesn't have to be a mathematical genius to recognize that Mankind is facing a real problem.

So, as we approach the demographic 7 billion mark, it'll be wise that we all−−government, industry, business, and we the people−−pause and reflect on what we'll be leaving to our children and grandchildren. Mankind will not become extinct in their lifetime; although in some unfathomable distant future, surely we will follow the fate of our Paleozoic Era predecessors.

The future stares us into our eyes. We, the soon to be 7 billion, need to backpedal a little. We need to realize that an ever−expanding population produces an ever−expanding economy whose demands the Earth will not be able to sustain.