Today, there are two main doomsday predictions. According to most, we will either meet the end of days from an all-out nuclear war or from an ecological disaster. Fortunately for us, we can definitely stop one of the two. The nuclear warfare option will most likely be set off by insane leaders not seeing eye to eye, but the ecological disaster option is one that we can do something about.
The impact of humans on the planet is a result of three things: population, consumption, and the production of the consumption. Let’s break each one down.
At first, the population numbers are scary to look at. We are currently at 7.6 billion people and the numbers are expected to get to 11.2 billion by the end of the century. Unfourtantly for us, the current estimates state that the earth only has enough resources for 10 million people. So while this seems like a major problem humans are going to encounter, I personally believe we will be totally fine.
Believe it or not, but the population explosion is actually being defused. In 1960, the fertility rate was 4.9 children per woman. Today, it is 2.0 children per woman and is continuing to fall. The reason why this number is falling is that for the first time in human history, kids are able to grow to adulthood, and now women are adjusting to that. As medicine, vaccines, and other disease prevention methods started to be created, the life expectancy of children began to rise. In pre-modern times, child mortality rates ranged from 30%-50%. Today it is under 5%, and in developed countries, it is less than 1%. Women no longer need to have multiple children in order to ensure that their DNA survives to the next generation. Next, women now have more freedoms and are able to pursue their own goals. As women get more educated along with the ability to have the freedom to pursue the life they want, a large majority of them want a life more than child-rearing. So while the population is growing, the estimates currently expect it to peak and the start to fall again.
The population growth would not be an issue if it was only more people. The problem with population growth is that as the population grows, that means there is going to be more consumption. The main problem is less about our numbers and more about our consumption. Rich developed countries are consuming more and more each year, and poor countries are watching, craving the lifestyle of the rich. The lesser developed countries will do all that they can to play catch up. If every country consumed the amount Americans do, we are surely headed straight for a world depleted of food, water, oil, and all the other resources that depend on. So as of right now, we have a major consumption problem rather than a population problem, and this is not being defused.
The good news for us is that in times of crisis, humans invent solutions. In 1970, biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote a book, The Population Bomb, where he predicted the population would double and food production would not keep up. Since then, the population has doubled, but so did the food production. Science has created new strides in food production (whether ethical or unethical is up for debate) which has kept the world fed thus far.
The question is if we can repeat the same trick for other problems. For example, climate change today brings the same doomsday headlines as food shortages did fifty years ago. It is scary and very real, but humans have been increasing efforts into new technologies such as solar and wind power, which have been slowing down carbon emissions. We cannot be sure that this will solve all the problems. History shows that new solutions to current problems often lead to new problems with a need for a new solution. For example, the green revolution has been able to create new food production methods and keep us fed, but it also has increased the use of water and of nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, which are now problems that we need to find solutions for.
The good news is that the extra pressure these problems put on us seems to force humans to evolve and solve them in any way possible. We have a lot of options to do better, but we just need to be smart enough to find and use them. Sure, we have more mouths to feed today, but we also have more hands to work and brains to think, which may be the salvation of our planet.