Not even the most stringent fertility restrictions or catastrophic mass mortality such as WWIII could solve this century’s global sustainability issues. The focus should instead be on reversing consumption of natural resources and better recycling programmes.
These conclusions were reached by a team of ecologists from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, who found that population growth is all but “locked in”. Global population has risen so fast over the past 100 century that around 14 per cent of all the human beings that ever existed are alive today.
The researchers constructed nine different scenarios for continuing population ranging from “business as usual” through various fertility reductions, to highly unlikely broad-scale catastrophes resulting in billions of deaths. Their findings are sobering: Even a global one-child policy similar to China’s implemented over the next 100 years or catastrophic events resulting in mass deaths such as global conflict or a disease pandemic would still result in around 5-10 billion people by 2100.
“We were surprised that a five-year WWIII scenario mimicking the same proportion of people killed in the First and Second World Wars combined, barely registered a blip on the human population trajectory this century,” says Professor Barry Brook, co-author of the study.
“The corollary of these findings is that society’s efforts towards sustainability would be directed more productively towards reducing our impact as much as possible through technological and social innovation,” says co-author Professor Bradshaw.
The researchers urge more focus on policies and technologies that reverse rising consumption of natural resources and better, broader recycling programmes. They also support fertility reduction efforts to rein in population growth.
“Our work reveals that effective family planning and reproduction education worldwide have great potential to constrain the size of the human population and alleviate pressure on resource availability over the longer term. Our great-great-great-great grandchildren might ultimately benefit from such planning,” says Bradshaw.