What's the Problem?
Earth’s huge human population has a colossal influence on animal rights. Human overpopulation imposes suffering on animals and destroys wildlife. One problem is that billions of more humans mean people kill billions of more animals (livestock and wild). As the human population expands, worldwide meat consumption has increased three and a half times in the last four decades: from about 70 million tonnes to nearly 250 million tonnes a year. Another problem is that ever more people deplete resources that wildlife needs. The World Wildlife Fund says that humans are killing off a species every five minutes or, less pessimistically, at least one species every two days.
In 1798 the Englishman Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population
, voicing apprehension about human population growth. He pointed out that the human population grows more quickly than can be matched by food production and was already overtaking its food supply. He predicted environmental degradation leading to massive famine, disease and war. Malthus was writing in response to the optimism of the Enlightenment that humanity can tame the environment and that human potential was limitless.
The disaster Malthus anticipated did not happen, agricultural and industrial revolutions saw to that. But the spectre of Malthus has not gone away. His warning seems even more applicable today and on a worldwide scale. As the global human population grows it is ever increasing its use of resources. Even the most fundamental resources like water, land and air are in short supply and being polluted. Estimates are that humans already use over half the world's accessible fresh surface water and have changed or degraded up to half of Earth's land surface through agriculture and urban building. By 2030 there could be one billion cars - 100 million of them in China alone - choking Earth's atmosphere and considerably contributing to global warming.
The Overflowing Human Population
The human population reached 0.3 billion in year 0 (2,000 years ago). Then it took 1,800 years to reach its first billion. But from there on the pace of human population growth burst its barriers and in the last few decades a billion more people are added to the population every few years - Table 1.
Source: The World at Six Billion. United Nations Population Division.
|Table 1. Landmarks In Human Population
||Number of People
At the present rate of human increase, about three babies are added to Earth every second, making a quarter of a million more people each day or 80 million more people annually. Over half (about 60 per cent) of humanity lives in just ten countries - Table 2.
Source: World Population 2004. Population Division. Department of Economic and
|Table 2. Top Ten Human Populations
||Population in millions
Social Affairs. United Nations.
Human numbers at the current rate of expansion might reach 300 billion in another 15 decades. However, Earth's resources cannot sustain anything near this number of people and humanity would die off before achieving this mass. Wars for diminishing resources, breakdown of societies followed by disease and starvation would consume humanity first. Fortunately, for some of the world's people, influences like family planning, modern contraception, education and prosperity create a desire to bear fewer children. Consequently, population growth is slowing - to some extent.
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