Slowing population growth for human wellbeing
July 19th 2012
A growing number of findings from different disciplines show that human wellbeing is increasingly threatened by unsustainable population growth. These threats occur at different levels. At the global level, population size is a crucial factor in consumption of resources. Technological advances have brought about huge increases in both the extraction of raw materials and in the efficiency of production and consumption, but stocks of raw materials are not infinite. The situation is much the same for food production; the two past agricultural revolutions (domestication of plants and technological innovations) enormously increased land productivity, and the ongoing third revolution (further technological innovation and biotechnology) will provide additional productivity gains. But a multiplication of the yield per hectare seems unrealistic and the possibilities to expand the area of land used for agriculture are very limited - certainly if people want to preserve ecologically valuable areas such as rain forests.
The key question is whether the earth and human behaviour and technology will be capable of providing enough food and resources for the growing population, taking into account that a substantial part of this population currently has many unmet basic needs. The Global Footprint Network calculated the average ecological footprint (the area of biologically productive land and water that a population uses to generate the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology) of the global population at 2·7 global hectares per capita, and the biocapacity (the capacity of ecosystems to produce useful biological materials and to absorb carbon dioxide generated by human beings, with present management schemes and extraction technologies) at 1·8 global hectares per capita. This means that people are overexploiting both land and sea, thereby destroying habitats and harming biodiversity, and taking the means of existence from future generations.
Provision of universal access to modern family planning methods is absolutely necessary and urgent —also from a women's rights perspective—and it will certainly have an inhibiting effect on population growth, but additional efforts will be needed to push back global fertility to replacement level or below. In addition to the recent Rio+20 conference, two important worldwide events will put population and family planning-related issues on the global agenda: the International Conference on Population and Development +20 follow-up in 2014, and the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. In this context, scientists, policy makers, and civil society organisations will have to work together to find ways to slow down population growth while fully respecting democracy, human rights, and cultural integrity.
Read the full article: The Lancet
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