7 Billion – And Your Community Wants Its Share
There’s a good chance you’ve heard world population will pass 7 billion on Halloween. Most of us in the developed world haven’t given it a second thought. The hungry children whose photos accompany these news stories are not our children. Most of us don’t think of population growth as something we can or should do anything about. It’s a problem for someone else, somewhere else.
There are signs, however, that the planet has filled up. On a full planet, problems don’t blow away. We can’t move away from them. China’s emissions affect air quality in the western U.S. The relentless march of humankind across the planet is eliminating forests and species. It’s heating our atmosphere and acidifying our oceans. Our appetite is decimating fisheries. We’re over-appropriating and fouling fresh water supplies. We’re depleting the planet’s fertile soils and many precious elements.
Some of these impacts aren’t immediately visible to us here, but they happen all the same. Some are a little more noticeable. Hundreds of thousands of people improving their economic status and adopting our lifestyle now compete with us for oil and food, affecting availability and price. None of us would dispute their right to these resources.
But few of us recognize how our lives are directly affected – both by the economic growth occurring in places like India and China, and the growing number of people participating in that growth. These are populations that dwarf ours; if they over-consume like us, things will deteriorate in a hurry. And that appears to be the track they are on. The pie is not getting bigger. And we are going to have to share.
Still, that begs the question, “What can I do?” There are many things we can and should be doing about population growth in our own communities. First, stabilizing and reducing population is not someone else’s problem or responsibility. Each of us are accountable for our community’s impact (our “footprint”), and that means for the size of our population. In fact, a decision to have a smaller family in a developed nation can do more to move our civilization back into sustainable equilibrium than such a decision in a poorer nation.
We can also reduce our consumption, as we must. But we should not fall into the trap of thinking that changing our light bulbs allows us to ignore and escape the perils of population growth. We are way beyond the point we can focus only on one part of the equation.
I’ve campaigned actively since 2002 for my community to end its dependence on population growth as a prosperity strategy. It clearly doesn’t work, for one thing. But it also selfishly avoids accountability for doing our part to stabilize population as soon as possible. Chances are your community, like mine, has a number of public policies designed to accelerate growth. These policies are based on the myth that growth is necessary for prosperity. If all cities competing for growth get their way, we will most definitely not have a sustainable, peaceful world where our children can survive and thrive.
So, as world population streaks past 7 billion (at the rate of over 200,000 people per day), let’s pause and think long and hard about whether our own communities’ belief system and public policies are rational, responsible and consistent with the compassion we have for children everywhere, including our own.
Dave Gardner is the filmmaker behind GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth, a documentary examining our society’s worship of growth everlasting. GrowthBusters will hold its world premiere in Washington DC on November 2. The DVD is available for order now, and communities around the world are scheduling screenings.
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