The United Nations declared Monday the symbolic date the human populace reached seven billion, with an infant in Manila, Philippines claiming the landmark birth. Official acceptance of the world population’s staggering new level draws attention to growing concerns regarding overpopulation. UCSB Environmental Studies Professor David A. Cleveland spoke to the Daily Nexus about the environmental and economic impacts stemming from an overcrowded Earth.
The human population reached one billion in 1804, two billion in 1927 and since then has doubled two and a half times, reflecting a shocking pattern of exponential growth.
Although the expanding numbers provide additional labor and human creativity, the fixed amount of vital resources presents the dire situation of an ever increasing population without the means to sustain itself. Professor Cleveland specializes in the human population and is researching localized agricultural food systems.
According to Cleveland, many negative environmental issues such as climate change, species loss and greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to exponential human expansion and greater consumption levels.
“When you look at the trends of things that effect our environment along with the trend in population you find that … so many of them track our population growth, which makes sense,” Cleveland said. “When you look at those curves, many of them are exponential or even super exponential and that kind of thing can, and in many cases, it already has, led to the collapse of natural systems.”
Cleveland said poor resource distribution forces millions into starvation.
“The [U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization] recently estimated that there are over eight hundred million people in the world who are hungry and that is crazy because there is plenty of food,” Cleveland said. “The problem is that the people in power do not see redistribution as an option because they have this fundamentalist belief that growth can go on incessantly.”
An increase in human consumption per capita — the result of modern industrialization and development — also contributes to various environmental issues, Cleveland asserts.
“We need to figure out how to slow our population growth but perhaps even more important we need to figure out how to slow consumption per capita, which is forecasted to grow,” Cleveland said. “More people mean more consumption. There are many indicators that we are already over consuming so more people is not a good thing.”
According to Cleveland, world leaders and other key figures influencing global economics must reconsider their free trade philosophies in favor of more sustainable practices.
“Obama and administrations before him have been pushing for free trade in concert with the World Trade Organization, which of course are tremendously delocalizing forces,” Cleveland said. “I think we need to dethrone the economic ideology that is driving us off a cliff. Markets are great but they need to be embedded within social and environmental priorities.”
Homo sapiens may face a spot on the endangered species list if several social alterations and technological advancements fail to occur, Cleveland said.
“Right now we are at seven billion and given current modes of supplying those people that is not a sustainable size,” Cleveland said. “[The future] depends on your assumptions about the potential for technology to produce the things we consume in a more sustainable and efficient way.”