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Human Population

Global human population is rising from more than 6.7 billion, having quadrupled in less than a century. Every 5 minutes 650 more people are added to human population this equals a million person net gain in just over 4 days and another United States every 3 to 4 years. The United States itself is adding 2.5 million people annually to the existing 307 million, on its way to 450 million by 2050.

Despite popular misunderstanding to the contrary, population continues to grow in New England as well. NECSP research shows that an aggregate of 67,000 people are added to the 14.25 million citizens of the six New England states each year.

If population were a stand-alone issue, reasonable people could honorably disagree about the optimal population density of a state, a region, a nation and the Earth, and perhaps the numbers listed above would not be cause for such great concern. However, as we witness the Earth giving us clear distress signals – examples being climate change, species extinctions, marine dead-zones and intensifying desertification we no longer have the luxury to view human populations in isolation from the ecological crisis facing the planet.

Each additional human increases the base of aggregate demand for the Earth’s natural resources and open space. Efficiency and technology can mitigate these demands to some extent, but logic tells us that ever increasing human numbers are an insurmountable obstacle to the urgent need to implement sustainable development strategies for human communities all over the globe.

Cutting per capita carbon emissions does little if the “capita” keeps expanding. Reducing groundwater consumption at the household level does little if the number of households keeps growing. Cutting personal protein consumption in half makes little difference when a net 650 more protein dependent people arrive on the planet every 5 minutes.

Many people who are staunch environmentalists have resisted talking about the ideas of human population stabilization because they don’t have a way to talk about them in a human rights framework – they rightly fear a continuation of north-south colonialism, patriarchal ownership of women’s wombs, or some sort central planning of human fertility – all of which would be abominable disasters. Furthermore, woeful mistakes made in the name of population stabilization in the past, for instance the forced male sterilizations that took place in India in the mid 1970’s, continue to paint population stabilization ideas with a dingy brush indeed.

This is a momentous problem that must be rectified, because even in a best case scenario, human population will balloon to 9.1 billion by 2050. Business as usual will result in a population approaching 12 billion. No sustainability advocate can countenance such an increase. Unless and until population stabilization is seen as a deeply progressive commitment to human rights and reproductive freedom – one that will serve the urgent need to implement sustainable living across the region, nation and world the global struggle to attain sustainability will be carrying the tragic millstone of population expansion, and the bright promising future we all wish to see may be lost.