Think of what it takes to sustain human civilisation at the standards of living we believe that everyone is entitled to. Have we stopped to think what it would mean for a billion Chinese people, say, to have access to a standard of living equivalent to that enjoyed by Western Europe and North America today?
If every Chinese household owned at least one car, think of what that will entail, how much roads, parking lots, garages, and the factories to make these cars will need to be built? Worse, how much fuel will all these cars burn?
Vast tracts of land, immense quantities of petroleum-based synthetic fertiliser, and gas-guzzling farm machinery are required to cultivate the growing demand for energy-rich crops in industrial farms.
Sprawl brought about by the space needed to build homes — and bigger ones, as affluence elevates personal standards — and the roads needed to connect them to commerce is a direct consequence of affluence and population increase.
Many animal and plant species lose their natural habitats to the relentless encroachment of human dwellings on nature.
Huge volumes of water are used to transport solid and liquid waste from human dwellings and workplaces to their processing sites.
Systems to process and “treat” human waste are imperfect and are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of it generated by human consumption and the throwaway culture brought about by increasing affluence. The environment usually exhibits the progressive effects of this abuse in subtle steps but tends to also whip up perfect storms that wreak catastrophic havoc in sudden violent bursts.
If we think that the solution to the problem of a large population is simply growing the economy, think again.
There are limits to growth. A world economy whose vitality is fueled by energy-dense substances of finite supply, the combustion of which irreversibly warms the planet cannot grow forever. Something’s gotta give. And it ain’t gonna be Mother Nature. Human civilisation is less than 10,000 years old, and the species Homo Sapiens has roamed the planet for less than a million years. Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for tens of millions of years. Yet they simply disappeared.
What makes us so sure that humanity will persist in time scales beyond the next hundred odd years?