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Population growth: on our way to 11.2 billion global citizens in 2100

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

This year Earth Overshoot Day, the yearly date when humanity has used more from nature than the planet can renew in the entire year, fell on 1 August; in comparison, when the concept was first developed in 2006, Earth Overshoot Day fell in October. August 1st also saw the much-commented appearance of the New York Times Magazine long read Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich, detailing ‘the efforts of a small group of American scientists, activists, and politicians [in the 1980s] to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe’ and revealing ‘how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it’.

In combination with other worrying developments, such as The Sixth Extinction as analysed by Elizabeth Kolbert and ‘predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs’, it forces humanity to ponder global population growth, migration, and the role of future citizens in ecological matters. As noted by leading climate change expert Klaas van Egmond, the alternative might be global conflicts on a scale hitherto unseen: 'Now […] the world starts to experience the mounting stresses forecasted for the early decades of the 21st century if the mechanisms behind exponentially growing demands on the planet would not be stabilized. As any system approach would indicate, the crisis does not show up in a clear and visible way – instead, it will appear as a slow erosion of the capability to manage adequately an ever more complex and interdependent reality. It will take the form of a manifold of ecological, financial-economic and social crises. In some African countries it may be a mix of resource related wars, mass migration and starvation and climate change related droughts. In other regions the eye of the storm may be the collapse of the financial system with subsequent unemployment, protectionism, ethnic strife and breakdown of public services. In yet other regions, the failure to provide adequate health and education thwarts attempts at slowing down population growth and large-scale poverty, with unending social conflict as a result'.

In the process, organizations and institutions may well be increasingly called on to engage with these issues and overcome their narrowly-defined ideological interests. Just like John Dalhuisen recently resigned from his position as director of Amnesty International’s Europe programme, criticizing the organization’s lack of realism and unwillingness to compromise, concretely in respect of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, some environmentalists have noted that in the field of ecology ‘the absence of [WWF, Greenpeace and others] from the immigration and population debates shows that they would rather be in “politically correct” denial than engage seriously with the ecological implications of overpopulation and continued population growth’.

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