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Is population growth the real cause of environmental destruction?

There are numerous compelling arguments that there are simply too many people on the earth to maintain ecological sustainability. But is the solution to an acceptable human footprint as basic as the warranted need to depopulate the planet?

The Earth’s population is predicted to reach 8.5 billion by 2050, and the demand for resources to sustain those numbers will be out of reach if we continue to exploit our natural assets at the present rate.

According to the United Nations - for humans to live in a utopian world without detrimental impacts on the environment, we would have to decrease our population to a mere 200 million. But alarmingly over the last 300 years we have exponentially increased our population from 250 million to over 7 billion.

This rapid increase of numbers has placed a huge demand on the Earth’s resources leading to mass deforestation, desertification, ocean-life depletion and pollution of the land, sea, air and water. These impacts have fractured and fragmented many of our ecosystems beyond self-maintenance and sustainability.

The question is do we have the will to reduce and remediate our current consumption practices?


The graph above shows where most of the Earth’s resources are being consumed, and clearly indicates the imbalance between the highly developed USA consumption rate/ per ratio to the country’s population.

Why single out the USA?

Because Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population and yet consume nearly 25% of its energy! In fact, their energy consumption is extraordinary!

The US Consumer

• The United States uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25 % of the coal, 26 % of the oil, and 27 % of the world’s natural gas.

• As of 2003, the US had more private cars than licensed drivers, and petrol-guzzling vehicles were among the best-selling vehicles.

• New houses in the US were 38 % bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average.

The USA Resource Footprint Comparison


Australia’s Environmental Footprint in question

Australia’s resource consumption rate is also alarming! -  Although we consume far less resources than the USA and 20 other larger populated countries, our consumption percentage rate in ratio to our mere population of 23 million is a staggering 2.8 times that of China.


So it appears that well developed countries are by far the main culprits for the mass reduction of the world resources, and therefore they are the countries that need to change their energy consumption rate, and relative population growth.

Insofar as Australia goes, we are unlikely to rapidly change our energy consumption rates, so this raises the debate about political suggestions that we need to increase the population levels to assist the GDP while believing that our resources are sustainable.

Statistical data shows that as a country becomes more developed and its wealth increases, the reproductive rate in that country diminishes. Conversely as countries develop, the people, while they reproduce less, actually consume much more.

The average Indian consumes 35 times less than the average American.

Many people see scarcity in the world and assume the reason is because there are too many people and too few resources. In reality, scarcity is manufactured by an economic system that requires it to function. The problem of ecological footprint is not solely due to population growth; It has far more to do with the inefficient use of resources due to an economic system of individual ownership and a culture that defines your worth by what you own.

- Chris Agnos

Ted Mead has been a committed conservationist since soon after his arrival in Tasmanian some thirty-five years ago. Wasteful vandalism of finite resources by the Tasmania’s Forest industry revealed the disturbing attitudes that our society was willing to accept. With ongoing pressure and misuse of the world’s natural assets, Ted views and concerns has broadened beyond the shores of what was once a pristine Van Diemens Land.

• John Hayward in Comments: While human population growth should be sufficient to incinerate the world by itself, the accelerants for the process are avarice, selfishness, stupidity and climate change.  Tasmania produces bumper crops of all four. If Tas hadn’t burnt those 60m tonnes of specialty timbers on the forest floor, they would probably have been subsidised to be burnt to power chip mills. It has been recently reported that the world’s population of wild animals has collapsed by 58% from 1970 to 2012.  To address this catastrophe, our species has thrown up leaders of the quality of Eric Abetz, Vlad Putin, who has just erected a giant monument to Ivan the Terrible as well as blocking a permanent marine reserve in the Ross Sea,  and Trump, who would pull the US out of the Paris climate change agreement. While the human population should eventually reach its optimal population max of 200m,  it will probably be by approximating the living conditions in Aleppo.

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