Study Suggests Population Control Is No Quick Fix For Environmental Problems

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Justine Alford

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33 Study Suggests Population Control Is No Quick Fix For Environmental Problems
Bruce Irving, "Earth Full South Pacific," via Flickr. CC BY 2.0

The ever-burgeoning human population is an incredible strain on global resources and the environment. It’s been estimated that by the turn of the century, 11 billion people will inhabit our planet. More food, more water, more homes, more land, more medical resources are all going to be needed to accommodate this staggering number. So it’s logical to assume that the best way to tackle this problem is to find a way to reduce population growth. Not according to a new study, at least.

As described in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a duo of researchers from the University of Adelaide used computer modeling on WHO and census data to investigate how long it could take for a reduction in the human population to positively impact the environment. To do this, they plugged in various different scenarios for population change which allowed them to project the global population throughout this century.


The findings were unfortunately not exactly encouraging. Even if every country implements a strict one-child policy, the study suggested that the human population would still likely linger around today’s figure for the next 90 odd years. And a catastrophic mass mortality event, removing almost a quarter of the population, would ultimately hardly make a dent either.

But by no means are the authors suggesting that we should ditch efforts to reduce fertility because of these findings. If we pursue family planning and reproduction education, then we could have hundreds of millions of fewer mouths to feed by 2050. In addition, nations need to think of ways to reduce our increasing consumption of Earth’s finite natural resources, and also focus on ecosystem conservation. Ultimately, however, such measures are no quick fix and aren’t going to benefit people alive today.

“Global population has risen so fast over the past century that roughly 14% of all the human beings that have ever existed are still alive today- that’s a sobering statistic,” lead author Corey Bradshaw said in a news-release. “This is considered unsustainable for a range of reasons, not least being able to feed everyone as well as the impact on the climate and the environment.” Technological and social innovation, he says, are the most productive ways to lessen these impacts. 

[Via PNAS, BBC News and the University of Adelaide]


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