Planting Seeds of Hope in the Face of Despair
By Suzanne York.
The impacts that the humans have had – and are having – on the planet are undeniable. From diverting major river systems to massive monoculture plantations to removing mountaintops, we are a species to be reckoned with, no doubt about it.
But Nature is paying a high price for our achievements, and people are too. The world’s biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history, with an estimated 1 million species at risk of extinction. Climate change impacts are accelerating with drastic outcomes. We humans are changing planetary systems with unknown consequences.
[photo: Noah Buscher, Unsplash]
The Council for the Human Future has created a “top ten” list of megarisks they believe form the greatest existential emergency in human history. It should grab the attention of every person on the planet, but sadly it probably won’t. Here is the list of megarisks:
Eco-breakdown & extinction
The Nuclear Threat
The last one tells you all you need to know about the previous nine threats and why we are in this situation (and combine it with denial). Greed and hubris are other reasons.
As abysmal as this list of megarisks appears to be, no one truly knows what the world will look like in fifty or 100 years. Most certainly there will be a lot of suffering and death of people, plants and animals. Still, we need to do our best to solve these problems. In words attributed to Martin Luther, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
[photo: Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash]
Charting a New Path Forward
Given future uncertainty, we – global society – should be doing all that we can to change our course. With this in mind, a new initiative called Creating a Population Consciousness is being launched on World Population Day this coming July 11th. The main goal is to encourage positive discussions on population growth and find just solutions for a thriving planet, human well-being, and responsible communities.
There are close to 8 billion people today on Earth, and population growth is still increasing, despite what you may hear in the media. The planet could see 10 billion people by 2050. Every human being has an impact, with some (mainly citizens of developed nations) having outsized and unsustainable environmental footprints. Current estimates are that it would require 1.6 Earths to keep our current global living standards.
Yet talking about population growth, and even consumption, are all too often ignored or glossed over. The above lists of megarisks, and probably almost every single climate and environmental study over the past couple of decades, should convince us that we have to tackle these issues.
The idea behind Creating a Population Consciousness is to help make it acceptable to discuss and take positive action to get the world to a healthy and sustainable population. We cannot change what we don’t talk about, openly and with good intentions. Also, change doesn’t happen without acknowledging current states of being that need to be corrected and atoned for – whether that is racism, colonialism, inequity, inequality, or even extinction (of species but also cultures and languages).
The reality is that human population is still growing and the world is grappling with so many difficult problems. Adding more people to a world that has passed a number of planetary boundaries doesn’t make it easier to solve them. The good news is that there are solutions on hand. Call them ‘mega-solutions’, if you will:
Support reproductive rights
Reduce unsustainable consumption
Invest in girls’ education (and education for all children)
Foster a paradigm shift towards rights of Nature
Change to new economic systems based on human and planetary well-being
Support reproductive health (family planning, including vasectomies)
Switch to clean energy/leave fossil fuels in the ground
Recognize Indigenous/traditional ecological knowledge and practices
Move toward regenerative agriculture/small-scale farming/agroecology
This list is just a start. There are many more positive solutions out there and groups working to implement them. None of these solutions involve coercion. The above list is grounded in understanding and respect for people and for Nature.
[photo: Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash]
Supporting New Priorities for Human and Planetary Well-being
Even a growing number of economists – often the biggest cheerleaders for more growth – are realizing that the world is exceeding planetary limits. Earlier this year, a report commissioned by the UK government and led by economist and professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, found that new economic approaches are needed to protect the natural world. In particular, Professor Dasgupta addressed population:
Growing human populations have significant implications for our demands on Nature, including for future patterns of global consumption. Fertility choices are influenced not only by individual preferences, they are also shaped by the choices of others. As well as improving women’s access to finance, information and education, support for community-based family planning programmes can shift preferences and behaviour, and accelerate the demographic transition. There has been significant underinvestment in such programmes. Addressing that shortfall, even if the effects may not be apparent in the short-term, is essential.
A shift in funding priorities is called for, and beyond that, a change in political and public will. The public is starting to get it, partly driven by circumstances (weather, COVID, inequity, lack of public programs, etc.). The media too, seems to be improving, albeit slightly, in mentioning the impacts of continued population growth.
Thus, the reason for Creating a Population Consciousness. It is meant to educate, inform and catalyze action in support of a better future for all beings, based on fairness, equity and empathy.
Almost everyone knows we have to act now. Every day we wait makes what we need to do all that much more difficult. It would be amazing if all nearly 8 billion of us were guided by the wisdom of the Dalai Lama:
This generation has a responsibility to reshape the world. Start the task even if it will not be fulfilled in your lifetime. Even if it seems hopeless now, never give up. Offer a positive vision, with enthusiasm and joy, and an optimistic outlook.
The official launch of the website for Creating a Population Consciousness is this World Population Day on July 11th. Imagine Earth in a few decades if we act now to move towards a healthy and stable population where all beings have their needs met and are respected?
Suzanne York is Director of Transition Earth.