The 800-pound gorilla in the room is getting restless again. I've used that metaphor in the past to describe the growing human population that is driving so much of our consume-not conserve behavior. At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the issue of population growth, and what toll that will take on our natural resources, was raised again by Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund.
The United Nations has predicted that the global population will reach 7 billion this year. It is also predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050. What we will have to do to feed us all in 40 years is nothing short of staggering. According to Clay, "We will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000."
Most of the population growth will take place in developing countries, particularly Africa and South Asia. Not only will the shear number of people have a detrimental effect on our natural resources, but so will a disproportionately higher rate of consumption.
As populations increase, there is also an increase or improvement in the economic status of a portion of that population (globally, incomes are expected to triple, while developing nations will see a five-fold increase). An improvement in lifestyle also means an increase in food consumption.
Urging scientists and governments to begin making changes in food production now, Clay told the Associated Foreign Press (AFP), "More people, more money, more consumption, but the same planet."
Meat consumption is expected to increase, but the solution is more complex than just raising more cattle or chickens. It takes seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. And to produce that additional seven pounds of grain it takes more land, water, fertilizers, herbicides, and so on. Multiply that by the millions of pounds of meat that will be needed by 2050, and you can begin to see the scope of the problem.
Clay warned that if current trends continue, "By 2050 we will not have a planet left that is recognizable."
Family planning will begin to become more and more of a reality. Hopefully, society will see the importance of controlling the population without resorting to draconian steps like the punitive steps in China's second-child policy. If the people realize and react to the growing impact of population growth on the environment and food prices before governments do, then perhaps there lies our best chance at keeping the 800-pound gorilla at bay.