This week the world’s population will reach a whopping 7 billion inhabitants, marking a critical time for us to consider the conservation of natural resources to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations. Experts are already releasing their estimates of where the world’s rapidly accelerating population growth will be by the end of the century. One forthcoming United Nations report estimates that the number may reach 15 billion — more than double current levels, and 5 billion more than what was previously predicted. So what does this mean for our planet and its resources?
Of the 2.3 billion people the UN believes will be born by 2050 alone, more than one billion will live in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Indian subcontinent is expected to grow by 630 million people. This will mean even less land and water available for each person, and the poorer people, who tend to depend more on natural resources, will bear the biggest brunt due to costs. The major issue that will come with population growth of this size will be how to feed the new arrivals.
But the future may not be as bleak as it sounds if we face and remedy the resource issues that exist today. As Joel Cohen of the New York Times points out in his op-ed piece, the Earth’s short-term carrying capacity is higher than we think, and our ability to meet the demands of our growing population will wholly depend on how much we’re willing to invest in the future.
Coen writes, “IF we spend our wealth — our material, environmental, human and financial capital — faster than we increase it by savings and investment, we will shift the costs of the prosperity that some enjoy today onto future generations. The mismatch between the short-term incentives that guide our political and economic institutions and even our families, on one hand, and our long-term aspirations, on the other, is severe.”
“We must increase the probability that every child born will be wanted and well cared for and have decent prospects for a good life. We must conserve more, and more wisely use, the energy, water, land, materials and biological diversity with which we are blessed.”
Yes, 15 billion is a lot – but that is if we continue to live beyond our means as we do today. Conserving resources is just as important today as it will be when the world’s population doubles. There is much we can do in our daily lives, but experts are on point in asserting that a shift in values is necessary. Specifically, that prosperity should not be measured as a monetary value, but instead it should encompass our global success by satisfying basic human needs, providing education, contraception, fostering creativity, community and cooperation, and by how well we care for our environment.