Why We Won’t Acknowledge The Mammoth In The Room – Part 2
There is one global issue that is not getting the urgent attention that it demands. Not talking about it and not addressing it is already proving to be catastrophic for the planet and we don’t have much time before it is too late. Or is it too late already? Purva Variyar, conservationist, Senior Editor and Science Communicator with Sanctuary Asia, wonders why this colossal ‘mammoth’ in the room - HUMAN POPULATION EXPLOSION – is not being taken seriously.
Last year, I wrote part one of the Why We Won’t Acknowledge The Mammoth In The Room series, which evoked some interesting and varying reactions. The purpose of writing about our population problem then, and now, remains the same – to sow the seeds of a mindset that is sensitive to and understands the magnitude of the most dangerous, devastating problem that has gripped the planet Earth – HUMAN POPULATION EXPLOSION. In my opinion, every other problem pales in comparison.
Every once in a while, Hollywood comes out with a movie in which the ‘villain’ is trying to solve the problem of too many humans and too little resources left to sustain them. The ‘heroes’ in these movies then go on to sabotage these operations and ‘save’ humans from a horrible fate. Think Inferno, Kingsman – The Secret Service, and most recently, one of the highest grossers, Avengers – Infinity War. To me, these heroes seem myopic and impractical as they fail to see the larger good, that is the long-term survival of the species in a land of plenty. They fail to see that we humans, and every other living being, are spiralling towards a grislier fate. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not espousing that going on a homicidal rampage is the way to tackle the problem of overpopulation, the way Thanos in Avengers chose to do. But, we cannot continue to ignore the disturbing reality and the scale of the problem that we pose for the planet and ourselves.
Photo: Public Domain
I work in the field of conservation. Every day I read, write or discuss matters pertaining to the environment. Every day I am inspired by people who are doing stellar work to protect the last of our wildernesses, the last of an endangered species, the last of the planet as we know it. There are the forest rangers bravely putting their lives at risk to protect the forests and its denizens; there are conservationists who voluntarily get caught in a crossfire of Human-Animal Conflicts in order to resolve them; there are scientists who are ingeniously rebuilding dying coral reefs; activists who are unabashedly taking on the corrupt mining lobbies that are destroying wild habitats, even in the face of death threats; I could go on and on. But, as much of an optimist as I am, there is always this nagging voice in my head that tells me that all these incredible conservation efforts might just prove futile if the human population continues to rise at this rate. We are going to need more space, we are going to need more of the planet’s resources, we are going to generate more waste, we are going to pollute more air, land and water.
The problems don’t end there. There is this massive problem of climate change, that we’re only now beginning to concede has been caused by us. Today, in one of the more harrowing chapters in human history, there are more than 65 million displaced people across the globe. Displaced due to persecution, human rights violations and violence. But of these 65 million unfortunate people, since 2008, nearly 26 million of them have been displaced due to environmental disasters, which are only growing more severe and frequent with each passing year. Droughts, floods, forest fires and rising sea levels have become the norm in various parts of the world. Closer home, India is currently dealing with one of the worst droughts. By 2050, according to the International Bar Association, the world will have nearly 200 million climate change refugees! Yes, migration is most certainly a climate change issue. And yes, climate change most certainly is an overpopulation issue. The fight for climate justice would be in vain if we don’t begin to address the population crisis very seriously.
Ironically, at a time when we need more space and more resources to sustain more and more of us, both of these are only shrinking. If human violence isn’t rendering places uninhabitable, there is the ocean that is engulfing more land, and global temperatures are rising making some parts of the world simply too hot to live in. Both, impacts of global warming. Several islands in the Pacific have already succumbed to rising seas. In India too, a glaring example can be made of islands in the Sundarbans which are fast losing the battle against coastal erosion, untimely tidal surges, frequent cyclonic storms, infiltrating salinity and last but not the least, rising sea levels. Of the 102 islands within the Sundarbans archipelago, four have disappeared under water, and some others like Ghoramara, that are densely populated have lost a lot of land.
Let these numbers help you put the matter in clearer perspective. We are 7.3 billion people in the world at the moment (by the time this article reaches you, we will have long passed that number. As per UNICEF, four to five children are born every second in the world). By 2050, we are geared to cross the nine billion mark and by 2100, 11 billion! WHERE WILL WE GO? Keep in mind, there is no planet B. I’m glad there isn’t, because, in view of our track record, we would wreck that one too. Unchecked population, as Thomas Malthus postulated in his famous population theory back in 1798, grows in a geometrical ratio whilst subsistence increases in an arithmetical ratio. Even someone like me who painfully struggles with grasping mathematical concepts, is able to understand the degree of difference between the two types of arithmetic sequences.
Photo: Public Domain
Where do other non-human lifeforms feature in our catastrophic scheme of things? In the last 50 years alone, we have lost half of the planet’s wildlife. Uncountable plant and animal species have either gone extinct due to human activities or are teetering on the brink. Everyday, estimates suggest, we lose up to a hundred species or more. Different sources state different figures, but the point is, the global extinction rates are through the roof. As the urban monster grows bigger, and consumes natural habitats to make space for the oozing human population, wild animals and plants are being rounded up into tighter spaces. Where will this stop? If you thought the population explosion is causing us agony, animals and plants are bearing the far more brutal brunt. Think the ongoing south Delhi tree cutting saga. Think palm oil menace that is destroying the world’s most pristine rainforests. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
I could go on ranting and venting and crying myself hoarse about the human population crisis. But, unless each one of us does not take responsibility as well as accountability, we are headed towards inevitable doom. Read Why I decided not to have a child, an eye-opening piece penned by Prerna Singh Bindra three years ago on World Population Day, to understand her unselfish decision to not have a child. “One refrain childfree people often hear is: People who don't have kids are "selfish, shallow and self-absorbed" Really? One reason I took this path - and there are others; more personal, and not for public consumption - is that I believe it is unselfish. At over 7.2 billion, we have no calling to perpetuate our race. The earth is groaning under our weight…I think too, of the world we bring our kids into. We prefer not to face the inconvenient truth, but there is no escaping the fact that resources crucial to our survival are shrinking, getting dirtier,” she writes. It is not fair for the new-borns or the planet at this juncture in the planet’s history. I referred to this article in Part one of the series, and am bringing it up again, because every single person should read it, as uncomfortable as it may make them feel.
I will quote myself from Part one as well – I respect a woman’s natural urge and maternal instincts that goad her into wanting to bring her own child into this world. It is beautiful and to go against it, difficult. But, however hard it is, I am not going to ever decide to add one more person to the billions already here.
If the need to nurture kicks in, I can always adopt a child. And work towards making this planet worth living in for her.
Published on July 11, 2018
Author: Purva Variyar
Read more articles by the author:
Why We Won’t Acknowledge The Mammoth In The Room – Sanctuary Asia
Of Alien Origins And Earthly Splendour – Sanctuary Asia
Bleeding Orangutans – Sanctuary Asia
The Extraterrestrial Spell Of Maharashtra's Lonar Crater – The Wire
From Nothing to Quite Something – Nature inFocus
Frozen Ark – Sanctuary Asia