Seven Billion and Counting

My thanks to Jen Scarlott, the New York based writer for Sanctuary Asia for sharing this piece from the New Yorker about the new population growth landmark that will be hit at the end of this month:

New Yorker Article on Population Growth

As the article mentions, the declaration that the 7 billionth inhabitant on earth will appear on 31st October is somewhat arbitrary and the hype that will follow when this ‘honour’ is placed on a particular child somewhere will be even more so, nevertheless it is cause to stop and reflect. Malthus may have been ‘off’ on many of his projections, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a limit somewhere in the earth’s capacity to sustain human population. What’s worrying is that there’s a strong possibility that the optimum number will get exceeded before ‘nature’ brings about some counter-balancing.

As modern 21st century people we’re not very comfortable with Mother Earth’s ‘counter-balancing’ inclinations. In fact, mankind almost sees it as an essential battle to defy such natural and ecological balancing. What also concerns me is that as people, we each play our individual part in contributing to the issues and problems – excessive waste, failure to conserve water, climate changing destructive behaviours etc. However, the solutions cannot lie individually, but collectively.

I am increasingly coming to the view that the focus for ‘solutions’ has to be as much about creative, ingenious ‘new’ inventions and methods, rather than the traditional strong focus in the last 20-30 years on what must be prevented, limited or confined. There will never really be a great inspiration for society in stopping or limiting something.

Living here in a developing country it is worrying at times to see the speed with which people consciously and unconsciously rush towards mimicking and repeating the faulty consumption habits and patterns of the existing developed countries, rather than finding new more productive ways to be. If even a significant minority of the upwardly mobile Indian and Chinese populations were to consume and live in the ways that seem to appeal most to them then the environmental negative impact is going to be vast (and enormous in its destructive capacity). Just by way of example – I get disturbed to see the ways in which ‘new’ architecture pays such little regard to environmental and climatic conditions – instead figuring that high energy use solutions will be used to compensate (architects tend to get held more responsible for the one-off capital expenditure costs, reducing their incentive to bring in measures that reduce longer term ongoing running costs).

My gut instinct tells me that 7 billion and even maybe 8 billion humans don’t have to be a problem. However, I’m certain that it will be a problem if it continues to be based upon lives lived and aspirations based upon existing faulty models. We need to collectively work on creative, sustainable and high quality living models that are in harmony with local environments. This requires levels of public discourse, debate and collaboration that can’t be left to politicians (their perspectives cannot stretch beyond re-election for their next term).

For those of us in education it requires that we set examples through our own practices, open children’s minds to the issues and arm them with the skills to unleash their creativity, imagination and collaborative skills to play their part in creating a world that can accommodate all these people with justice.


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