Is the Issue Really Over Consumption?
Although the figures in the previous table suggest that the world’s population will continue to rise at these rates, global population growth has actually been slowing since the 1960s. The number of people in the population remains high at the moment due to increased life expectancy, but if birthrates continue to slow, the population would eventually even out.
The United Nations (UN) publishes annual population trends and maps likely scenarios based on both high and low cases of fertility in a given year. It predicts that the population of the world will continue to increase until 2100, when it will peak at 11.2 billion people before declining. If access to contraception services could be made available across the globe, the rate of growth might be slowed more quickly. However, there is also a risk that climate change could plunge currently developed countries into poverty, causing their birthrates to rise, as people have more children where there is a greater risk that some of them will not survive.
As it stands, in the early 2020s, the Earth would appear not to have enough resources to sustain 11.2 billion people. There are, however, some who point out that humans have, so far, managed to develop new ways to survive. The issue is that people cannot continue to consume as much as those in the richest countries do at present. Although the UN estimates that there are around 850 million people globally who are starving or malnourished, households in the UK alone still waste 4.5 million tonnes of food a year. The average American uses over 300 litres of water a day which is over fifteen times more than someone living in a rural community in sub-Saharan Africa.
If it were possible to find more sustainable and equitable ways of growing and distributing food and other resources globally, some argue it would possible for the planet to cope with this number of people. However, as people consume more and more, this idea seems increasingly optimistic. People want to live in increasingly luxurious ways and if every person on the planet consumed as many resources as the average person in the US does at present, humanity would need five Earth’s worth of resources to support it.