We Are Breeding Ourselves to Extinction

 Mar 8, 2009

AP photo / Andy Wong
China has long imposed a limit of one child per family in an effort to reduce population growth.

By Chris Hedges

All measures to thwart the degradation and destruction of our ecosystem will be useless if we do not cut population growth. By 2050, if we continue to reproduce at the current rate, the planet will have between 8 billion and 10 billion people, according to a recent U.N. forecast. This is a 50 percent increase. And yet government-commissioned reviews, such as the Stern report in Britain, do not mention the word population. Books and documentaries that deal with the climate crisis, including Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” fail to discuss the danger of population growth. This omission is odd, given that a doubling in population, even if we cut back on the use of fossil fuels, shut down all our coal-burning power plants and build seas of wind turbines, will plunge us into an age of extinction and desolation unseen since the end of the Mesozoic era, 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared.

We are experiencing an accelerated obliteration of the planet’s life-forms—an estimated 8,760 species die off per year—because, simply put, there are too many people. Most of these extinctions are the direct result of the expanding need for energy, housing, food and other resources. The Yangtze River dolphin, Atlantic gray whale, West African black rhino, Merriam’s elk, California grizzly bear, silver trout, blue pike and dusky seaside sparrow are all victims of human overpopulation. Population growth, as E.O. Wilson says, is “the monster on the land.” Species are vanishing at a rate of a hundred to a thousand times faster than they did before the arrival of humans. If the current rate of extinction continues, Homo sapiens will be one of the few life-forms left on the planet, its members scrambling violently among themselves for water, food, fossil fuels and perhaps air until they too disappear. Humanity, Wilson says, is leaving the Cenozoic, the age of mammals, and entering the Eremozoic—the era of solitude. As long as the Earth is viewed as the personal property of the human race, a belief embraced by everyone from born-again Christians to Marxists to free-market economists, we are destined to soon inhabit a biological wasteland.

The populations in industrialized nations maintain their lifestyles because they have the military and economic power to consume a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. The United States alone gobbles up about 25 percent of the oil produced in the world each year. These nations view their stable or even zero growth birthrates as sufficient. It has been left to developing countries to cope with the emergent population crisis. India, Egypt, South Africa, Iran, Indonesia, Cuba and China, whose one-child policy has prevented the addition of 400 million people, have all tried to institute population control measures. But on most of the planet, population growth is exploding. The U.N. estimates that 200 million women worldwide do not have access to contraception. The population of the Persian Gulf states, along with the Israeli-occupied territories, will double in two decades, a rise that will ominously coincide with precipitous peak oil declines.

The overpopulated regions of the globe will ravage their local environments, cutting down rainforests and the few remaining wilderness areas, in a desperate bid to grow food. And the depletion and destruction of resources will eventually create an overpopulation problem in industrialized nations as well. The resources that industrialized nations consider their birthright will become harder and more expensive to obtain. Rising water levels on coastlines, which may submerge coastal nations such as Bangladesh, will disrupt agriculture and displace millions, who will attempt to flee to areas on the planet where life is still possible. The rising temperatures and droughts have already begun to destroy crop lands in Africa, Australia, Texas and California. The effects of this devastation will first be felt in places like Bangladesh, but will soon spread within our borders. Footprint data suggests that, based on current lifestyles, the sustainable population of the United Kingdom—the number of people the country could feed, fuel and support from its own biological capacity—is about 18 million. This means that in an age of extreme scarcity, some 43 million people in Great Britain would not be able to survive. Overpopulation will become a serious threat to the viability of many industrialized states the instant the cheap consumption of the world’s resources can no longer be maintained. This moment may be closer than we think.

A world where 8 billion to 10 billion people are competing for diminishing resources will not be peaceful. The industrialized nations will, as we have done in Iraq, turn to their militaries to ensure a steady supply of fossil fuels, minerals and other nonrenewable resources in the vain effort to sustain a lifestyle that will, in the end, be unsustainable. The collapse of industrial farming, which is made possible only with cheap oil, will lead to an increase in famine, disease and starvation. And the reaction of those on the bottom will be the low-tech tactic of terrorism and war. Perhaps the chaos and bloodshed will be so massive that overpopulation will be solved through violence, but this is hardly a comfort.

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4 thoughts on “We Are Breeding Ourselves to Extinction

  1. Unsustainable: Anthropocene Extinction Era: Elk and deer do not need to be saved from wolves or other predators, they have millenniums of natural balance for mutual benefit. It is the blood sport killers (hunters and trappers) that are the additive problem. Humans kill 27 million animals daily for consumption, millions more yearly from hunting and”management” and this is not counting the sea life, 90 billion per year for consumption. Humans kill millions of sharks every year. Animal farming (aka ranching) is one of the most damaging activities to the earth and cruelest things we do to the planet, the environment (land, sea and air); it is also eating up wilderness and forest and jungles, polluting rivers and streams, polluting the air, downdrawing stream levels Man is crueler than any alien so far imagined or presented in alien movies. Man is working himself toward extinction by animal farming, extraction industries, development, encroachment on the wild, destruction of biodiversity and is taking most everything else with him. We are 7 billion headed toward 10 billion by the middle to the end of the century. We may have the planet at a tipping point in global warming which also has disastrous effects on much land and sea animal life. The wolves and other predators are healthy factors in the wilderness ecology. Game farming for sports killing is not. We have several major species on the brink and hunters and poachers and farmer/ranchers, extraction industries, development and encroachment are still going at the the destruction. What humans are doing is not healthy for us or the planet or the other animals. We instituted agencies like the EPA and ESA and international and national conservation organizations to protect us from ourselves and the by products of seeking monetary gain at all costs then we try to politically undermine and gut those agencies. We are a destructive species and cannot seem to help ourselves. The direction we are going is not sustainable. For the health of ourselves, the planet, other life, biodiversity, we need to change the way we eat, stop human sprawl, preserve habitat, and basically learn to live with wildlife and healthy environment instead of against it.

  2. A great discussion of climate change and the looming environmental crises that could destroy the planet. In what ecologists call the Sixth Great Extinction, we have already lost thousands of species, some we did not even recognize before they were gone. Many more will join them. Yet we relentlessly squander resources and tell ourselves that the earth will replenish what we take and that technology will save us from disaster.

    However for a species that is purportedly superior to all others by its possession of a huge brain, its use of language that has led to millennia of accumulated knowledge, and its command of science that could put men on the moon, we are so paralyzed by denial and false beliefs that we cannot face the problems we are creating or accept their solution. Economic ideology insists that continued growth is imperative; religion asserts that contraception is sinful; political correctness warns that promoting population control in crowded and poverty-stricken countries is racist. We will not believe that in a finite world limits are necessary.

    So while the worried and aware discuss the issues among themselves and fear for the effects of climate change and the loss of rain forests, wildlife, soil, water, mineral deposits, and energy resources–preaching to the choir, in effect–they wish to avoid the howls of outrage from the deniers by suggesting the biggest problem we face is just too many of us.

  3. Economic ideology insists that continued growth is imperative; religion asserts that contraception is sinful; political correctness warns that promoting population control in crowded and poverty-stricken countries is racist. We will not believe that in a finite world limits are necessary.

    Well said. No political party even talks about the environmental issues except to exploit them and to protect economic interests – Sally ‘we can have it all’ Jewell. The EPA won’t even use its authority to block a (foreign-owned) mine in Alaska that threatens a pristine watershed and one of the last remaining salmon runs! I don’t even think the CA drought is directly related to climate change, it’s too many people living in an area where there isn’t much water to begin with – we’ve diverted it from other areas, and now it’s run out. Nothing was done in anticipation of it either. People are still watering lawns, have swimming pools, fountains and golf courses. It’s sad that a lot of other animals and plants on the planet are going to get a death sentence from us before all is said and done – but we won’t stop until we become Easter Island.

    • Great comments, idalupine, Roger, ahimsa. And sadly, so true. We are on a terrible course of destruction, in a blink of geologic time, which will cause the extinction of probably most multi-cellular life forms. I am just so sad that all the other life must go down with Homo sapiens.

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