Monday, October 31, 2011

7 Billion Humans Day: Are you Scared?

As you may know, today humans will add a 7 billionth person to our number. And since I have pledged to raise awareness as part of the Global Population Speak Out, I am devoting today's post to the consequences of human population growth for dogs, for humans, indeed for all species and for every aspect of life on this planet.

Let me start by saying this: I like kids. I like them so much that I want them to grow up in a world where polar bears and bighorn sheep still exist in the wild, where trees still outnumber billboards, where monarch butterflies still make the trek from the Northeastern U.S. and Canada to Mexico and have milkweed to lay their eggs upon at one end, and oyamel fir trees to rest on at the other. 

In the United States, each new child born will obliterate the equivalent of 22 acres of potential wildlife habitat and will add 9,441 metric tons of CO2 emissions to our atmosphere. As our population goes through the roof, those of other species are in steep decline: at present, an average of three species goes extinct per hour

It is impossible to discuss human population growth without being told that Western levels of consumption are the real problem. And of course, in developing countries, each additional human has a much lesser impact on resource depletion, energy use, and global concerns like climate change

But while our levels of consumption in the West are clearly unsustainable, who among us would willingly commit to levels like those of an African villager, whose global environmental impact is about 1/20th that of the average American? If we are willing to address only the consumption side of the equation, we commit humans the world over to living in abject poverty--for the simple reason that we live on a finite planet. For each new human born, the rest of us must make do with an ever-dwindling slice of the pie.

It is estimated that if we do, as predicted, reach 9 billion people by the year 2050, we will need six planets to support all of us at U.S. levels of consumption. Even if the current gross inequality of global consumption levels persists--with the vast majority of the world living in poverty--we'll need at least two planets to support our numbers by 2030. 

So yes, consumption matters--but in total, it is always and inevitably a product of total population. 

On local and regional levels, the environmental impacts of population growth in the developing world are devastating. In Central America, growing populations survive by clearing forest for livestock and subsistence agriculture on land of ever-diminishing productivity. In sub-Saharan Africa, as well as parts of Asia and South America, rapid population growth has fueled a burgeoning bushmeat trade and the decimation of populations of primates, wild cats, foxes, turtles, and other rare and endangered animals. In developing regions the world over, growing populations place a strain on the quality and quantity of drinking water, on the availability of land for agriculture and wildlife habitat, and on the availability of the mental and spiritual space necessary for creativity and well-being to flourish in humans and other creatures.

In the current climate, the domestic economic reasons for supporting family planning may be the most compelling. As they eliminate funding for Title X, House Republicans should be informed that every dollar spent today on family planning saves four dollars next year (you can let them know at Population Connection's website). On an international scale, the argument is equally compelling: to provide family planning to the 215 million women in developing countries who want to avoid a pregnancy would cost less than $4 billion a year

And surely among the simplest and most obvious reasons for prioritizing human population growth as a policy concern are the humanitarian ones. 

Twenty percent of the projected growth in human population until the year 2050 is attributable to unmet need--that is, to babies born unplanned and unwanted to women and families who lack access to birth control. Addressing this low-hanging fruit should be an utmost international development priority simply for humanitarian reasons; the environmental benefits will be an enormous helping of icing on this cake of improved human well-being. 

So today, go out, have fun, dress up your dogs and your kids, and enjoy the beauty that still remains in this world. 

And let's do everything possible to ensure that this world remains beautiful for the kiddies and puppies, the butterflies and bears, by not adding any more kiddies (or puppies) than we have to. 


  1. Sigh...this is why I like the Chinese method of limiting one kid per household.

  2. Hi Kirsten, my mom and dad have us. Four furry dog kids. They prefer doggy kids over human kids.

  3. Love this post! Great information, well written & highlights an environmental issue most people don't want to talk about. We're doing our part by not having kids. :)

  4. Thank you so much for this much-needed post. The state of the planet today is so scary. It's so poetic that 7 Billion Day fell on Halloween.

  5. Yes, that is pretty darn scary, but I hope it all works out peacefully!

  6. One of the things that troubles me the most is that my pets have to have such a high impact diet (meat!). I am vegetarian, and am very conscious about environmentally friendly products, and reuse and recycle where I can. But, my dogs still eat meat and I feel it undoes all my good work. The only option seems to be giving up dogs, but I'm not planning to do that anytime soon.

  7. It's very hard to convince people whose religious or cultural beliefs dictate more children. Laws alone won't help. It takes a concerted effort to approach the topic in a non-confrontational manner. How we spread the message is just as important as what we spread.

  8. Sam, your family has a good strategy. I can't imagine anything so rewarding as having four wonderful, loving, wagging, furry kids.

    Sarah, you are indeed doing your part! Fortunately, doing my part comes easily as I have never had the least desire for kids myself...the dogs take enough energy!

    Tegan, thank you for articulating this difficult aspect of dog companionship. I feel the same way, but then I think that if I didn't have my dogs, they would most likely be dead too. Or if they'd been lucky, then someone else would be feeding them meat-based food. As long as you're not breeding dogs, you're not adding to the net quantity of meat that has to be produced to go into dog food.

    Two other things to consider: dogs, unlike cats, can be healthy on vegetarian diets and there are several kibble formulas that are vegetarian. Add some free-range eggs or cheese, and the dogs have a tasty vegetarian meal. Secondly, have you considered dumpster diving for dog food? Pet stores throw away huge amounts of perfectly good food when the bag has been slightly damaged. Another way not to contribute to a system that profits from animal suffering.

    Rumpydog, you hit the nail on the head. One of my missions in this lifetime is to figure out how to broach controversial topics--overpopulation, environmental conservation, vegetarianism, breeding dogs, training dogs--in ways that enlighten, rather than alienate. This I believe is a defining challenge for conservationists in our time--since we have so little time, we need to figure out how to make people think differently fast. If you have any ideas, please share them.

  9. I like dog people. it's way more likely that they'll have dogs than have children. :) I took an environmental ethics class last year and we talked about this subject a lot. I think it's important to note that western influence is very high for the rest of the world. we set an example of overconsumption, waste, carelessness and ignorance for the rest of the world -- and we are a very rich (in terms of power) country in spite of that. who wouldn't want to mimic that? imagine a world where western morals about the environment were everywhere... yes, I'm definitely scared.

  10. I married into a family that focuses a lot on adoption. Of my husband's eight siblings, six are adopted, more because they were foster kids who never left and nobody else seemed to want them than anything else. I think until we get serious about telling people to be responsible parents BEFORE their children are conceived that we'll always have this problem. Political correctness has silenced a lot of people who really should have a voice. There was a time when people could say "If you can't afford to have another kid, don't have one" but now people are up in arms about their own personal rights than the rights of the rest of us not to support them.

  11. Thanks for stopping by my blog today!
    Have a good day!

  12. Wow,

    Three species go extinct per hour?! That's so sad! :(

    Your pal Snoopy :)

  13. A very thought-provoking post. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and how I want to take steps to reduce my impact on the planet.

  14. This is very interesting and yet scary information. There is a lot of people for our "little" planet! Our mommy and daddy just has us three furkids!

  15. We all tend to think it won't happen or it won't affect us. It's like car accidents and cancer. That happens to other people. We seem determined to carry on down a path of self destruction and to be brutally honest, I can't see that changing. The bad stuff is happening at a greater speed than the good stuff:( I wish I knew what could be done to improve things. I guess by all doing our bit to be 'green' helps?

  16. I was watching a show about the cheetah last night. 10,000 left. 10,000 cheetahs versus 7 billion people. Its insane. I'm not sure what the answer is.

    FYI - You might want to pick a different comment format. It does not allow for google accts to log in... we have to do it anonymously. Switch to anything but "embedded below post".

    Never Say Never Greyhounds

  17. Ximena, that's very cool you took a course that addressed this issue. My Conservation Biology graduate program avoided it, and my colleagues were unwilling to address it at all. What you say about us being a model for the world is very insightful....and scary!

    Houndstooth, that's so cool you're around all those adopted people. My adorable niece is adopted too, and she brings the whole family so much joy. And you're so right about the taboo against talking about population and reproduction at all--it's something we're just not allowed to question.

    Greyhounds, I don't feel very positive about our global trajectory either. It's part of the reason I am so involved in dog rescue--at least that's one form of activism with very tangible positive results!

    Never Say Never, the cheetah situation is very sad--the large cats all over are really being hit hard. Florida panthers are down to about a hundred animals.

    Strange about the comments...I believe I have others with google accounts successfully logging in and commenting as themselves--maybe try again? Thanks for the feedback.

  18. AWESOME post! Are you running for office? We'll vote for you!

    The Road Dogs

  19. The decimation on the planet and resources is staggering, unfortunately most people only think of themselves. I hope we do find a resolution.


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