Earth Day 2016 is upon us. As I have noted before, I participated in the very first Earth Day back in 1970, and 46 years later the earth is still here, but it's not in as good a shape as it was back then. In 1970 the world's population was 3.7 billion, exactly half the 7.4 billion alive now in 2016. But the earth does not have twice as many resources, and we are exploiting the resources that do exist at a much faster pace than we were doing back then. In the United States, the population in 1970 was 209 billion. Now it is 324 million--1.5 times larger. In 1970 the average American was living on $21,000 per year in constant dollars. Today it is $46,000 dollars. Yes, of course, there is more inequality in the U.S. and elsewhere than there used to be, but the planet doesn't care about inequality--it has to absorb the total load. Globally we have twice as many people as in 1970 living at a higher level of living than at any time in world history. This is great news! But it is only great news if it could be sustained, and there is simply no evidence--only blind hope--that it can be sustained.
Keep that thought in mind next time you hear people saying that the birth rate needs to rise in Europe and North America in order to maintain economic growth. That is a recipe for a disaster that will arrive sooner, rather than later. We need at best no more people, not more, if human society is to stick around. The planet will still be here when we use up the resources we need for sustained human existence, but we won't be around to know it.
On a happier note, I and many others will spend the afternoon of Earth Day celebrating San Diego State University's newest Distinguished Professor--my good friend and collaborator, Dr. Douglas Stow, Distinguished Professor of Geography. He will be receiving that award and giving a University-wide lecture on campus here at SDSU on "Sensing the Environment from Above Over Time : How We Monitor, Study and Manage Geography Phenomena and Processes." It starts at 3PM in Hardy Tower 14o, if you are in the area.
This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.
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