Currently, there are 7.4 billion people on Earth. By 2100 there could be 12.3 billion humans.

That’s not just an extra 5 billion people in today’s terms. As the global middle class grows, people demand more meat, more clothing, more cars, more air conditioning, and more. All of this limits how much the Earth can create annually.

Already, humans take out more resources each year than the Earth can credibly replenish. It’s putting a strain on everything from fish populations to grape fields and it’s pushing the world into what scientists are calling the 6th extinction.

So can anything be done to address this?

Well, a once-trendy (if controversial) idea is being dusted off as a solution. To combat the frightening rise in consumption, many conservationists are calling for population control.

If population growth slows, the argument goes, then we can solve existing problems, rather than face even worse problems.

Theoretically, this wouldn’t be hard to accomplish.

The first step would be providing universal and always-available contraceptives to people, especially women.

Right now, 800 million women who want contraceptives cannot get them. In developing countries, the rate of women deprived of contraceptives can be as high as 60%.

If access to contraceptives is provided to developing nations, the effect would be tremendous. From 2011 to 2012, the developing world accounted for 97% of global population growth. The developing world is also experiencing the sharpest increase in consumption patterns.

Of course, you can’t simply airdrop supplies. There has to be a coordinated educational effort and support system that teaches the usefulness of birth control and challenges cultural norms that stand in the way to adoption.  

Image: RAHU

To accomplish this, it will take an estimated $8.1 billion annually, a bargain when you consider it could keep the global population from growing a few billion in size. As a comparison, it will cost nearly $30 trillion for the world to fully switch to renewable energy, according to one estimate.

The next, longer-term step involves broader female education and empowerment.

According to Niki Rust and Laura Kehoe for Quartz, “By simply providing better female education, the overall population in 2050 could be 1 billion less than current projections.”

This makes sense when you think about it.

When a girl receives a full education, she is more likely to delay marriage, invest in her career and appreciate the value of independence. She is also more likely to understand the importance of birth control and how to navigate the barriers that prevent her from obtaining it.

Underlying all of this is not a desire to suppress family size. Instead, it’s a belief that environments around the world can be best conserved through population control.

By suspending the amount of resources that people need, the strain put on the Earth can stay flat and other solutions —like reforestation and renewable energy technologies —can be more effective as a result.

There are critics who say the benefits of population control can only be realized many, many generations down the line. They argue that the momentum of growth has become too steep for birth controls to have immediate effects, and by the point they do make a difference, it will be too late.

Image: Pixabay: rosinakaiser

Also, population may not even be the main driver of consumption. Rising affluence could be the chief culprit, something that will increase with or without checks on population.

In this case, cities that are more efficiently designed, a shift toward plant-based diets and ending fossil fuel dependence should be the primary goals.

Regardless, it seems clear that population control has to be a part of any global plan to combat environmental degradation and climate change.

There’s only so much space on this planet, and humans are not the only creatures that have a rightful claim to some of that space.


Defeat Poverty

Why birth control could be the best weapon against climate change

By Joe McCarthy