This heaving planet
Published 27 April 2011/New Statesman
Half a century ago, the WWF was formed to help save endangered animals. Today, it’s human beings who are increasingly at risk, through overpopulation and food scarcity. Can we bring our birth rate under control and avert potential catastrophe? .... <cont>
.... Yet now, in spite of a great number of individual successes, the problem seems bigger than ever. True, thanks to the vigour and wisdom of conservationists, no major charismatic species has yet disappeared. Many are still trembling on the brink, but they are still hanging on. Today, however, overall there are more problems not fewer, more species at risk of extinction than ever before. Why?
Fifty years ago, when the WWF was founded, there were about three billion people on earth. Now there are almost seven billion - over twice as many - every one of them needing space. Space for their homes, space to grow their food (or to get others to grow it for them), space to build schools, roads and airfields. Where could that come from? A little might be taken from land occupied by other people but most of it could only come from the land which, for millions of years, animals and plants had had to themselves - the natural world.
But the impact of these extra billions of people has spread even beyond the space they physically claimed. The spread of industrialisation has changed the chemical constituents of the atmosphere. The oceans that cover most of the surface of the planet have been polluted and increasingly acidified. The earth is warming. We now realise that the disasters that continue increasingly to afflict the natural world have one element that connects them all - the unprecedented increase in the number of human beings on the planet. ......