Humanity: A Plague on This Earth?

 In Environment

By Ian Nemelka

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

In a 2013 Radio Times interview, famed conservationist and documentary narrator Sir. David Attenborough said “We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so… It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde.”1 Indeed, the human population has increased by nearly 2 billion since 1999 for a total population of 7.7 billion. That number will most likely reach 9 billion sometime before 2070.2

“Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now,” he added.3 Attenborough’s most recent project, a Netflix special called Our Planet, makes several of these same bold points. The docuseries utilizes graphic scenes of animal desperation and seems to have been created solely to ensure that each person who watches feels guilty for merely existing. The fear of a so-called “population bomb” contributing to the decay of the natural world has long been a call-to-arms for the environmentally conscious.

Like it or not, humans are part of the environment, and have been making an impact on the “natural world” since prehistory. Increasing growth and urbanization across the globe “means even the remotest places now bear the fingerprints of humanity.”4 Disturbance and change are the only ecosystem constants. Implementing a let-nature-take-its-course approach to restore this perceived balance is an outdated approach to ecology.5

Whatever state nature would “return to” after humans are gone (or reduced) would be dramatically different from the one which would emerge if humans never existed in the first place. So is the earth doomed? No. Instead of artificially limiting humanity’s impact to delay the seemingly inevitable, the power of human prosperity will be utilized to make the world even better for plants, animals, and people.

The phenomenon of spontaneous population management is already happening in developed and developing countries across the globe, and it is directly linked to economic prosperity. Contrary to what many population bomb theorists might be espousing, the world population is no longer growing exponentially“for decades now, growth has been more similar to a linear trend.”6 Historically, fertility rates drop as countries develop because of increased access to modern amenities like low-cost birth control, medical care, and education. The decreased adherence to religious traditions and cultural trends also has a large role to play in these steadily dropping rates.7 Higher levels of prosperity have led to a “natural” control of the population without major interference.

As humans continue to prosper, they also become more environmentally conscious. It wasn’t until after the United States had industrialized that large environmental movements began to take shape and people, like Teddy Roosevelt, emerged as champions of the natural world. Because of the level of prosperity Americans had achieved, the goal was no longer survival against the elements, it was the preservation of those elements. It is much easier for an individual to care for the environment when that individual’s family is fed and there is a roof over their head.

Credit: Our World In Data

Technological innovations in agriculture and industry have resulted in more environmentally beneficial practices than any law limiting the human population could ever provide.8 For example, if all farmers could reach the productivity of an average U.S. farmer, the world could return a land mass the size of India back to nature.9 It is true that more people are being born every day, but more people are also being clothed, fed, and educated than ever before. This cycle results in a greater number of these people seeing the environment as something to be worked with, not fought against.

Artificially limiting the human population will not save the earth. It will only delay the supposed inevitable decay of our biosphere. Even if half of all humans disappeared overnight, it would only take 40 years to get back to the population level we are at today, and in the process, the world would have been robbed of people who may have discovered the next earth-saving technology. Only by embracing the pursuit of prosperity, as has been proven throughout history, will humanity be able to “save” themselves and nature. The only way out is through. We are not a plague, but a part of the environment with an intimidating potential for destruction but also a great capacity for creation.

Notes


  1. “David Attenborough: “Humans are a plague on the Earth” – Radio Times.” Accessed May 17, 2019. https://www.radiotimes.com/news/2013-01-22/david-attenborough-humans-are-a-plague-on-the-earth/

  2. “World Population Growth – Our World in Data.” Accessed May 17, 2019. https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth

  3. “David Attenborough: “Humans are a plague on the Earth” – Radio Times.” Accessed May 17, 2019. https://www.radiotimes.com/news/2013-01-22/david-attenborough-humans-are-a-plague-on-the-earth/

  4. Marris, Emma. 2011. Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. New York: Bloomsbury USA. 

  5. Simmons, Randy. 2016. Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. The Environment. Independent Institute. California: Oakland USA. 

  6. “World Population Growth – Our World in Data.” Accessed May 17, 2019. https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth

  7. Zhang, Junsen (1 February 2017). “The Evolution of China’s One-Child Policy and Its Effects on Family Outcomes”. Journal of Economic Perspectives. 31 (1): 141–160. doi:10.1257/jep.31.1.141. ISSN 0895-3309. 

  8. “Exclusive Beware the Anti-Humanism of the … – HumanProgress.” Accessed May 17, 2019. https://humanprogress.org/article.php?p=1884

  9. “Exclusive Seven Ways in Which Human Ingenuity … – HumanProgress.” Accessed May 17, 2019. https://humanprogress.org/article.php?p=420