April 22nd marks the 46th anniversary of the first Earth Day. While we have made some progress in protecting our environment, the 7.3 billion inhabitants of our planet teeter on the brink of global devastation secondary to climate change largely caused by humans.
The majority of scientists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have confirmed the role of global warming on extreme weather, desertification, drought, habitat destruction and species extinction. The World Health Organization has also labeled climate change as the greatest global health threat of the 21st century. By 2030, infectious diseases, heat stress and malnutrition caused by climate change are expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year.
On December 12, 2015, in Paris, 187 countries which contribute approximately 99% of the destructive emissions causing global warming, committed to reducing carbon pollution. While this historic agreement won’t solve this crisis, it offers a path towards stabilizing the earth’s climate. Two thirds of Americans support the International Climate Agreement, according to a December 2015 New York Times poll.
Yet, many complain that the Paris Climate Agreement is far too modest to produce significant change in time to avert the predicted devastating changes to our planet. I would also add that the Paris Agreement failed to address the overwhelming impact of overpopulation as the source of the majority of our planet’s environmental degradation.
The struggle over precious natural resources, such as water and arable land will only intensify as glaciers melt and vast swaths of land revert to desert as a result of global warming. Political unrest is stoked by the poverty and starvation that will continue to spread around the globe. Yet, the Paris Agreement and most environmental organizations as well as our governments avoid all but the most fleeting mention of overpopulation and its relationship to global warming, habitat loss and species extinction. Often the mere mention of population issues invites vitriolic accusations of being anti-child, which misses the deep concern for all inhabitants of our planet both human as well as other species which enrich our lives.
With unchecked expansion of the human population, we are indeed living through the “Sixth Extinction” as noted in Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2014 book about the negative impact of humans upon the planet. Since the arrival of humans on earth, species extinction is about 1,000 times the rate compared to pre-human times.
It is time to begin an ongoing dialogue that includes reducing the planet’s population as a solution central to the myriad other efforts to manage climate change and save our planet. We need to work together to introduce frank discussions about overpopulation with our children, educators, religious leaders, environmental groups as well as our government officials. We should have the foresight and courage to include the issue of overpopulation in our everyday discourse. Emission controls and recycling alone will not salvage planet earth.