Oh no – the world now has 8 billion people devouring its natural resources!
Ten years ago there were only 7 billion people. The planet is flooded! We can’t feed all those new mouths! We are doomed!
Not so fast. A simple calculation puts an apparent disaster into perspective.
What if all 8 billion people were invited to one location in the world for a “population conference?” Suppose at this conference we give each person their own individual 20 feet by 20 feet space to celebrate and enjoy all 8 billion people With each person occupying their own 400 square feet (a nice big room), how much total area would be necessary to comfortably house the world’s population?
A little simple math shows that an area the size of New Mexico would suffice.
But what about feeding and supporting all those people? Well, there has been enough food to keep up with the entire world’s population for at least the last 100 years, along with an abundance of raw materials and energy resources. So why are so many starving and a billion living without reliable electricity?
The impediments to a comfortable life for all probably arise from interrelated factors, ranging from excessive population density in topographically and climatically unfavorable areas to personal decisions that are wasteful and harmful to the planet and its fellow inhabitants.
At the top of the list of what keeps people in misery may well be a ruling class at odds with the needs of the population it supposedly serves. Besides tyrants who deliberately neglect unfavorable segments of their population, there are elite politicians who have little interest in alleviating hardship. Ineffective programs such as the long-running “war on poverty” become mere empty slogans in their hands. Politics often trumps all and compassion goes by the wayside. The poor are confined to eternal misery.
In 1968, Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich predicted in his book The population bomb that the world population was unsustainable at the current rate of growth. The population in the late 1960s was about 3.6 billion people. Dr. Ehrlich expected that the ever-increasing number of people would lead to the collapse of economic and social systems within a decade or two.
Fortunately, the global collapse has been averted thanks to technological improvements, energy exploration and production, and revolutions in agriculture. In fact, grinding global poverty has been significantly reduced since Ehrlich’s prediction. This success can continue if world leaders see their constituents not as the great unwashed, but rather as precious souls deserving of dignity, respect and compassion.
The goal should be to raise everyone’s standard of full, comfortable living by making wise use of the resources available to everyone. As the old saying goes, “a rising tide raises all ships.”
This can be achieved not only in the US but worldwide. All 8 billion people deserve dignity, respect and compassion in the form of good nutrition and clean, reliable, abundant and cheap energy.
Anthony J. Sadar is an adjunct associate professor at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA, and co-author of Environmental Risk Communication: Principles and Practices for Industry (CRC Press, 2021).