Life … Is It Sustainable?

One of my favorite songs is Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” I often marvel at what we call life. How fortunate we are to have been able to participate! Then I wonder… How much longer will life as we know it continue on this planet?

Carrying Capacity of Earth

Some scientists believe that the “carrying capacity” of Earth is no more than two or three billion people. We are rapidly approaching seven billion. Each day that goes by sees an additional quarter million humans living on the planet.

Taking one African nation as an example: the United Nations expects Niger’s population of 16 million to explode to 200 million plus by 2100. Humanity should be able to solve the population problem. Eighty nations of the world are now at or below replacement rate fertility. But that still leaves about 140 other countries with expanding birth rates.

Will The Population Stabilize?

Some experts say that providing access to modern contraception for all of the women of the world who want it could be accomplished for roughly $4 billion a year. We spend that on our military every couple of days. Some religions are obstacles to population stabilization. You know who they are. Scientists tell us that there have been five mass extinctions in the history of the world and that we are in the beginnings of the sixth. Previous ones have been caused by natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or collisions with other heavenly bodies. This will be the first caused by humans.

Some studies indicate that up to half of the present species may become extinct by the year 2100. Current extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times the pre-human levels. We have just recorded the warmest month on record. Of course, global warming by itself isn’t likely to end life for humans on the planet. A nuclear war between the United States and Russia could do just that in a matter of hours or days. A pandemic caused by super-germs or viruses that are immune to all of our current medicines could wipe out humanity in a few weeks, and there are various other scenarios that could lead to the same end. (Armageddon, I suppose if you are a believer in the Bible as gospel truth.)

Most of us here in Rossmoor don’t have many more years to live, so you can say: Why worry? We’ve had our good times. On the other hand, many of us would like to see our grandchildren and great grandchildren enjoy a good life also. It is easy to be apathetic and fatalistic and question whether anything we do can make a difference.

I for one will be trying to follow the advice of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead when she said, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

Even if things do continue to get worse, at least you will know you did what you could make a better ending.

Positive Actionable Steps

Suggestions: Support environmental organizations like 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Sustainable Rossmoor. Give a few bucks to International Planned Parenthood or some other group working to control population. Reduce your carbon footprint (turn down the thermostat, walk, bike or use public transport, eat food grown locally, etc.).

Enjoy the Earth while it is still livable.

This article first appeared in the October 12, 2016 issue of the Rossmoor News, author Bob Hanson

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