The transition towards a sustainable humanity – A look at our numbers

18 Jan

The history of man has always been choppy. More have died of violence, disaster and pestilence than of old age. For most of the roughly one million years that Homo Sapiens is in existence, their numbers were in the tens of thousands. At one point our numbers may have been reduced to just a couple of thousand because of freezing conditions after a large volcanic eruption in Sumatra. We could have been wiped out, like the Neanderthalers and the Cro Magnons. But the early days when we were chasing lions off on the African savannahs with sticks on fire, are long gone. The transition from small, isolated, tribal hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies has been completed, though small pockets of resistance still remain. The transition from agricultural societies to a global urban society is in full swing. In 2007 we crossed the boundary and more than half of humanity lives in cities now. The increase of our numbers has been very, very impressive indeed. At the onset of agriculture around 12000 years ago, our numbers were around 5 million. When the Roman empire was at its pinnacle, we numbered 150 million. When the Black Death was scourging Europe, our numbers were around 350 million. At around the time of the French Revolution we reached our first billion. It was also the time when the Industrial Revolution set in and human labour was replaced by coal stoked machines, multiplying our energies to build things. Scientific inventions, increased food production, remedies against diseases all helped to prolong our lives and while it took us a million years to reach one billion people, the next billion took only one hunderd years, the next 50 years and now, at 7.3 billion we are adding 80 million per year or around 220.000 people a day. Population projections of the UN have scenario’s up to 16 billion by the end of this century, while our planet has not increased in size one inch. If unchecked our numbers could reach one trillion in just 450 years. It is completely obvious to anybody that that is not going to happen. In fact our current numbers are already having such an impact on our planet’s life support systems, there is every reason to believe humanity is entering an age of enormous turmoil because of the damage to these support systems. In many ways the growth of the human population has all the features of a tumor, a growth that is threatening all other life on Earth as well as its own. So our growth has to stop, will stop and, in my humble opinion our numbes need to come down a lot, possibly as low as 1 to 1.5 billion people to allow for human life and that of our fellow species to be in balance with nature, with the carrying capacity of our planet. This blog is about that transition towards a sustainable humanity and how we get to there from here.

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