Panel discusses history, problems of population growth

Joanna Allerhand

With more than six billion people and counting, how much more can mother earth withstand?

“The problem is restraining environmental impacts,” geography Prof. John Hudson said during a panel discussion on global population held by the Students for Ecological and Environmental Development.

Hudson shared the panel with John Seager, president of Population Connection, a grassroots activist group advocating a stable world population at sustainable levels.

In the 1960s concerns arose that the “world would be a solid ball of human flesh,” Hudson said. “The population estimate was made at the peak of population growth in the world” and the population seemed to be growing without bounds.

Today the numbers are no longer rising at the same rates as in the 1960s, shifting the debate.

“One of the things people didn’t anticipate is that people would control their population,” Hudson said. “That the United Nations warned in the 1950s of dangers of population is credited with countries controlling their population.”

China instituted a one-child per family policy. India was a “basketcase” in the 1960s, Hudson said, but now has its population under control. Europe currently is seeing a natural population decline.

The debate now is moving away from the possibility of a population explosion and instead projects a future where the number of people on the planet will reach a maximum.

As fears of a possible population explosion subside, questions concerning sustainable resource consumption dominate the debate. The problems of global poverty and climate change are now the center of attention.

“If everybody had our standard of living, the planet could support four billion,” Seager said, which is two billion fewer than the current population size. “The question is, how do we want to live and how do we want others to live.”

Nearly 99 percent of population growth is in developing countries. As the standard of living rises in developing countries, more people are consuming at higher levels. High levels of consumption place strains on natural resources and increase pollution that many believe causes global warming.

“It’s clear that population is linked with global and scientific issues that we have,” Weinberg junior Andy Melka said. “I think there’s still too much debate among experts to distinguish what needs to be done.”

Reach Joanna Allerhand at [email protected].