There is a growing feeling that human population growth is having a very bad effect on animals. Although you have to differentiate between domestic and wild animals. The UK’s favourite broadcaster, said David Attenborough, is an advocate for stabilising the planet’s human population.
[We should] stabilise the human population as low as we fairly can [to save the planet] – Attenborough.
He also made that famous statement about humans being “a plague on the Earth”. He was thinking or saving the natural world which includes wild animals. Many people think that the Covid-19 pandemic is a blessing for the planet, a welcome development and nature’s way of making a statement about human population growth. It should be reduced, nature is saying.
The question really is: does human population growth have a negative impact upon wild animals? You can work the answer out, I believe, by taking the argument to an ad absurdum position. In other words you take it forward to a crazy situation where human population is so large that the entirety of the planet is needed to house people and all farming takes place in high-rise buildings under scientifically contrived conditions. A future nightmare for some people but it could be envisaged. Under this scenario they would be little space left on the planet for any wild animals. Almost all would have been extinguished except for those in zoos. A plastic, metal and concrete world of regular shapes and straight lines devoid of animals but chock-a-block with humans. Therefore the conclusion must be that the effect of human population growth of wild animals is a negative one.
We can see the effects already. Forests are being destroyed all over the planet to make way for soybean, palm oil and other plantations to feed the planet. Or for livestock or to build settlements to house people. The mining of land is also a destroyer of forests and the landscape. The natural world gets in the way of human population growth which demands more commerce and industry. And it is nature which supports the world’s wild animals. Of course nature also supports humans, which is why people see a madness in consistent human population growth. And the concept of relentless commercial growth is in doubt because that, too, ultimately leads to the destruction of the planet and therefore the animals who live on it.
As to domestic animals, their lives, too, would be lessened in terms of amenity and enjoyment because referring to the ad absurdum scenario above, the whole world would be urbanised leading to all domestic cats being kept indoors. Of course, there’d be no wildlife for domestic cats to prey on which would resolve a long-standing problem! It seems to me, too, that an increasingly urbanised environment would also be a negative for dogs because they enjoy outside spaces and there would have to be less of them. Of course we shouldn’t get to this ad absurdum scenario but it makes the point.
Dominic Lawson of The Times newspaper has done some research for his article in The Sunday Times of June 28 about human population growth. He disagrees with Sir David Attenborough and criticises his statement about humans being a plague on the Earth as “abysmally reductive”. He says that the key to human population growth is that, “as countries grow richer, more urbanised and better educated, family size decreases. It is an iron rule of development and will apply to Africa as it did to Europe”.
Africa has the world’s quickest growing human population which ironically is destroying the magnificent wildlife on that glorious continent. However, Lawson says that in due course, once Africa becomes a fully developed country, the human population size will shrink. We don’t know when that will be. It may be in hundreds of years time at which point there would have been a massive destruction of nature and wildlife.
Lawson also says that peak human population growth was in 1968. He claims that it has slowed “inexorably since”. He further claims that well before the end of the century the number of humans on the planet will be on a path of absolute decline. Nothing to worry about then!
The question in the title can almost be ignored because there won’t be a continuing human population growth into the long distant future. It depends, though, how much damage it does in the interim to animals on this precious planet of ours.
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