Saving threatened habitats worldwide

The real costs of increasing the human population

12 April, 2011 - 09:45 -- John Burton

This week's Radio Times has a front cover Feature on Chris Packham, one of the best know wildlife presenters on TV. Chris is not only a great wildlife presenter, he is also prepared to speak out on controversial issues, particularly human population growth as THE main threat to wildlife. Do read the feature about Chris and his attitudes, it gives grounds for some hope for the future.

"There's no point bleating about the future of pandas, polar bears and tigers when we're not addressing the one single factor that's putting more pressure on the ecosystem than any other - namely the ever-increasing size of the world's population."

Conservationists have long been aware that the biggest single threat to wildlife and the natural environment is the burgeoning human population. But while conservationists such as the World Land Trust try to save what little is left of the world's wild places, others seem equally intent on ensuring that the human population continues to grow, and not only that, but they are intent on ensuring that the most consumerist of societies continue to grow.

The Human Population in Britain: A few facts and figures

  • 11 million couples in Europe are reckoned to be infertile, and in Britain some 3.5 million are said to have fertility 'problems'.
  • Infertility is perhaps one of the more benign ways that nature deals with overpopulation -- far more benign than  famine, war and disease.
  • Over 50,000 IVF cycles a year are performed in Britain alone (with around 30% success rates).
  • And the 'value' of the fertility industry is estimated at around £550 million.

How much of this is paid for by the National Health Service I have no idea, but no doubt there is a significant contribution. Is it not time that politicians considered seriously the implications of not just allowing, but actively encouraging,  uncontrolled human population growth in a tiny country like Britain? At present it is still actively encouraged with subsidies for children, and meanwhile, more and more agricultural land goes under concrete for roads and housing,  and in turn, agriculture squeezes what is left of natural and semi-natural landscapes.

Overpopulation: Someone Else's Problem

The problem is that politicians are only responsible for the next four or five years, and the problem of overpopulation will always be someone else's problem. Confronting issues such as funding for IVF and Child Allowances is always in the here and now, and will always be worth a few votes. However, politicians should note the sudden rises in commodity prices.  Food security is certainly going to become an important issue in the next few years, and if we don't want to see what little is left of natural England destroyed, what is left of the rainforests being destroyed, (now being bought by Chinese investors), then doing something about the human population must move up the agenda. And the £550 million being spent on IVF could save well over 5 million acres of rainforest.

The WLT has never been a campaigning organisation, we are doing what we are good at: helping our partners acquire land. But land prices are going up, and will continue to do so while the population not only grows, but also demands more and more economic growth. This is where you, the readers of this blog come in. Not only can you help by funding land purchase, you can think about the implications of the burgeoning human population. Suggestions as to what you do about it are  welcome. Meanwhile, do read about Chris Packham in this weeks Radio Times, or read this Press Association Article.


Submitted by Chris on

Nice to see someone with a high profile finally talking about this issue (although, to be fair, I have also heard David Attenborough, Jane Goodall & Prince Philip address it).

Sadly, I don’t think it is an issue any leading politician would touch, for the reasons you mentioned, and just for the reaction they are likely to get from people who seem to think it is their God-given right to have as many children as possible, and seem to think that anyone who even raises the issue is some sort of closet nazi or eugenicist, who hates humans and wants them all to die. For an example, check out this article from the Telegraph:

I also think one of the biggest issues, perhaps THE biggest, in terms of the UK population is immigration, and addressing anything to do with that issue is notoriously difficult.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

I wonder if the extremes of sensitivity that the mere mention of over-population raises ( and there’s no real question, there are too many humans alive now for ecological health – imagine if our numbers were embodied in another large mammal, bears for instance, would anyone qibble that six billion bears were too many? ) touch upon our most cherished assumptions, or rather presumptions.

Namely that if we agree that there are too many of us, the assumption of human superiority is undermined. Maybe then we don’t have God-given rights to do whatever comes into our minds, maybe we’re an ape that just got lucky and has yet to be sifted and winnowed by viral epidemics?

What does that kind of assessment do to the religious doctrine of humans being the apple of God’s eye? Eek – back to the drawing board!

Submitted by Robert Burton on

Back in the 1960s, a group of eminent scientists wrote to PM Harold Wilson asking what his government was going to do about the rising population of the nation. In the long answer there was the nugget that a rising population was good for productivity. This reminded me of “Is Man made for the Sabbath or the Sabbath made for Man?”
We now have Matt Ridley in the Times telling us that there isn’t a problem: birth rates are dropping world-wide. True, I believe, but by not enough and too late. Also farmers productivity can be increased with fertilisers and tractors. Wasn’t that tried in the ‘Green Revolution’ a few decades ago? And he didn’t mention water supplies. I have just read that the Chinese have dusted off a plan to divert Himalayan rivers from India to China. That’ll enliven international politics!

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