Connecting Population Growth and Biodiversity Decline

It took humans around 200,000 years to reach a global population of one billion. But, in two hundred years we’ve septupled that. In fact, over the last 40 years we’ve added an extra billion approximately every dozen years. And the United Nations predicts we’ll add another four billion—for a total of 11 billion—by century’s end. Despite this few scientists, policymakers, or even environmentalists are willing to publicly connect incredible population growth to worsening climate change, biodiversity loss, resource scarcity, or the global environmental crisis in general.

“We are already to a point where our population size is unsustainable,” Jeffrey McKee with the Ohio State University told “In other words, we are already beyond the point of the biological concept of ‘carrying capacity.’ Millions of people go hungry every day, and an unfathomable number don’t even have access to clean drinking water. A world of 11 billion people would be regrettable to humans as well as to other species.”
McKee has recently studied the intersection between human population and biodiversity decline, finding a direct correlation between the rate of population growth and the number of endangered species in a country.
Meanwhile another researcher, geographer Camila Mora with the University of Hawaii, recently argued in a paper in Ecology and Society that overpopulation was exacerbating global warming, the biodiversity crisis, as well as creating large-scale economic and societal problems.
But if our population is already beyond sustainable, why has the subject become almost taboo? And not just in political circles, but even in environmental circles?
“There are multiple reasons including historical flip-flops about [overpopulation’s] importance,” Mora told “However, the fact that were are not interested in talking about it it does not make less critical.”
For decades scientists have been warning that the world may well be entering a period of mass extinction with untold consequences for human societies and the natural world. While the drivers of global biodiversity decline are many and complicated—including habitat destruction, deforestation, overexploitation of species, climate change, and ocean acidification—they are also underpinned by one simple fact: the human population continues to boom.
“It is simple math,” Mora told “We live in a world with limited resources and space. The more we use and take the less other species have. Today some 20,000 species may be driven to extinctions due to habitat loss alone.”
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