Sir David Attenborough was quoted last year as saying that if things carry on the way they are at the moment the human race is doomed: “We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so.”
He is undoubtedly right in describing the human race as a plague. The dictionary definition of a plague is ‘an unusually large number of insects or animals infesting a place and causing damage’.
In every possible aspect we fit into that criteria. The population explosion of the last thousand years has seen the number of humans on the planet rise from 200 million to 7.7 billion. Our species is draining the planet of its natural resources, driving millions of other species to extinction and taking up more and more space with every day that passes.
The effect of mass human civilization had irrevocably altered the planet’s climate and many different delicate eco-systems. Who really knows what effect this climate change will have on the planet? If Sir David is to be believed then the planet will have its retribution within our life times.
This terrifying thought is almost impossible to comprehend. The idea that everything we know and love will be gone in as little as fifty years is staggering. I sincerely hope that this situation does not come to pass but regardless it is my firm belief that the human race can’t continue the way it is for much longer.
There are far too many issues to explore in one short article so let us discuss, as briefly as possible, the validity of Sir David’s claim. Evolutionary history has taught us that nature always has a way of limiting population size to allow the maintenance of species; whether it’s through predatory interactions or limitation of natural resources the population of all creatures has been limited. That is until human beings came into existence.
We have out-thought nature’s limitations. In the crudest possible sense the human race has “beaten nature”.
I think there is justification in Sir David saying that nature will find a way to limit human population if it continues to expand at a similar rate.But this where my agreement with Sir David ends. I do not believe that human existence will be overly different in 50 years time.
Thankfully, the rate of human expansion is slowing down. Global population increase peaked in 1960 at around 2.2% but current estimates are that growth is declining. In 2010 world population growth was at just over 1% and the U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base had predicted that the rates will continue to fall.
The human race has for the second time become ‘self aware’. The first evolutionary event of self awareness was the human race becoming aware of its own existence. The second has been the appreciation of the damage we have done and continue to do to Planet Earth.
This second stage of ‘self awareness’ could prove invaluable for our survival. Human beings are the most evolutionary successful species ever to inhabit earth and the growth of the developed world, science and understanding could come to our a rescue.
Over the last 100 years we have come to appreciate the damage we do to our planet. This ‘evolution’ has given us the ability to avert the crisis that Sir David Attenborough has predicted. Can we seize this opportunity to save our species and the planet? I think we can but it will take global understanding and commitment and every one of us has the responsibility to prevent disaster.
Now is the time for human beings to show their true colours, if we do not significantly change our way of life and find a way to humanely limit population overgrowth in the developing world the effects of war, disease and natural disaster could take our planet to the brink.
Planet Earth Image Owned by Nasa CC