Is humanity a plague?

by Jan 24, 2013Conservation Threats1 comment

Sir David Attenborough, patron of Population Matters, has talked in an interview with the Radio Times of humanity being a plague on the Earth. What did he mean? Surely he does not mean that we are a disease? More probably, he was thinking of a plague of locusts, which consumes all that it sees, and then dies off.

That analogy is apt. Human numbers have doubled in the last fifty years to seven billion. Natural habitats, wildlife and fish stocks are falling around the world, due to development, overexploitation and climate change. Resources, too, are being steadily depleted, whether that be water sources, fertile land, fossil fuels or key minerals such as fertilizers.

What does the future hold? The UN projects growth of another three billion people, 40% more, by 2085, mainly in the poorest countries. At the same time, per capita consumption is growing as the billions in developing countries seek to improve their living standards from the current very low levels, including moving to a more western style, meat and dairy based, diet which requires much more input for the same nutritional output. While demand for food and other resources is thus on a sharply rising trend, supply is constrained by limited availability and the impact of climate change on rainfall, temperature and sea levels.

The consequence, which we are already seeing, is increased competition for food. Prices are rising, as are land sales as investors and countries position themselves for future shortages.

Rising food prices particularly affects the poorest countries, such as Ethiopia, whose population has more than doubled since the famines of the early 1980s, or Mali, whose population triples every fifty years.

Commented Simon Ross, Chief Executive, Population Matters, “We are heading for difficult times if we continue to fail to take population growth seriously. Lowering fertility to sustainable levels is essential if we are to have a prosperous future. This means providing family planning services, encouraging women’s employment and promoting the benefits of smaller families.”

Radio Times interview
“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so,” warns David Attenborough in an interview in the new issue of Radio Times magazine.

“It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde,” says the natural history broadcaster, who is set to launch his latest series, David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities, on Eden next week.

Attenborough believes humans must find ways to curb their spread or face the consequences: “Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now,” he says.

“We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves – and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a co-ordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.”

For further information on this press release or other population issues, contact Simon Ross on 020 8123 9353.

ABOUT Population Matters
Population Matters is the UK’s leading body campaigning for sustainable populations in the UK and abroad. We conduct education, research and advocacy on the environmental impact of population size. Population Matters is the working name of the Optimum Population Trust. Regd. charity no. 1114109 and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales Regd. no. 3019081. Regd. office 135-137 Station Road, London E4 6AG.

Population Matters’ patrons comprise:

  • Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE
  • Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University
  • Baroness Shreela Flather, First Asian woman member of the House of Lords; crossbencher
  • Dr Jane Goodall DBE, pioneer of research and conservation of chimpanzees
  • Susan Hampshire OBE, actress
  • Professor John Guillebaud, Emeritus Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health, University College, London. Former Medical Director, Margaret Pyke Centre for Family Planning
  • Dr James Lovelock CBE, author of the Gaia hypothesis
  • Professor Aubrey Manning OBE, zoologist and broadcaster, Emeritus Professor of Natural History, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Norman Myers CMG, Visiting Fellow, Green College, Oxford University, and at Universities of Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, California, Michigan and Texas
  • Chris Packham, naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author
  • Sara Parkin OBE, Founder Director and Trustee of Forum for the Future, Chair of the Richard Sandbrook Trust, Board member of the European Training Foundation
  • Jonathon Porritt CBE, Founder Director of Forum for the Future and former Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission.
  • Lionel Shriver, journalist and author
  • Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO, Chancellor of Kent University, Director of the Policy Foresight Programme at the James Martin Institute, and former UK Permanent Representative on the United Nations Security Council

1 Comment

  1. Larry Swatuk

    Certainly we are too many in certain places, but the problem is consumption by the privileged few (see where the lights are in the satellite photo – it isn’t Addis Ababa) not the simple presence of the many.