“Human population is not a problem for conservation”

This is what my classmates from India and China say. I must say, I was surprised to hear this from them! However, after our lecture on global carrying capacity (i.e. how many humans can the earth support) and some further discussions, this actually makes sense.
Despite general statements that sometimes get made by people I know that ‘there are just too many people on this planet’, what is more important in terms of conservation is not how many of us there are but how much we consume. In that case, the Americans and Europeans whose excessive resource use and energy consumption would require at least 1.5 planets if everyone behaved similarly, should be the ones to curb their numbers.

In short, it’s not about the number of people on the planet but about the consumption levels. Sure, in localized areas you may have too many people hunting a limited number of wild mammals for bushmeat or cutting trees for fuelwood, but globally the ecological footprint of the people whose numbers are growing fastest (the rural poor) is just not making that big of an impact.

This of course leads to the tough question: how can the developed countries tell the developing countries not to follow their model of development? Not to aim for their levels of consumption? It seems clear to me that where we’ve gotten ourselves might feel quite comfortable for the time being, but it’s totally unsustainable (yes, even technology won’t solve it all) and certainly if the rest of the world emulates what we have done…we will be in big trouble.

So instead of dealing with a population problem, I’m wondering how do we deal with the culture of consumption that not only infects our society, but is starting to infect the rest?

  • Calculate your own ecological footprint (feel free to post the answer in the comments): http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/
  • Watch the Impossible Hamster video: http://www.impossiblehamster.org/
  • A related book I’m thinking of reading: Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson