No Sir. Resources are certainly not adequate even for the present population.
By Dr. Yashpal Singh
A couple of weeks back, I was invited to a one-day workshop on Environment and Sustainable Development, organized by a very prestigious institution of the State. Widely attended, this off line conference had a rich representation of people who were, in some way or the other, shouldering the responsibilities of this great country and those who would in times to come, steer this great country- a galaxy of bright students.
Given my turn to speak and share my views, I went about introducing that ‘Population’ is the critical factor for sustainable development and needs to be regulated. I told them how, some years back, in a book entitled ‘Ecology 2000’ by Sir Edmund Hillary, I had opportunity to see a graphic representation on world population growth through the past 10,000 years and how the depiction revealed that for a good period of over 9800 years through the New Stone Age, Bronze age, Iron age and the middle ages, the world population was much below one billion (reaching this figure in 1804). The second billion was added in 80 years (1850-1930) the third billion was added in 30 years (1931-1960), the fourth billion in 15 years (1961-1985). The current population as of 2020 is 7.795 billion with more than 3.7 billion added in the last 45 years. I also told them how it has taken over 2 million years for humans to reach a population of 1 billion and only 200 years more to reach 7 billion.
I then shared a small hypothetical anecdote, which I often quote when I speak of population and the social order. The audience was requested to visualize a situation where a bread winner has access to limited resources, say 04 pieces of bread with which to feed his children. A family with 02 children will be happy with 02 pieces of bread each for the children. You add another 02 children and each child gets only one bread, maybe unsatiated but still content, it waits for tomorrow. In a situation with more than 04 children, all feel deprived. One of the children, who may be stronger, may intimidate a weaker sibling to give his bread, one may probably try to steal bread from a sibling, a third may slap his brother and snatch what he has and a fourth may lose all interest in this chaotic way of having to share resources and fed up, may not want to live. This, I tried to bring forth, is the precursor for theft, robberies, murders and suicides. Based on this example, I tried to explain that a high demand for goods and services combined with a high population and limited resources has resulted in deteriorating social and cultural values and humanity is in pain and insecure. I also took opportunity to emphasize that ‘Man’ is primarily a ‘parasite’ on nature. We are designed to only consume and if that is so we have to be careful in the way the resources are equitably allocated amongst us.
I did take up other concerns of sustainability and environment and how an understanding of the Environmental Impact assessment process and Ecological Life Cycle finger print analysis will help in finding pathways for sustaining development. There was a visible appreciation to what I said and I thought that the basic problem of population and resources had found a sympathetic audience.
All puffed up and happy, I thanked the audience for its understanding and went to my designated seat. A fellow panelist, a person of great eminence then rose up to propose a vote of thanks. My eminent colleague told the audience that there is no problem of population and that there are no families with 08 children (he probably took my example a little too literally) and there is no shortage of resources. Surprisingly, this was met with clapping and appreciation from a section of the audience. I was shocked. I did not respond. I am old enough now to listen to others without immediately reacting but I was surprised as to how the eminent panelist and a section of the audience missed on the importance of increasing population and diminishing resources and the impacts they have on environment, sustainability and the social fabric. How is it that they have missed the widely accepted doctrine that population numbers tend to grow exponentially while food production grows linearly, never quite keeping pace with population and that nature plays the ultimate balancing act through epidemics and pandemics.
I thought that it is time, probably, to gather some more facts on this so that the criticality of the issue is not lost to the coming generations.
We have only one earth. Today the 7.8 billion people on it are using more of its resources than it can provide and gobbling up the renewable resources of 1.7 earths. Unless things change, we will need three earths by 2050. The UN currently projects that we will need 70% more food by 2050 but, increasing agricultural production comes at a cost to nature. Currently 80% of extinction threats to animals and birds are due to agriculture.
Our planet can offer a quality of life comparable to that, enjoyed, in the European Union to not more than 2 billion people. With a population of 8 to 10 billion, welfare per person on a world scale falls to that of a poor farmer who can scarcely provide sufficient food for himself and knows nothing of welfare. Thus, we will have to share everything fairly to avoid dispute and war.
The rate of growth of consumption has been estimated more than the rate of growth of population. Global GDP has grown at a rate of 2.7% per annum since 1900, CO2 emissions have grown at an annual rate of 3.5% since 1900 and the ecological footprint, a composite measure of consumption measured in hectares of biologically productive land grew from 4.5 to 14.1 billion hectares between 1961 and 2003 and it is now 25% more than the Earths Bio-capacity.
India’s wealth is grossly unequal. The data does indicate that inequality is linked to population. As per IMF (2021) estimates India with a GDP of 3049704 million U.S $ is the 6thlargest economy yet on a per capita income basis of Rs. 126000, India ranked 142nd by GDP (Normal) and 124th by GDP (Purchasing Power Parity) in 2020. The top 10% of the Indian Population holds 77% of the total National wealth. Some estimates indicate that it may take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian Company earns a year.
We must not forget that we occupy 2.4% of the total area of the world but support 16.7% of the world’s population. With a population of about 1.4 billion, this makes us the second most populous country in this world, with a population density that has increased from 117 per sq. kilometer in 1951 to 368 in 2011. Growing populations and the requirements to provide them with food and urban and industrial infrastructure has put pressures on the demand for land. The per capita availability of agricultural land in rural areas has shrunk from 0.638 HA in 1950-51 to 0.27 HA in 1998-1999. The Wasteland Atlas 2019 released by the Department of Land Resources observes that the per capita availability of Agricultural Land in India is 0.12 HA., whereas the World per capita agriculture land is 0.29 HA. India still accounts for a quarter of the worlds hungry people and is home to more than 190 million undernourished people. And resources play an important part. It is difficult for me to believe that population is not a problem and there are enough resources.
The great Covid surge of April / May 2021, natures balancing act in terms of Malthus, associated with shortage of beds, shortage of oxygen, shortage of medicines, shortage of crematoria and shortage of vaccines is a sad story of the gravity of this relationship between population and resources which brings only despair and tears.
Do we still say that population is not a problem and resources are adequate?
Let us all realize that resources are finite and divide as we increase in numbers. Let us realize that the rate of increase of population has been and is catastrophically high, a high population with low resource availability leads to social disorder and to nature playing the balancing act.Let us also realize that dominance leads to competition and competition leads to elimination and finally extinction.
No Sir. Resources are certainly not adequate even for the present population. We need to regulate Population.