This article was written as part of completion of the Coursera course, Introduction to Sustainability, created by the University of Illinois. By the end of the course I was left with a positive feeling about where the world is heading. Do you agree?
In the early modules we learned some of the bigger ideas such as Malthus’s ideas on the impact of population growth versus food production. These ideas are common today, with a thread running from Malthus, through Ehrlich (1967), to many media outlets today. This would have been my perspective before taking part in the course.
However, we have seen that Ehrlich’s population bomb has not exploded. The world population was approximately 3.5 billion at the time of Ehrlich’s book. It is approximately 7.8 million today and expected by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2019) it will reach 9.7 billion by 2050. UN DESA report that the rate is slowing and this is very probably because there is demographic transition occurring in vast swaths of the developing world, with education being a main driver, while populations in the developed world are falling.
From the Green Revolution to GMO, we have seen the application of new ideas and technologies vastly increase the yield from farming. If these ideas and technologies can be spread to developing countries, then we should never reach a Malthusian situation. Foley (2014) reports that US food is mostly produced on large mechanised farms, where a farmer needs low amounts of labour to deal with his tracts of land. Foley also tells us that there is an opportunity to increase yields in sub-Saharan Africa, which will be a boost to food production for the world.
This leads us to the Tragedy of the commons of Climate Change. However, as we have moved beyond peak oil, indeed beyond peak “stuff”, it seems that there is hope here too. The external governance provided by treaties such as Kyoto and Paris may afford greater opportunity to reduce emissions and limit the increase in global temperature. While that may have looked less certain because of recent U.S. withdrawal, the recent election of Joe Biden to the Presidency may herald a renewal of hope here (Dlouhy, 2020).
In summary, I believe that the world is in a better place than it has been in the past and will continue to track on a sustainable path into the future.
Dlouhy, J., 2020. What Biden’s Win Means For The Paris Climate Agreement. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/energy/what-bidens-win-means-for-the-paris-climate-agreement/2020/11/10/b420d496-2369-11eb-9c4a-0dc6242c4814_story.html> [Accessed 30 November 2020].
Ehrlich, P., 1968. The Population Bomb. Ballentine Books. New York.
Foley, J., 2014. Feeding 9 Billion. [online] National Geographic. Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/feeding-9-billion/> [Accessed 30 November 2020].
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). 2019. Growing At A Slower Pace, World Population Is Expected To Reach 9.7 Billion In 2050. [online] Available at: <https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2019.html> [Accessed 30 November 2020].