“When life took hold on this planet it produced millions of species that have lived and evolved and produced both wondrous beauty and diversity. We modern humans are both products of and beneficiaries of that evolutionary process. We are, however, acting as ungrateful beneficiaries. Scientists tell us that we are exterminating our fellow plant and animal species at a rate that is a hundred or even a thousand times faster than the natural rate of extinction.” Bill Ryerson, Population Media Center
Population activists were not surprised when, in June 2013, a study titled “Human Population Density and Growth Validated as Extinction Threats to Mammal and Bird Species” confirmed what everybody knew already: As human populations grow, human demands for water, land, trees, and fossil fuels also grow. Unfortunately, the price of all this “growth” is paid for by other endangered plants and animals.
“The data speak loud and clear that not only human population density, but the growth of the human population, is still having an effect on extinction threats to other species,” said Jeffrey McKee, professor of anthropology at Ohio State and lead author of the study. The findings suggest that any truly meaningful biodiversity conservation efforts must take the expanding human population footprint into consideration. As activists, we must Speak Out and loudly advocate for the rights of species to exist.
Every year there are fresh reports about the senseless slaughter of elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, and other “megafauna.” Some of their population decline is attributable to poachers seeking to harvest ivory or other body parts, but much of the dramatic decline has been caused by an ever-increasing loss of habitat. Many of these animals live in areas, like sub-Saharan Africa, where human fertility rates equate to a doubling of the human population every 30 or 40 years.
Globally, over 228,000 people are added every day — each needs sufficient land, water, shelter, food, and energy for a decent life. This growth, plus the already existing 7.3 billion people, constitutes an incredible draw-down of Earth’s regenerative capacities. Even without poaching and over-consumption, the sheer numbers don’t leave much for wildlife.
As access to contraception and family planning information and services becomes more widespread, they will reliably work to slow population growth and slow the increasing pressure on other species. Vigorous pursuit of the human rights agenda, including women’s reproductive self-determination, is also at the heart of good population advocacy, as it not only helps alleviate global biodiversity concerns but also improves the lives of individuals and families. But this is not just about empowering others. As a global community, we must consider the wisdom of limitations — self-limiting our numbers, our economies, and our places of habitation across the natural world.