Earth’s rising population spells trouble ahead

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Mark Carney warns that climate change will lead to financial crises and falling living standards unless companies (have to) come clean about their current and future carbon emissions (Report, 30 September). In the same issue George Monbiot notes that there is water flowing on Mars and asks if there is intelligent life on Earth. Monbiot also reminds us the world has lost half of its vertebrate wildlife in the last 40 years. It’s surely no coincidence that the human population has doubled in our lifetime (we were born in the 1940s). Sadly, population control seems to have become an issue that we are reluctant to discuss.

As biologists, we know that great population growth of a species is frequently ended by a cataclysmic population crash. Is that what we want? Climate changeis being driven not just by what we do but by the sheer numbers of us doing it. We are already seeing crop failures, desertification, soil impoverishment and water shortages.

Population control may be a difficult subject but we must address it, and do so in a humane and intelligent fashion. In much of the world women need to be empowered to make choices about family size. Where we have choice, small families and child-free adults should be encouraged. Just letting poverty and war do the trick will not work in the world we have now, and anyway, it’s wrong. The really big question is why has the issue of population control gone right down the agenda. Has political correctness gone too far? Leaving it to chance is a bit like saying “the market will decide”. The market is often brutal.

This world is the only place in the universe that we know we can inhabit in numbers. It would be the biggest failing imaginable if the most intelligent (by some measures) species that we know of, which is capable of truly great things, ends up, as seems likely, in a bloody, lawless, dystopian shambles.