In 1798 Thomas Malthus, an English economist and demographer, published “An Essay on the Principle of Population” in which he predicted that human population growth would eventually exceed the Earth’s ability to provide enough food for everyone. This would lead to famine, disease, war and other related suffering. So far this has not happened.

Earth’s population

In 1968, 170 years later, Paul Ehrlich published a book titled, The population bomb another prophetic work predicting that human fertility would soon deplete the planet’s resources and send earthlings into a death spiral. Widespread starvation, Ehrlich argued, was both inevitable and imminent. But that bomb didn’t explode either.

Read more  for  Earth’s population  : We have worried about overpopulation for millennia

Last November, the United Nations announced that the Earth’s population had reached eight billion. And we’re still here. On top of it, according to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty has steadily declined over the past three decades. However, the pandemic has somewhat reversed the trend—temporarily, we hope.

Yet eight billion hungry people—hungry not only for food but also for housing, clothing, computers, and other necessary resources—strain the planet’s resources. We are talking not only about the depletion of the basic necessities of life, but also about the combined impact of humans on the environment. The more we are, the more we take from the environment.

Read more: The domino effects of global food shortages

Population tension

As the number of people increases, wildlife is declining. According to UN Global Resource Outlook 2019, resource use has more than tripled since 1970, including a 45 percent increase in fossil fuel use. Or as they say in the UN Act now website: “We use the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to support our current lifestyles and the ecosystems cannot keep up with our demands.”

Our planet is currently headed for disaster. If we make no changes, the looming crisis that many have predicted and are still predicting will almost certainly happen. However, reaching this population milestone may not be what tips the scales. Eight billion people bring danger, but also hope.

“Huge success”

According to Rachel Snow, head of Population and Development at the United Nations Population Fund, reaching the eight billion mark, not a disaster, is a “great success.” Reaching a world population of eight billion means that life expectancy, health care, education levels and living standards are improving globally, not just in rich nations.

And population growth is slowing. The population growth rate peaked in 1964 and has been on a downward trend since then. At one point, the population is expected to reach 11 billion by 2100, but based on current projections, the population is expected to plateau in the coming decades and reach only 10 billion by 2100, when it may begin to decline. More than 50 countries are already in the process of population decline.

Still, says Snow, eight billion and the increase could be a disaster if governments cannot prepare for what is coming in the next few decades. Narrowly avoiding Malthusian and ecological catastrophe will require determination, commitment and ingenuity. And ingenuity is where that eight billion comes from. Reaching the eight billion mark means “eight billion people who will develop unique, original, creative ideas to make the world a better place,” she says.

Read more: Fighting Fast Fashion: How Compostable Clothing Can Help the Environment

If you look at the numbers alone, eight billion is terrifying. But it’s not just about numbers. If so, Malthus’s predictions would have long since come true. It’s a question of how well we manage resources and how well we take care of the planet. It’s a matter of how well we develop ideas to repair the damage of the past and protect the future. We have a lot of work to do if humanity is to survive. But we have eight billion people to help us do it.

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