Have we in human evolution reached a state where human population has grown so large that it has morphed into something that shows the signs of an organism, into something that is showing a ‘life’ of its own?
In the past, with fewer people and less complexity, nations and even humans were much more able to make independent decisions, without affecting others. Have we now entered an era where human life has become so integrated across the planet that we no longer as individuals be it humans or even nations to make decisions that can influence this complexity? When I was born there were 2.5 billion people on earth, there are now 7.5 billion people and in the not to distance future we grow to anywhere between 9.5 and 11 billion. Have we crossed a tipping point where the number of people on earth in the context of the earth current capacity is no longer sustainable?
We already have entered the Anthropocene a period where humans are having dominant effects on the biosphere, much more than any other species.
I would argue that we could have reached this point which means that we rapidly will have to address the issue on how to make changes to avoid chaos or even collapses. I will also argue that if we manage to avoid such a crisis there are technologies that can assist us beyond that crisis point. I will have to warn you as I will look over a technological horizon in a posthuman way.
It looks like in general positive developments of the last 100 years (eg healthcare, education, technology) have taken humanity by surprise. We failed to prepare ourselves for the consequences of more healthy, educated and wealthy human beings. There were already philosophers at the start of the industrial revolution who warned about its potential negative effects. By the 1970s scientist were becoming more and more aware of the problems that population growth would bring with it.
The lack of taking taken action to anticipate the effects of this massive growth and its consequences is now creating severe problems for our global society. Not only in the rich western countries but also massive progress has been made in the developing world. The simple fact that we are seeing this massive growth in population is a direct result of lifestyle improvement. The new growth comes from the developing world and especially from Africa. Education and healthcare have made an enormous difference, decreases in poverty and early deaths are being achieved in all but a few (war-torn) countries.
Of course, people in West would like to maintain the lifestyle and people from other parts of the world would like to continue to see their lifestyle improvements. However, this can only be achieved, with significant modifications.
If we have global problems in 2020s, imagine the extra pressure if some 2 billion Africans will be added to our global village. Do we have any plans on how to handle this growth without addressing the problems that this continent is facing in how to feed these people, provide them with fresh water, jobs and improve their lifestyle? Their problems will very rapidly spill over in other parts of the world, adding to the already precarious situations of refugees and migrants.
There are serious questions about the overall overpopulation of our planet. But in order to remain positive let’s assume- as I will explain later – that beyond this crisis there are new opportunities.
If we ignore changes to our way of life and remain looking at linear growth models for our western capitalistic societies this growth in population could be a godsend. In the western world and soon even in countries like China we will see a decrease in population growth. In order to continue the lifestyles gained in those countries we will need new young people to keep that engine going. A well-managed migration process could assist those countries were the population is declining. However, under the current political climate this population growth in Africa will be perceived a problem and a threat. So again, we are not prepared to manage such a change.