Levels of welfare for most people will begin to decline within the next decade because of a stress on finite natural resources.
There are more people on the planet than ever before and untold numbers of them live in relative prosperity compared to their parents and grandparents.
In China alone, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of grinding poverty in the past few decades. A similar trend is taking place in India, a country that is about to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation within a few years.
At the same time, hundreds of millions of people across the West live in the most prosperous societies the world has ever known and a large number do so as well across the developing world, where millions more aspire to reach a western-style quality of life in coming years and decades.
Poverty eradication is a commendable goal and living in prosperity is an understandable aspiration, but we might have reached the limits of constant growth in living standards for more and more people on an overpopulated planet, according to a growing number of experts.
Based on one especially troubling new scenario, laid out in a new paper by Gaya Herrington, a sustainability and dynamic system analysis researcher, levels of welfare for most people will begin to decline within the next decade because of an increasing stress on the planet’s finite natural resources.
As the planet’s human population continues to grow, already overtaxed natural resources will be stretched to their very limits, Herrington warns.
Already back in 1972, a team of researchers at MIT published a study called “Limits to Growth” for which they analyzed global resource consumption and production trends according to a variety of data points, including population growth, pollution levels, rates of food production, and industrial outputs.
The researchers then mapped out a dozen possible scenarios according to different forecasts, but what most of their scenarios had in common was that unchecked economic growth would lead to a radical depletion of natural resources,which would become an impediment to further economic growth and people’s welfare.
In one scenario the world would reach a state of near-collapse because of the wanton exploitation of resources. That scenario is now about to befall us within just two decades, Herrington says.
But adverse impacts will be felt much sooner than that: within a decade. We will experience “a halt in welfare, food, and industrial production over the next decade or so, which puts into question the suitability of continuous economic growth as humanity’s goal in the twenty-first century,” he writes.
Although complete social collapse will not necessarily follow, an increased scarcity of resources will place a strain on people and nations alike, which could result in wars, mass-scale displacements and other catastophes.
To avoid such a fate, Herrington says, we can rein in our impulse for constant economic growth and learn to live within our means. In tandem, we should limit population growth as the planet can no longer support significantly more people than the nearly 8 billion who currently inhabit the planet.