Camilo Mora talks about how population growth continues to threaten the future of the planet.
To his publications in the main scientific journals, Colombian Camilo Mora - a renowned biologist who managed to calculate the number of species in the world - added this week the opening article of the special edition of ‘Science’, the prestigious academic journal.
The article ‘The interaction of human population, food production, and biodiversity protection’, which he worked together with Eileen Crist, from Virginia Tech, and Robert Engelman, from Worldwatch Institute, reopens the discussion of a controversial idea: Should population size be controlled to avoid ecological collapse of the Earth?
Based on scientific evidence from several years, it is estimated that if current population growth continues, the 11.2 billion people by the end of the century and food production would have to increase by 70 percent in the next few years.
Is it possible to provide that amount of resources without losing more biodiversity? For the authors, agricultural technology does not provide sufficient solutions. Consequently, regulating the population - especially through the education of women - is an alternative that has to be put at the center of political and scientific debate.
We wanted to show that what is causing this tremendous environmental deterioration is that the planet is too small for us.
His text, which headed the special edition of the magazine ‘Science’ on Earth Day, was highlighted by the controversial issue of population control. What was your goal in writing it?
I had several. The first, to note that we are destroying the planet. It is a sad reality: we deforest between six and ten million hectares per year, we extinguish around 20,000 species a year, we eat almost all the predators of the oceans, on the surface of the planet there is hardly a large mammal left.
We also wanted to show that what is causing this tremendous environmental deterioration is that the planet has become too small for us. Today there are a billion people who are starving. Why don't they have access to food? Because the places where they live are not able to supply what they need.
Why does the study conclude that even sustainable agriculture policies fail to prevent further loss of the planet's biodiversity?
One would have to be a magician to be able to feed all those people with the best technologies of today. The unfortunate thing is that many of these technologies are covered by intellectual property.
We cannot wait for a magician to invent a seed to feed us. They have already invented it, but the problem is that they are protected by companies that want money for them.
In the article we wanted to explain that, from a mathematical point of view, we cannot get more juice from the planet to feed so many people.
Controlling births is a recurring theme in discussions of sustainability, but in recent decades it has not been at the center of the debate. Why?
There have been several reasons. The first is that there is a fear of talking about it. When you say population control, people automatically start coming up with ideas about what you say. Others prefer not to get involved because they are complex discussions.
Our article wanted to argue that we don't have to get into these sick discussions of how to control the population. In fact, there are ways to do it that are very good, even for the same society. For example, ensuring the empowerment of women in the sense that this is a beneficial investment at all levels. Just educating them reduces the size of the population, because women who have access to an education and make their own decisions about their lives are usually oriented towards having fewer children.
Do you know of studies where the positive relationship between equal rights for women and greater ecological well-being in societies has been proven?
Yes, it has been proven. The third author of our article, Robert Engelman, has worked on this in Africa. In some countries on that continent, he found that women who do not go to school have five to seven children; those who achieve primary school, an average of 4.3 children; those who reach high school, three children, and those who go to university, only two.
And this is not the only solution. Access to family planning must also be guaranteed. A condom may seem cheap in the United States or Colombia, but in Africa it costs a day's work. Another of the thesis is that 80 million people are born (every year) as a result of the fact that there are about 200 million women who want to have access to family planning and cannot.
How to achieve a balance between the birth rate and the well-being of the planet in the midst of this ecological crisis?
I did the statistical analysis in this regard and the conclusion was: one child per woman to achieve the sustainability of the planet. Currently, the Earth has about 12,000 million hectares that can be exploited in a sustainable way, ensuring that each person has three hectares (to cover the needs of an average quality of life). This calculation gives you to understand that on the planet there can only be from 3 billion to 4 billion people. We tripled in the 1980s and exceeded the planet's capacity, but we can go back down to that moment of sustainability if we have one child per woman. That would reduce the birth rate by 2050 and we would return to an equilibrium.
What models of agriculture are doing the most damage to the planet?
Almost any expansion in agriculture has a negative effect. But there are some especially regrettable ones, like that of the oil palm, because it has to be cultivated in tropical regions like Colombia. We are ignorant.
In the negotiations on climate change, where the majority of global leaders participate, how much face is being given to the problem of population growth?
I am very critical of those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In fact, I accused them of being chickens, because in a presentation I made in Brazil I showed that, although they themselves conclude that carbon emissions are the result of excess consumption and population size, they propose many solutions to reduce consumption , but not a single one for the population issue.
You cannot negotiate with nature: it has its rules, and we are the ones who have to change.
By Laura Betancur Alarcón