Solutions to land degradation must include an end to population growth
The ability of Earth to provide food for eight billion humans is rapidly declining. Forty per cent of planet Earth’s land is now degraded. Yet, if human population growth is not halted, food for an additional two to three billion will be needed but unable to be supplied, says Sustainable Population Australia (SPA).
SPA national president Ms Jenny Goldie says if we are to arrest the degradation of the Earth’s land surface, then we must stop increasing human demands made on it and end population growth.
The United Nations Global Land Outlook 2 report released last week estimates that up to 40% of the planet’s land is now degraded, largely attributing blame to agriculture. Global food systems are responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use and are the single greatest cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss, according to the report.
The report also notes that demand for food is expected rise by 45% between 2015 and 2050.
“Some of that demand comes from people eating higher up the food chain which, for malnourished communities, is a good thing,” says Ms Goldie. “But much of it comes from human population growth which simply cannot go on forever. At some point it has to stop, and the sooner the better.
“The report strongly promotes the application of regenerative agriculture and other protective measures as solutions. But it says little about the role population growth, beyond acknowledging that this land degradation puts the ability to feed the planet’s growing population at risk.
“While better technologies and reduced meat consumption in rich-countries are necessary to achieve food security, it is also critical to minimise further population growth via non-coercive methods.”
Ms Goldie says the human carrying capacity of Earth is declining rapidly.
“Our ecological footprint is about 175% of Earth’s renewable biocapacity which is grossly unsustainable. Global population is still increasing by 80 million per year yet about 800 million people are malnourished. This is likely to increase while the essential components of our life-support system (soil, water and biodiversity) are in decline.
“Growing food on degraded land becomes progressively harder as soils reach exhaustion and water resources are depleted. As the report notes, further expansion of agricultural land to meet anticipated demand would result in the further loss of three million square kilometres of natural areas (the size of India), mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
“Far better to halt the demand that comes from population growth than allow this loss of natural areas,” says Ms Goldie.