Earth Will be "Unrecognizable" by 2050

unrecognizable earth photo
Photo: leocbrito

A lot has changed in the last 40 years, hasn't it? From the rise of personal computers and the Internet, to tubeless toilet-paper and carnivorous clocks -- the world today hardly resembles the one seen in faded photos of people with big hair dancing to disco that our parents closely guard. But, according to researchers, in another four decades things will be markedly different, too -- "unrecognizable," even, and not just for the hairstyles. Earth in 2050 will be home to an estimated 9 billion people, and the planet will be forced to change in order to accommodate them allSo, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) met today to discuss the future of mankind on this lonely little planet with finite resources. I mentioned 'finite' only to highlight the fundamental reality that we at TreeHugger are encouraging others to work within. And surprise, surprise -- in the next 40 years, the planet will welcome some 2.25 billion more adorable little babies, who will then, of course, grow up to be big hungry consumers.

Don't worry though, you won't have to feed them -- the finite planet will. Oh, wait, I guess that concerns us all.

A report from the AP offers more details from today's meeting, and what we can all expect from a future with more than a few additional planet-mates:

The swelling population will exacerbate problems, such as resource depletion, said John Casterline, director of the Initiative in Population Research at Ohio State University.

But incomes are also expected to rise over the next 40 years -- tripling globally and quintupling in developing nations -- and add more strain to global food supplies.

People tend to move up the food chain as their incomes rise, consuming more meat than they might have when they made less money, the experts said.

It takes around seven pounds (3.4 kilograms) of grain to produce a pound of meat, and around three to four pounds of grain to produce a pound of cheese or eggs, experts told AFP.

"More people, more money, more consumption, but the same planet," Clay told AFP, urging scientists and governments to start making changes now to how food is produced.

If such a population outlook isn't at first troubling, consider that population growth has historically been tied to the population declines of quite a few species we now nobly endow with the classification 'threatened' or 'endangered'. If the habitat loss and environmental changes associate with, well, people, were to be negated at the same rate that more folks are added, perhaps things would work out -- but on a finite planet, optimism is finite too.

The meeting was concluded today with the resounding sentiment that "family planning" is the the most effective way to limit population growth -- a cutely progressive close to a discussion of troubling trends.

Last July, I spoke with the Brazilian Minister of Energy about how a developing nation planned for a future world, bound to be much different from the one today. We talked for a while about the oil and gas reserves the nation was happy to exploit when the time required, but the real commodity he suggested defined the future success of his country was its capacity to feed the world.

It seemed a bit innocuous at the time, but lately I've been thinking about the farmland needed to 'feed the world', and what will be lost in clearing it. I suppose I'm glad that the world's remaining pristine lands can be photographed with digital cameras -- that way they won't be faded pictures for future generations longing for a glimpse.

More on Population Growth
Connecting the Dots: Population Growth, Consumerism & Biodiversity Loss Tangled Together
Australian Anglican Church Says Population Growth May Break Commandment 'Thou Shall Not Steal'
The Best Way You Can Go Green: Have Fewer Children

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