The world population is projected to reach 7 billion in 2011. Of those 7 billion people, 1 billion go hungry every day. One in 7 people live in slums. Neither the planet nor individual countries’ infrastructures have the resources to cope with human population growth and consumption.
Enter personal responsibility. According to National Geographic, the U.S. has an unusually high fertility rate compared to other industrialised nations. This can be partially attributed to the ‘significant rate of teenage pregnancies’ and a ‘steady influx of immigrants.’ But the fact remains that many Americans continue to consume and reproduce at unsustainable rates without regard for environmental or economic consequences.
In 2004, a new house was completed every 20 minutes in Las Vegas. Around the world, consumption and possessions are increasingly equated with success and happiness. American author Bill Bryson discusses how this came to be in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1949 and witnessed the transition from luxury items being reserved for the wealthiest Americans to things like cars, televisions, and refrigerators becoming commonplace in middle class homes. These devices were initially marketed and viewed as time saving devices that would allow busy, hard-working people more time to relax. Soon, however, people began using their leisure time to work more hours to earn more money to purchase more devices they would never have the time to use because they were so busy working to afford them.
Rather than work less hours a week, enjoy leisure time, and revel in the luxury of refrigerated food and easier travel, people began to work more hours to buy second cars and put a television set in every room of their home. The U.S.’s carbon emissions are now four times higher than the global average.
So when the global population reaches 7 billion in the coming year, the future of the human race and our planet will depend on a few key elements:
1.) How people define happiness. If happiness continues to be equated with wealth, chances are we will deplete the earth’s resources utilising oil to run our third cars and forests to build our second homes.
2.) Compassion. While Americans throw away 30 million tons of food every year, 1 billion people go to bed starving every day.
3.) Personal responsibility. People have to believe that their actions make a difference. The statistic above cannot be read and forgotten. Action must be taken, and we can’t wait for someone else to do it. We can’t wait for the government to do it. We can’t wait until we have more time to do it. It is up to us, and it must happen now.
We have highlighted some great organisations on this site in the past few weeks, all of which are working towards a less disparate distribution of resources and a more sustainable future for humanity and the place we live. Get involved with one of them. Start your own organisation. Spread the word. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, four hundred people were born in the U.S. while I wrote this article. What kind of world will they inherit?