Solutions to land degradation must include ending population growth

The Earth’s ability to provide food for eight billion people is rapidly diminishing. Forty percent of the land on planet Earth is now degraded. Yet if human population growth is not halted, food for another two to three billion will be needed but cannot be provided, according to Sustainable Population Australia (SPA).

SPA National President, Ms. Jenny Goldie, said that if we are to stop the degradation of the Earth’s land surface, we must stop increasing human demands and stop population growth.

The United Nations’ Global Land Outlook 2 report released last week estimates that up to 40% of the world’s land is now degraded, placing much of the blame on agriculture. According to the report, global food systems are responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater use and are the leading cause of terrestrial biodiversity loss.

The report also notes that food demand is expected to increase by 45% between 2015 and 2050.

“Some of this demand comes from people eating higher up the food chain, which for malnourished communities is a good thing,” Ms Goldie says. “But a lot of it comes from human population growth that just can’t last forever. At some point it has to stop, and the sooner the better.

“The report strongly encourages the application of regenerative agriculture and other protective measures as solutions. But that says little about the role of population growth, beyond recognizing that this land degradation is jeopardizing the ability to feed the planet’s growing population.

“While better technologies and reduced meat consumption in rich countries are necessary to achieve food security, minimizing population growth through non-coercive methods is also essential.”

Ms Goldie says Earth’s human carrying capacity is rapidly declining.

“Our ecological footprint is about 175% of the Earth’s renewable biocapacity, which is completely unsustainable. The world’s population continues to increase by 80 million per year, but around 800 million people suffer from malnutrition. This is likely to increase as the essential components of our life support system (soil, water and biodiversity) decline.

“Growing food on degraded land is becoming increasingly difficult as soils are depleted 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 kilometers of natural areas (the size of India), mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

“It is much better to stop the demand that comes from population growth than to allow this loss of natural spaces,” says Ms. Goldie.

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