The green movement at 50: Can the world be saved?
Population growth and climate change are the big problems facing the earth in the next 50 years. But are there any solutions?
Many of the issues the Environment Movement has faced over the last 50 years have been difficult, but none has been as formidable as the two challenges confronting it over the next half century, confronting the earth: population growth and climate change.
These two colossal problems, it is clear now, cannot be "solved"; they can only be coped with, and the coping will have to be by governments. The task of the Green Movement will be to keep the pressure on governments, and companies, and individuals, to do what is necessary, however difficult that is.
Both issues are controversial. Some believe the rise in human numbers, from a world population of 7 billion to perhaps 9.3 billion in 2050 – that's the UN's medium estimate – will not be a problem, and certainly there is no plan to bring the estimated 2050 figure down.
But finding food for an extra two billion mouths in a mere 38 years, on top of those who are hungry today, is clearly going to be a Herculean task, and if we disaggregate the world figure into the projections for individual nations, the task seems more daunting still, especially with some of the "high growth" countries in Asia and Africa.
Bangladesh, with an estimated 148 million people at 2010, goes, according to the UN medium estimate, to 194 million in 2050; Pakistan goes from 189 million to 274 million. In some of the poorer parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the projections are quite remarkable, with doublings and even treblings expected in four decades: Kenya goes from 40 million people in 2010 to 96 million in 2050, while Niger, a country in the Sahel semi-desert belt where agriculture is difficult at best, will see its population go from 15 million to 55 million.
Yet the concern for the environment movement will be, can these extra billions be not only fed, but brought out of poverty through economic growth, without the planet being trashed? Can it be done without rainforest being torn down for agriculture, without the fish stocks of the oceans being exploited, without the atmosphere being swamped with climate-changing carbon from thousands of new power stations?