There has been little progress towards the goal of getting a multinational agreement on stemming the incredibly rapid worldwide species loss by 2020 since the United Nations biodiversity talks started last Monday in Nagoya, Japan.
And though the delegates are connecting some of the primary flashpoints — biodiversity loss, desertification, marine degradation and climate change — that make up the complex “anthropocentric” web that Homo sapiens has been weaving around our terrestrial globo-biosphere since James Watt blew off some steam, the main issue is barely getting mentioned: human overpopulation.
It’s great that, during the week leading up to Nagoya, the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (UNDDD) in the Asia-Pacific Region was launched just across the Sea of Japan, in Seoul.
Oceans, too, are getting their day in court.
“Me and my other oceans-defending colleagues are pressuring these diplomats to form a marine reserve network covers at least 20% of our oceans by 2020,” says Sofia Tsenikli, an oceans policy advisor for Greenpeace, who gave a report in Nagoya on the state of the world’s oceans.
“This will help us reach the goal of protecting 40% of our waters, which scientists tell us is what we need to do if we’re going to leave behind healthy oceans for the future.”
Sure, much of the world is turning into a desert. And the global marine health is deteriorating rapidly, what with collapsing stocks of large fish like bluefin tuna and Atlantic cod, massive coral bleaching, coastal dead zones, melting polar caps and ocean acidification.
But the root cause of it all — human overpopulation — is basically background noise at the Nagoya convention.
A Google search for “Nagoya biodiversity” for the past month returned 237,000 Web pages. But only a paltry 119 of those pages even mention the word “overpopulation.”
The topic of human overpopulation was also oddly absent from the schedule at last month’s climate change and sustainability forum, “The Sustainable Planet: Three Days of Debate, Opinion and Discussion,” which was hosted by three major European newspapers — The Independent (United Kingdom), Libération (France) and La Repubblica (Italy).
Why are so few mentioning the big white elephant in the room? Maybe it’s hubris. How can there be too many of us? After all, we’re the smart ones, right? We’re the only ones with metacognition, right?
In the early 1970’s the world human population was around 3.7 billion. We are on target to almost double that by 2012. (The current population is 6.8 billion.)
“We’re really stressing the Earth’s natural resources due to population explosion,” says Capt. Philip G. Renaud, the executive director of the Living Oceans Foundation, in an exclusive 13.7 Billion Years interview.
“This is one of the most difficult issues we humans must come to grips with…If population continues to expand unchecked, we’ll be facing food and water shortages and we’ll quickly deplete our world’s natural resources.”
“Coastal regions are where people naturally populate because of shipping commerce, food from the sea and natural beauty,” says Renaud.
And these areas are common sites of overpopulation. Once of these regions, the Chinese coastal province of Guangdong, has almost the same number of people as Mexico, but crammed into less than a tenth of the space.
This intense population density has put an incredible strain on Guangdong’s ecosystem: Fertile land is turning into dry desert. For many places like this on Earth, the devastation may be irreversible.
In his opening statement at Nagoya, Convention on Biological Diversity Executive Secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf said, “This planet’s full of diverse living things and we’ve got to keep them safe.”
Too bad he didn’t mention the fact that the main reason that these species are not safe is because one species has multiplied to the tipping point of the planet’s resources: Homo sapiens.