Just over a month ago, official estimates of global population hit seven billion. It is a milestone of the human population reaching its highest levels ever, with no sign of stopping in sight. This number also hides an increasingly more apparent truth; there are now more people than ever before competing for resources on the Earth.
Everyone consumes resources, but some people consume more resources than others. Take electricity consumption for example. China consumed 4.2 billion watts of electricity in 2010, but per person the average Chinese citizen consumed 364 watts of electricity. The United States consumed 3.8 billion watts of electricity in 2009, but per person the average U.S. citizen consumed 1,460 watts of electricity. As the rest of the world continues to develop, there will be an increasing amount of resource consumption per person that is correlated with a higher standard of living. In turn, as the population continues to increase, there will be more people competing to consume copious amounts of resources to maintain a high standard of living.
With this in mind, there are two facets to our population problem. One is the number of people on the Earth to consume resources, and the other is how many resources people are consuming. The question that comes up, then, is which is more important? Do we attempt to halt the amount of people present on the Earth to consume resources, or do we attempt to alter our consumption habits to allow more resources to be available for everyone?
Realistically, both problems must be tackled at once, but managing individual consumption is something that is absolutely imperative for our long-term survival. Methods to control population, such as China’s infamous one-child policy and forced sterilizations, have only been shown to assault an individual’s reproductive rights. There has been greater efficacy in increasing educational opportunities for women as well as sex education. However, the changes that need to be made to empower women around the world will occur slowly.
While cultural change can take a long time, every single one of us can make a change in our pattern of consumption that can make a difference right now. The vast majority of the resources we consume are by our own choice. We can also choose to consume minimally and consciously. Regardless of what you may be going to buy, ask yourself the following questions: Do I really need this item? Can I reuse this item? Could consumption of this item go on indefinitely?
For the average consumer, these questions may be irksome, but it is important to realize that each and every one of us is responsible for the resources we consume. What it boils down to is that population issues aren’t a problem with people so much as they are a problem with resources. If we allocate our resources wisely, that leaves resources for not only other people, but for the other organisms that share the Earth along with us.