#30 Around the Campfire; The Population Explosion in a Nutshell
Forty years and three billion Men ago, conservationists and most everyone else understood that we were in the middle of a population explosion. Today, it seems that many conservationists and most other folks don’t give it much thought. If we ask “Why?” much of the answer is that we’ve let ourselves become sure that our population explosion is over. Why, some even worry about populations dropping. But take another look at the first line: Forty years and three billion Men ago. In 1974, world population snapped the four billion wire. We will snap the seven-billion wire in another month or two if we haven’t already. So, while we were talking ourselves into believing that the population explosion had been stopped, we crammed another three billion of us onto Earth and took over millions and millions of acres of wildlife homes. With this little slice from Chapter One in my new book, The Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife, I’d like to show you that the population explosion is not over in any way, that in truth it is even worse than we thought.
I was spurred to put this edition of “Around the Campfire” ahead of the “Steps to Rewild the Appalachians” thanks to the lame-brained special section on Population in the 29 July 2011 issue of Science. If anyone needs a hint that even our brightest are blind to the upshots of ongoing growth, this issue of Science should be more than enough. Their writers seem to think that Man’s growth happens only in a world of Man, that there is no tie between it and the Sixth Great Extinction.
From Chapter One, Man Swarm and the Killing of Wildlife:
Sixty-five thousand years seems like forever, yet it is a finger-snap in geological time. Maybe our handicap comes from having a lifespan of only seventy or so years. But walk with me as I slog back 65,000 years. Then there were more than ten kinds (species) of great apes: in east and southeast Asia, two kinds of orangutans, two or more kinds of Homo erectus offspring, and tiny little folks (Hobbits) on Flores and other islands; in Africa, two gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and likely two hominin kinds, one of which was becoming us—Homo sapiens; and, in Europe and western Asia, Neandertals. Also, in central Asia, another kind of Homo, not us and not Neandertal. Of the species in this great ape clade, who do you think was fewest?
It was likely our forebears. Genetic and other scientific work shows that there were fewer than 10,000 of the elder Homo sapiens living 65,000 years ago—maybe only 5,000. Fifty thousand years later, we had spread out of Africa to Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. Only Antarctica and a few out-of-the-way islands were yet without us. In a few more thousand years we were building yearlong settlements and starting to grow wheat and lentils. We had already brought some wolves into our packs and would soon tame goats and sheep. Some little desert cats would tame us. Our tally had climbed to a million or so by then, about ten thousand years ago. By that time, our nearest kin—the three to six other Homos—were gone, and we likely had much to do with their going. The Sixth Mass Extinction was going full tilt with the killing of big wildeors wherever we newly showed up.
Another way to look at it is that 50,000 years ago, there were more tigers than Homo sapiens. More gorillas, more chimpanzees, more orangutans, more blue whales, more jaguars, more white rhinos…. Today, for every wild tiger on Earth, there are two million human beings.
Dave Foreman is the founder of The Rewilding Institute, co-founder of The Wildlands Project and Earth First!, and author of several acclaimed books on wildlands conservation. Books: Rewilding North America | Man Swarm: How Overpopulation Is Killing The WIld World | Take Back Conservation …among several other Rewilding books you can find here. [Photo: Dave Foreman in the barren grounds of Nunavit, Canada © Nancy Morton]