This article focuses on the demographic issue. The difficulties we encounter in managing the environmental crisis lie in the fact that our brain, adapted to the Paleolithic environment, is not suitable for managing the environment in which we live today. We will need a leap of conscience to react, and time is running out.
All animal species tend to grow. They stop doing so only when the overexploitation of their ecosystem forces them to diminish or disappear. If reducing our consumption is the priority, we cannot continue to ignore the demographic issue. Is it so inhumane to say that reproduction is not an end in itself? What difference would it make if we preferred to be 10 or 15 billion rather than 2 or 5? Emmanuel Kant would tell us that demographic expansion has no ethical necessity, unlike René Descartes, or the biblical verses (Genesis 1:28): “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and you dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and every animal that moves on the ground… ”We recall that during most of the existence of the genus Homo, its population was of the order of 10 000 individuals. 50,000 years ago we were about 1.5 million. From the Neolithic the population will grow exponentially. In the last fifty years our population has grown more than in the previous 300,000 years, hence the term “great acceleration”: 1.6 billion in 1900, 2.5 billion in 1950, 6.1 billion in 2000 and 7.8 billions in 2021. Add the billions of domestic animals (livestock or pets), a kind of extension of the human species that plays a fundamental role in the imbalance of the Earth system.
But this growth is not obvious: we are cognitively unable to grasp its brutality. We suffer from a prejudice that prevents us from grasping exponential or hyperbolic trajectories; nothing in the shortness of our life allows us to experience it. Awareness comes late and comes at a time when it is no longer possible to control the phenomenon. Our short-term economic logic appears absurd in the long term. For example, population growth must be stimulated because the assets finance old-age pensions. But since the workers of today will be the retirees of the future, the movement must always grow. Until ? No system in equilibrium is able to absorb the proliferation of a species, which is, moreover, of such an invasive species, which produces and consumes energy like ours.
Could a change in our behavior have an effect on the preservation of the common good? The impact of an individual is one-tenth if the community includes 10 people. At 8 billion, my impact is therefore 1 in 8 billion, or . Not only are there too many to be able to exchange, but above all we perceive that a change in our behavior will have no impact. This is the problem of the immeasurability between individual action and collective action. This type of reasoning is a classic alibi that we give ourselves to continue to consume and actively participate in the destruction of the common good. But evolution has endowed us with a brain with such capabilities that it is now dangerous to obey the most universal biological determinism there is: to grow and reproduce. We can no longer behave like rats that proliferate on the island they colonized. Awareness of the absurdity of growth, economic or demographic, should lead us to free ourselves from the yoke imposed by evolutionary forces.
The fact of giving birth to a child helps to accentuate one’s ecological footprint: an indisputable proof. We have two levers of action by virtue of the Kaya equation: I = P x A x T. To reduce a given ecological impact (I), the level of consumption and wealth (A) cannot increase only if the population (P ) decreases and / or if the technological efficiency (T) increases. The technological lever must pursue the objective of improving our living conditions within the limits of the planet, and not that of personal enrichment. This is not the direction our societies are taking. The second lever, a taboo subject, is demography, which must be addressed rationally. It is not a question of opposing the Malthusians, the partisans of the absence of demographic control. We can imagine population control without elitism, without eugenics and without racism. Since the production of wealth depends on the resources of our ecosystem, the share that goes to each is necessarily a function of the total number. Without population control, we will have to expect a large-scale collapse, as seen in all species in a limited ecosystem. The examples are legion: read “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. To regulate the human population, two imperatives: democratic approval and strictly identical enforcement for all. Was it also mentioned during the presidential campaign? On the contrary. It will not be easy!