One giant leap for mankind – but since?

By The Hon. Kelvin Thomson

It has been great to re-live the Apollo 11 Moon Landing’s 50th Anniversary. What a monumental achievement and tribute to human intellectual candlepower, endeavour and above all courage.

I was a Year 9 student at the time; like other classes we downed tools to watch it unfold. Our teachers were just as astonished by the audacity and precision of the Landing as we were.

Moon landing
Apollo 11 Moon Landing, photo by NASA

I – and I think most of the people who I talked with or heard from at that time – had a very rosy view of the future. Yes we were involved in a stupid war in Vietnam, but I thought the Second World War and the Holocaust were so wicked and so evil that we’d learned from that, and that there was a very strong worldwide appetite for peace. I thought that war and conflict would become a thing of the past.

I also thought that we were learning from our environmental mistakes, and that the public interest and community action groups springing up to oppose air pollution, water pollution, toxic pesticides and habitat destruction would see us lift our environmental game. In short, I thought everything would improve.

But to reflect on the Apollo 11 Moon Landing raises the question for me – what has actually happened to the world in the last 50 years?

The most striking global phenomenon of the past 50 years has been population growth. It took us the whole of human history to get to the 3.6 billion people we were in 1969. It has taken just 50 years to more than double that, to 7.7 billion now. Australia is no exception – back in 1969 we were 12 million; now we are 25 million.

World human population along human history.

The impact of this growth on wildlife and the environment has been catastrophic. The latest World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report says that since 1970, 60% of the population of all mammals, birds, reptiles and fish has been lost.

60% in 50 years. It is a disgrace. It makes an absolute nonsense of the idea that we’re decoupling growth from environmental damage; that we can continue to grow, and our wildlife won’t disappear. Let me repeat – in the last years our numbers went up by over 50%, and the world’s wildlife went down by 60%.

orangutan palm

Co-incidence? Hardly. Today, the ratios of total weight of mammals are –  humans 36%,  livestock 60%, and wild animals only 4%. Due to the severe alteration of ecosystems by human activities over the past five decades, 1 million wild species are threatened with extinction today.

And the population doubling in 50 years has not just been catastrophic for our wildlife and environment; there have been many other consequences too. Back then Australia had negligible unemployment. Now we’ve got unemployment, we’ve got underemployment, we’ve got job insecurity, we’ve got no wage growth.

Back then we had virtually no homelessness and much lower levels of mental health problems and drug addiction. Now we have homelessness and beggars in the streets, our young people have mental health problems. Ice used to be something you needed to keep the beer cold. Not any more.

We have housing unaffordability. In 1969 Australians not only owned their own homes, many Australians had a holiday home down by the beach as well. Not any more. In 1969 there was no such thing as traffic congestion. Now the traffic congestion is terrible. We have road rage (unheard of in 1969) and Melbourne is on track to add over one million extra cars in the next 20 years. How will we go with another million cars?

Peak hour traffic in Sidney, photo by Alex Proimos

In 1969 we did indeed take a giant leap forward. But it’s the increasing size of the foot, and our footprint on the earth, that the past 50 years will be most remembered for in time to come. The next giant leap for mankind will be the one that moves us from using “growth” as our measuring stick, to using “wellbeing”, and which enables us to put into effect the lesson of those beautiful photos of the earth taken by the astronauts – that we’re all in this together.

The Hon. Kelvin Thomson is a former Australian politician, who was an Australian Labor Party member of the Australian House of Representatives. Today, Kelvin is a member of Sustainable Australia party, continues to be a keen environmentalist, naturalist and sustainable population advocate.

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5 thoughts on “One giant leap for mankind – but since?

  1. H. sapiens is a creature of the earth. Understand that food is the tap root of life for the human species. There may be other factors that help sustain human life, but food is the ‘tap root’ for the growth of absolute human population numbers, just as is the case with other species of earth.

    Our problem is a biological one. A positive feedback loop has been established in the food-population relationship because natural limiting factors to the unbridled growth of absolute human population numbers have been eliminated by human ingenuity. Human beings are unique creatures of earth. We are exceptional in many wondrous ways, but not in terms of population dynamics. Hence the recent ‘bloom’ of absolute global human population numbers that are primarily caused by spectacular increases in the food supply which is derived from greatly enhanced production and distribution capabilities.

    The conundrum: increasing food production annually to meet the needs of growing population is fueling a human population explosion. With every passing year more people are being fed and more people are going hungry.

    Perhaps we can agree to a desperate need for an adequate-enough explanation for ‘why’ we have ended up where are, in this global predicament. A growing body of unfalsified research has been ubiquitously denied and consequently not widely shared much less consensually validated by population experts of science as well as those professionals with appropriate expertise in the fields of demography and economics. Uncontested science makes it possible for us to answer the question posed now, here.

    A new biological understanding is emerging from ongoing scientific research. It is simply this: as is the case with other species, human population numbers appear or not as a function of food availability; food is the independent, not the dependent, variable in the relationship between food and population numbers; and human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species.

    Sound scientific research provides straightforward empirical data of a non-recursive biological problem that is independent of economic, political, ethical, social, legal, religious, and cultural considerations. This means human population dynamics is like the population dynamics of other species. It also means that global human population growth is a viciously cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives population growth, and population growth fuels the false perception, the mistaken impression, the fatally flawed misconception that food production needs to be increased to meet the needs of a growing population.

    With every passing year, as food production is increased leading to a population increase, millions go hungry. Why are those hungry millions not getting fed year after year after year… and future generations of poor people may not ever be fed? Every year the human population grows. All segments of it grow. More people with blue eyes and more with brown ones. More tall people and more short ones. All segments of the population grows. Every year there are also more people growing up well fed and more people growing up hungry. The hungry segment of the global population goes up just like all the other segments of the population. We are unexpectedly increasing the number of hungry people in the course of feeding more people. We are not bringing hunger to an end by increasing food production.

    The skyrocketing increase of the human population in our time on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth has caused a growing number of apparently unforeseen and exceedingly deleterious ecological occurrences. Among these potentially catastrophic, human-driven consequences is climate destabilization. What is fortunately becoming clearer to naked eyes, as we observe what is happening, is the manifold ways overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species are occurring synergistically and simultaneously threatening life as we know it, environmental health, and future human well-being. The spectacular increase of these distinctly human, overgrowth activities is causing the mass extirpation of earth’s biodiversity, the relentless dissipation of its limited natural resources, the unbridled degradation of its environs and the reckless threat to a good enough future for children everywhere.

    For a moment let us carefully consider the remote possibility that the human community writ large pulls itself together on a war footing to fight climate change and wins that battle by reducing carbon emissions of all kinds to net zero in 2020, while the tap-root cause of anthropogenic climate change continues to be denied. We may win a major Pyrrhic victory. That is certainly a good thing. And yet, if we do not accurately enough locate the foremost cause of the biological problem that is ailing humankind, the problem that is precipitating climate change, we could lose the prospects of a good enough future for life as we know it.

    We have run out of time for population experts to remain reticent. They have to assume their responsibilities by examining data and reporting findings regarding the question, “Why are human population numbers exploding?” The time has come to disclose all of what we know — the whole truth — with regard to human creatureliness and human population growth, according to the best available science and ‘lights’ we possess.

  2. Since 47 year no human foot has been on the moon and the NASA budget was reduced. It had been 5% of the USBNP at is max and it was fast reduced to something like 1%. The thought was that these resources would help the humans on Earth. But reading your article one may ask if they did.

  3. Being 82 years old I recall the time well. Humans could do anything. Most men had a choice of a good job even if they didn’t get a decent education. Most kids left school after year nine or ten when they were old enough. Kids whose mothers worked were generally poor. We’ve got rid of a lot of manual labour since then but it appears the divide between rich and poor has increased, as has that between rich and poor nations. I respectfully suggest it is the growth of selfishness and the decline of cooperation. The Moon landing was the height of technological cooperation albeit expensive. In a democratic world the power would be with the people but now the power is with the money. We now worship money more, and worship people less, particularly poor women who often have no say in the number of children they bare. Men often don’t care, and I’m a male, somewhat ashamed of my brothers. Join a cooperative movement please.
    Ken R Young

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