FEB 11, 2020 —

Our population is heading towards 10 billion – and Chris Packham thinks we might need a one-child policy to save the world
We are putting a strain on the planet, but is the BBC presenter of ‘7.7 Billion People and Counting’ right to suggest we have fewer kids?
By Sophie Morris

It is the ethical dilemma that dare not speak its name, or even whisper it. But Chris Packham, admittedly not known for piping down, has decided enough is enough. The stakes, the survival of our species and of our planet, are too high.

The big issue? Population control. And Packham’s mission, with a one-off BBC programme broadcast next week, is to make having children as uncool as eating meat or drinking from a disposable cup. If you do have to reproduce, please stick to one.

The naturalist and broadcaster knows it will cause a stir. That’s his intention. “I’m not here to make friends,” he told reporters after a preview screening of 7.7 Billion People and Counting last month. “I’m here to make a difference… My duty is to pull people’s heads out of the sand.”

During Packham’s lifetime of 58 years, the population of the world has doubled. In Sir David Attenborough’s 93 years, it has tripled. There were only five million people on the planet 10,000 years ago. Today, there are around 7.7 billion humans walking the Earth.

‘Sphere of destruction’
The United Nations predicts that our numbers will rise to almost 10 billion by 2050. They will need more space. They will need more to eat, resulting in more land being deforested for farms, which will need more water and risk exhausting soil. And they will need more energy, when we need to radically reduce and eliminate net carbon emissions. Can our planet sustain such numbers? If not, can anything be done about it?

Packham calls the triangle of climate change, biodiversity loss and population growth a “sphere of destruction”. But where the first two are accepted causes of planetary devastation, and our overconsumption of meat and plastic is a fixture on the news agenda, discussing the birth rate is as risky as bringing up Brexit at a family meal.

His view is shared by the leading gerontologist Professor Sarah Harper, a founder of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. “We’re definitely at a turning point,” she agrees. “The next two or three decades are going to be crucial.” …

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