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Sustainability amidst humanity's decline (I/V)

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By Yury Erofeev

· 7 min read

In an era where 'sustainable development' is a buzzword for many corporations, understanding its essence is crucial. This piece delves into the historical and contemporary implications of rapid population growth, the impact of industrialization, and the pressing need for genuinely sustainable practices as we face a fragile planet with limited resources.

Today, on the website or in the brand book of almost any international public organization, a large company, especially a transnational corporation, one can find a mention of “sustainable development”. This is considered at least good manners. Everyone “attaches importance to the need for sustainable development”, “takes a responsible approach to the issue of sustainable development” and “takes a strong stance towards sustainable development”. At the same time, if the company’s copywriters were not too lazy and did not just mention, but wrote in more detail what exactly they mean by sustainable development, it often becomes clear that there is nothing but good manners behind these mentions. This is something like a tie and clean boots — the password to be allowed into good houses. For the one who pronounces this password, it often remains gibberish. Sometimes the speaker tries to put some simple meaning into it on his own. For example, he writes that sustainable development is when the profits of shareholders grow steadily. Or when the company regularly increases production capacity. These explanations, of course, have nothing to do with the concept of sustainable development. But most of those who rinse this phrase in all possible places do not seriously try to think about what it means. Used ritually, in a set: a good watch, a shaved chin, a Blackberry or an iPhone, a dress code, a quality system certificate, sustainable development, a vacation in Thailand. However, why did this, not noticeably clear combination get into this set? Why is it a ticket to good homes? What do they know about it in these houses and why did they come up with it at all?

There are too many of us

Religious thinkers, science fiction writers, and other various lovers of speculating on general topics often explain the need for death in this way: if people were immortal, but at the same time, as he was supposedly commanded, to be fruitful and multiply, the place on Earth would end too quickly. It is easy to imagine such a situation, but it does not frighten: a person and in general, all living things are mortal. Science is looking for a way to immortality, but when it will find it and whether it will find it is unknown. However, between non-existence and immortality, there is an intermediate state — finite life. And its duration is growing. Roughly speaking, today we are much more immortal than six thousand years ago. And the Earth is gradually filling up with us: in the year 4000 BC, the entire human population of the planet was seven million individuals. I repeat seven million people on the entire planet. Today almost 9 million people live in London alone. And there are more than seven billion of us on Earth. Very soon there will be eight. To ensure any comfortable existence for such a mass of people, a fair share of which is also accustomed to riding cars and planes fueled with gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, alcohol, and natural gas, a lot of resources are needed. And the planet is failing. This is noticed even by those who do not have a span on their foreheads. People with seven spans in this place not only notice, but also try to calculate when and how everything will blow up here, and figure out what to do so that it doesn’t blow up so that everyone is healthy and gets a balanced nutritious dinner at the table.

For those who think that seven billion people in six thousand years is not amazingly fast and that we still have a lot of time, I suggest paying attention to two facts.

First: the entire population of the Earth, who lived here 6,000 years ago, fits within the statistical error of the current population. What is seven million? One major city. Imagine that a powerful atomic bomb fell on it, it was destroyed, and the inhabitants died. So what? It is a pity for people, but has the population of the Earth become significantly less as a result of this tragedy? If only cities with a population of more than ten million people each on our planet were at least twenty-three? And there are more than two and a half million cities in total. These are the only cities — without villages, farms, farms, villages, and villages. Let’s imagine that in each city only two or three people escaped the census and were not taken into account in any other way by the statistical authorities — that’s seven million for you. In reality, the unaccounted population is much larger only in cities. So, think about how many of us there are if the entire population of the earth in 4000 BC, of ​​all countries and continents, today seems to be nothing, zero, an error.

The alarming pace of population growth

The second fact, which would be good to pay attention to: is that from seven million to the first billion, the population of the Earth has been growing for 5800 years. We have built up the last billion in 10–13 years. Once again: 5800 years and 13 years. The speed has increased a little, don’t you think? If it goes on like this, even without immortality in a few decades we will dig up all the minerals, eat all the animals and all the plants, and sit on each other’s heads if no extraordinary measures are taken, at least.

But what kind of measures can these be and who can and should invent and take them?

Proponents of the concept of sustainable development believe that humanity has only two possible ways: either to consolidate and consciously carefully develop, saving resources, reasonably limiting consumption, preserving the diversity of wildlife, and introducing innovative technologies, or soon “exhaust the Earth” and lose everything forever what civilization has achieved in the last two or three centuries.

Awareness of global problems

Until the 20th century, concern about resources was mostly local. As a last resort — interlocal (in a sense, for example, to grab something useful in India or on the islands of the Pacific Ocean and bring it to Foggy Albion, and there will still be a lot left in India). It was difficult to imagine that humanity would manage to undermine the resources of the entire planet so that it became a real global problem. Already the resources of India, Australia, and South America seemed simply inexhaustible. Everything changed with the industrial revolution and the mass introduction of vaccination. And there penicillin arrived in time. Everything increased at once: the rate of growth in the number of mankind, the rate of consumption by this mankind of everything in the world, up to the atmosphere and fresh water.

In the second half of the 20th century, it suddenly became clear to many that easy life is not eternal: a satellite, then dogs and monkeys, and then a man circled the Earth, photographed it from the side, and from an endless world, it turned into a touching ball that is a little scary to break or lose.

Desertification, heaps of waste rocks, and the state of water and air near large industrial plants beyond the Earth itself only added to the concern. Questions began to arise: How much is all this enough? What is the risk of overpopulation? What will happen anyway?

The two world wars that took place in the first half of the century contributed to the awareness of the phenomenon of global humanity and the reality of global problems.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Yury Erofeev is a Business Analyst at SQUAKE, utilizing a solid foundation in Physics, Mathematics, and Sustainable Development to drive meaningful industry changes through data-driven decision-making.

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