Equity and justice for all, along with a safe and healthy planet to harbor all of our needs and wants. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? The idea of being able to eradicate global poverty while keeping our planet environmentally sustainable seems to be one that is too far out of reach for our current capabilities. But I digress, it is always interesting to toil with the idea.

Is it possible for all of humanity to earn a basic standard of living?

For starters, there is simply not enough resources on our planet to feed 7+ billion people at the level of the average European, which works out to just over 2,000 calories per day.

But the more I read into this, the more I realize the average person doesn’t need or even want to live and consume like the average European: many just want enough.

Enough to feed themselves; their family. And enough to live a relatively healthy life. People want health care and a steady job. They want a roof over their heads and clothes on their back – but with Earth’s population poised to reach upwards of 10 billion by mid-century, the task of raising the standard of living for so many people becomes further out of reach.

To shine some optimism on this issue, global poverty has and will continue to fall to about 20% by 2030, and hopefully continue on this trend even beyond this point.

Billions will still be living below the poverty line, but nobody can dispute that we as a species are making tremendous progress towards tackling the issue of global poverty alleviation.

But now to really answer your question, can the Earth be 100% environmentally sustainable, with everyone earning a basic standard of living?

Yes, but ONLY, (big only, can you tell by the all caps?) only if we slow down population growth. If global population reaches upwards of ten, even fifteen billion people, we will have exhausted our resources and the poor will have absolutely no chance of survival – not because there isn’t enough land, but because farmland loses its arability after a certain period of time depending on geographic location. For example, Africa’s population is expected to grow by two billion by mid-century, yet they have some of the least farmable land on the planet due to their close positioning to the equator and lack of rainfall. Who is going to feed all these people? Where will they work when many countries in Africa are riddled with political corruption and lack economic foundation?

The simple answer to your question is population control – no, not that type of population control. I mean the type of control we’ve seen in China; The Chinese government has used several methods to control population growth. In 1979, China started the “one child per family policy.” This policy stated that citizens must obtain a birth certificate before the birth of their children. The citizens would be offered special benefits if they agreed to have only one child.

This would need to be a global phenomenon for Earth’s population to stabilize, because if we surpass even ten billion humans, it will be nearly impossible to satisfy the basic human calorie consumption for all of these individuals while still being environmentally sustainable.

An article from Grist explains this in further detail,

If ending all poverty were as simple as producing enough food to feed everyone, our work would be done. Farms already grow enough food for every person on the planet — 2,800 calories a day, if it were divvied up equally. But we have never shared resources equally, and no one seems to have figured out a realistic way of making people start. Attempts by governments to distribute food in equal shares have failed; they almost immediately lead to black markets, with the poor selling food and the rich buying it. An investment banker in New York will always eat better than a beggar in Lagos.

Nathanael Johnson touches on humanities basic flaws in this article: greed and corruption. Not only have we never shared resources equally because at our core, many of us desire to be better than our fellow man in terms of status and wealth, but he also touches on the fact that humans are conniving and deceiving to some extent; “Attempts by governments to distribute food in equal shares have failed; they almost immediately lead to black markets, with the poor selling food and the rich buying it.”

And so the cycle continues…

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