By Carl Menke
Humanity is increasingly aware it is growing at a rate far beyond the long-term carrying capacity of earth.
For perspective, this environment is a thin film of complex multi-cellular organisms holding onto a rock so rare and unique that we still can’t find another like it. Its resources are limited, and as we grow we place ever greater stress on a fragile and complex environment.
However, environmental sustainability is a privileged concept for those in desperate circumstances. If we want to sustainably continue improving the lives of all humanity for the long term, we must first ensure basic human rights such as sanitation, food and shelter are provided.
We must also collectively elevate the quality of life of all humans by reversing the uneven access to education, liberty and opportunity.
In 2014 the global population is estimated at 7.2 billion. The United Nations has predicted that by 2050 the global population will plateau at 9.7 billion.
This is based on the presumption that by 2050 globalisation and development will have reached all corners of the globe.
The hope is that globalisation and development will increase access to opportunities that make family planning and birth control a viable option. Limiting population growth to 2 billion people is still a scary concept as we are already living beyond our means, with Western nations holding the bulk of responsibility.
However, if substantial efforts are made to improve the quality of life of all, population growth may provide the solution. Equipped with the collective talents and ingenuity of 9.7 billion people, we will only have greater capacity to mitigate the environmental impacts of the human species while simultaneously improving quality of life.
By 2050 this will require that the fundamental needs of all are met, before equality of access to education and opportunity. In many developing areas, this will require a complete turnaround in just 35 years.
The importance of education has been captured perfectly in a recent idea that has spread viral across the internet, where an unknown author wrote “what if the cure for cancer was trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education?”
Simply, if we can’t provide free education globally by 2050 the solutions for the future survival of humanity may never be heard. Therefore the solution to the long-term sustainable improvement of human life is ingenuity, but importantly the education and opportunity to deliver upon the ingenuity.
Even if we agree this is the solution, finding a method to deliver this is very complex.
Governments of developing nations are often too corrupt and unstable to deliver the infrastructure, schools and tertiary education sources necessary for this change. I propose foreign investment may be the solution to bridge this gap.
The cost of establishing education facilities in developing nations is incredibly low compared to western standards, yet the potential size of the talent pool would guarantee talented employees, providing new ideas and driving profit.
Ensuring opportunities are available post education is the logical next step. Internship programs and then further employment opportunities may follow, however microfinance has been used successfully in the past.
This provides a small loan to establish businesses which is then paid back with very low interest. While these programs usually catered to women in small communities of developing nations, they could also apply to those who have graduated through these education programs.
The provision of education and opportunity globally will help plateau global population growth, while also increasing the capacity of humanity to utilise our collective ingenuity.
Living in equilibrium with our environment should be the ultimate indicator of improved human quality of life. With 9.7 billion educated individuals, we will be in the best position we have ever been to solve all current and future problems.
- Carl Menke is a Griffith University G20 Scholar.