A recent study by the Weizmann Institute of science has been widely reported in the press. It found that ‘Wild land mammals weigh less than 10% of the combined weight of humans’.
Now, curious minds will be wondering just how you measure the combined weight of all animals, either by species, or overall. These figures will of course have been calculated from data, and from estimates of the numbers of animals, but presumably the institute is confident its methods give a meaningful level of accuracy. But even if the margin of error was large, there’s no escaping the implications of such an incredible imbalance between the population levels of us humans and the other species we share the planet with (although sharing the planet is quite obviously something we’re incapable of doing). The unprecedented success of one species (ours) has undoubtedly been the main factor in the decline of all others.
Well; not quite all others. The animals we breed for our own use (both as pets and as food) are plentiful. The study estimates the biomass of domestic dogs (20 million tonnes) as being roughly equal to that of all wild land animals. And the weight of farm animals is 630 million tonnes (nearly twice the biomass of humans, at 390 million tonnes). Which explains why the air I have to breathe where I live, out in the countryside, is frequently so thick with ammonia.
Now, one of the factors contributing to our overall weight is that we have exceptionally large, heavy brains. Which, when you come to think about it, is a terrible irony. We are rational beings – possibly the only rational beings on this planet. We’re fully cognisant of the problems that arise when populations of other species get out of control. But when it comes to human populations well, that’s the white elephant no-ones talking to, in the corner of the room (not that there are many elephants left – white or otherwise).
The number of humans on the globe is fast approaching 8 billion. Our astounding population growth continues to swallow up ever more land. We’ve reached the point where there is precious little wild land left on planet earth. I know this only too well, living in an island nation, at the unfashionable end of Europe, where the quantity of genuine wilderness is effectively nil.
We really need to take a long hard look at how we manage our population level (or don’t, more to the point). But it’s just not the done thing. Mention that we ought to control human population and people will look at you as if you’re suggesting slaughtering babies. Raise the issue of excessive human population, and people will call you a monster, or a Nazi.
Climate change is the issue of our times: ‘Just Stop oil’, electric cars, the Green party, sustainability, net zero, re-wilding, carbon capture, blah, blah, blah (as Greta might say). There’s no end to the ideas and suggestions for mitigating, or even reversing, the warming of our planet. We’ll clutch at the flimsiest of straws; consider anything, however difficult or far-fetched, just so long as we don’t have to discuss the one thing that is at the back of all of our problems, from climate change, to environmental damage, to the housing shortage, to the ever growing number of species extinctions.
By the time people wake up and start talking about that particular problem, it will be too late. In fact, it’s probably already too late. We’re disturbing the balance of our environment not just by our behaviour, but also by shear weight of numbers.
Somewhere in the universe, I like to imagine, there is a planet similar to our own, where a species has evolved not just to be as intelligent as us humans, but also to have developed that most elusive of attributes: common sense…
text & elephant © Graham Wright 2023
People have been talking about overpopulation for a while now. Populations in China, Russia, Europe, and India are decreasing, and have been for some years now. China had the one child policy. Tax laws and other laws should be changed to discourage population growth. But it is provably too late by now – but maybe not.