There are now more than 7.2 billion people on Earth, and the United Nations estimates that the population will balloon to 9.6 billion by the year 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. People consume resources and take up space, and all this takes its toll on the environment.

Ecologist Corey Bradshaw and Barry Brook looked into the question of whether or not reducing the global population size could help alleviate the effects of climate change, curb animal extinction, and solve other concerns involving the environment. The results of their research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bradshaw and Brook recreated models that would lead to population reduction. One involved female empowerment and increased access to contraception, which led to better family planning, and another followed the implementation of the harsher one-child policy. The researchers also factored in what would happen if disaster struck due to climate change, wars, or pandemics.

However, whether six billion people suddenly died due to war, the drastic reduction in new births were enforced because of the one-child policy, or contraceptive use skyrocketed, all the models turned out the same results. Whatever method was implemented to reduce the population, the world would still arrive roughly at the point the UN projected, where about 10 billion people would be roaming the planet by 2100.

"The planet's large, growing, and over-consuming human population, especially the increasing affluent component, is rapidly eroding many of the Earth's natural ecosystems. How long might fertility reduction take to make a meaningful impact? Even one-child policies imposed worldwide and catastrophic mortality events would still likely result in five to 10 billion people by 2100. Because of this demographic momentum, there are no easy ways to change the broad trends of human population size this century," concluded the study.

Of the measures recreated in the study, Bradshaw emphasized he only supports voluntary population reduction, which is a natural result of female empowerment and contraceptive use, calling it the "only humane way to reduce the human population size."

Unfortunately, voluntary population reduction won't make much of a difference. By 2050, this may result in cutting back on a few hundred million people. Compared to the 9.6 billion people the world is estimated to have by that year, that's not much.

Bradshaw likens the situation to a speeding car: if the vehicle is going at 100 miles per hour, it is possible to slow the car down eventually but the current momentum remains.

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