The 1973 Film Soylent Green predicts a future world in the year 2022 where the stark landscape has been cleared of vegetation, temperatures are sweltering, mass extinction of flora and fauna means there’s no fresh food and the masses inhabiting overpopulated cities are fed energy concentrate wafers by the Soylent Corporation.
The new Soylent Green variety made from plankton is said to be tastier and more nutritious but accidentally found oceanographic surveys reveal the horrible truth at the conclusion to the film. All life in the oceans has long since died and “Soylent Green is People” reclaimed from carcasses fed into waste processing plants.
Today’s IQ2 Debate “If we keep populating we will perish” will most likely focus on issues like an aging population and immigration.
What it’s almost guaranteed to not cover is negative externalities of a constantly growing human population on Earth. A negative externality is a technical sounding term in economics that basically means let somebody else deal with the problems that are created.
The world’s oceans, lakes and seas are classic negative externality victims. Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface and the oceans hold about 96.5% of all Earth’s water and yet few people think about the ocean besides swimming at the beach or flying over it to a holiday destination.
We need a healthy marine environment if the population of Australia and the world is to continue growing and be fed. According to the World Health Organisation “worldwide about a billion people rely on fish as their main source of animal proteins”. While the health of the oceans affects us all because of their rich bio-diversity, they are out of sight and so also out of mind.
A recent news release by the United Nations Environment Programme points out that 45% of the planet’s surface is high seas that are outside the limits of any nation’s jurisdiction:
“This area, which contains perhaps the largest reservoir of biodiversity left on earth, is exploited by many countries, but managed by no one … three-quarters of marine fisheries are exploited up to, or beyond, their maximum capacity. According to the UN’s most recent “State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture” report, 85% of fish stocks are fully exploited or worse – the highest levels ever recorded”.
Amongst the many issues needing to be addressed are:
- Overfishing causing species such as the Southern Bluefin Tuna to be critically endangered
- Phosphorous fertiliser discharge into the oceans
- Small broken down pieces of plastic covering vast areas of the ocean, killing sea life
- The worrying trend of growing numbers of “dead zone” areas so low in oxygen that sea life cannot survive.
If we want to avoid a Tragedy of the Commons Soylent Green future we should pay more attention to organisations like the International Program on the State of the Oceans report whose scientists warn of a “potential marine massacre with a mass extinction of sea life akin to the death of the dinosaurs”.
The University of Queensland’s Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg was one of the report’s co-authors and told ABC Radio’s The World Today that: “a growing human population is to blame for many of the changes and … the pressure will only increase, with the world’s population set to grow by another 3 billion people in the next 30 to 50 years.”
Entrepreneur Richard Branson recently announced a new non-profit scientific research organisation called Virgin Oceanic that would study 5 of the deepest ocean trenches in the world. When doing so he made the point that:
“What if I were to tell you about a planet, inhabited by intelligent beings that had, in the 21st century, physically explored 0% of it’s deepest points & mapped only 3% of it’s oceans by unmanned craft, when 70% of that planet’s surface was made up of water”.
“Then I tried to convince you that only 10% of the life forms inhabiting that unknown world are known to those on the surface. You’d think I’d fallen asleep watching the latest sci-fi blockbuster. Then you discover that planet is Earth.”