RIO DE JANEIRO — The explosive growth in population, which is expected to triple to 16 billion in 80 years, is leading to a world where people will be "surviving like rats," undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau said Friday.
"Even if we found a way to feed this human tidal wave, it would be impossible to provide this multitude with decent living conditions," Cousteau said in a speech. "Surviving like rats is not what we should bequeath to our children and grandchildren."
Cousteau, who did not address the formal sessions of the U.N. Earth Summit but gave a lecture at the summit convention center, said that summit delegates must "realize the urgency of drastic, unconventional decisions."
"You have an extraordinary opportunity to change the course of the world . . . but only if you decide to challenge the huge problems with radical solutions," he said.
"We are living in an interminable succession of absurdities imposed by the myopic logic of short-term thinking," Cousteau said.
He told the story of an environmental disaster he said he had learned about during his 59 years of exploration.
It occurred in Haiti, which he said was suffering the consequences of reckless destruction of its environment.
"Haitians are beautiful, proud, intelligent, good-humored and hard-working," Cousteau said. "But they have exhausted the marine resources of their narrow continental shelf," and deforested their land.
Deforestation has led to soil erosion, "laying bare the ground rock and impeding agriculture for centuries to come," Cousteau said.
"Political changes will fail to resolve Haiti's tragedy, as this country will be poverty-stricken for many years," he said. "Maybe forever."
Haiti provides a chilling example of what could begin to happen around the world, as population grows and resources dwindle, he said.
"The fuse connected to a demographic explosion is already burning."