Tomorrow is a new year and I wanted to provide some factual data that justifies my concerns for worldwide population expansion being our number one environmental issue for the future!
In 1798, Thomas Malthus published, “An Essay on the Principles of Population”. He was one of the first to raise concerns about the issue of population expansion and the potential impact it could have on humanity. In his publication he stated, “The power of population is much greater than the power of Earth to provide for human needs”. It wasn’t until 1968, that Paul Ehrlich again highlighted the issue with his publication of, “The Population Bomb”. Paul pointed out, “we live on a finite planet with finite resources in a system where population is not finite”. Professor William Rees, ecological economist at the University of British Columbia, in an interview pointed out that the exchange value cycle was an inappropriate process for understanding the issue of population demands on our natural resources. He argued, “ecologists were studying non-human species and economists were studying humans with no concern for the natural resources”. His conclusions support my finding that, “Nothing is itself without all the rest”.
There have been a few members of the scientific community that have been concerned about population expansion for a long time however, the public has shown little interest in the issue. I suspect this is true because most people are not aware of the magnitude of the issue or it’s implications. In 1800, the world population was 1 billion and has since increased seven-fold. From 1950 to 2010 the global population nearly tripled, and the United States population doubled. Our current global population is 7.75 billion and expanding by 75 million annually. The U.S. Census Bureau projects we will reach 10 billion people worldwide in just 30 years, and the U.N. has projected a global population of 13 billion people by the end of the century.
In addition to population numbers, we need to understand the problem of population density. The average global population density is 25 people per square km, however there is a wide disparity between the various countries. Singapore has the highest density with 8000 people per square km, and Bangladesh, one of the larger countries, has 1252 people per sq. km. The higher the country’s density, the more dependent they are on materials and resources from other countries.
What can we expect in the future? Generally, we can expect birth-rates to gradually slow and life expectancies to increase. When poor countries expand their wealth, their birth-rates tend to slow, however the fastest growing age class, worldwide, are the 90 plus group. We can expect the world population to continue to expand at about 75 million per year, and the U.N. projects we will experience about 140 worldwide births per year for the next 80 years, which explains why population expansion will continue at close to 75 million per year. The statistics presented clearly establish why the most critical environmental issue we face worldwide is population expansion. The future demand for resources will stress Earth, resulting in issues like deforestation, poor air quality, water shortages, loss of water quality, food shortages, climate change, global warming, drought and a worldwide shortage of natural resources!
This information is interesting, but what does mean for humanities future? Remember Thomas Malthus conclusion that the power of population is much greater than the power of Earth to provide, and Paul Ehrlich’s conclusion that although population is not finite, we live on a finite planet that has finite resources. There have been several efforts to define Earth’s carrying capacity based on human population numbers. This can be estimated by determining what each one of us demand in energy and materials each year and then incorporating the data to world population data. Understanding this is an estimate, most scientists suggest Earth’s limit to supply needed resources is in the range of 10 billion people. Remember, we expect to reach 10 billion people in just 30 years. A poll in 2014 showed only 59% of Americans felt we will experience natural resource shortages on our planet. Professor Rees projects that each individual living on the North American Continent, today, require 20 acres to produce the energy and materials required to support our current life style, and the U.S. utilizes 20% to 25% of all the natural resources available on Earth. If you combined the required bio-physical resources utilized by China and the United States, it would require 125% of Earth’s total resources. Professor Rees projects, if the world enjoyed the U.S. life-style, it would require at least 3 additional planets like planet Earth. He goes on the indicate that people living in most poor countries use less than 1 acre to provide the energy and materials require for their life styles. If you divide the worlds land base by todays world population, there is only 4.2 acres per person, which means citizens of the United States and Canada are using 5 time more than the rest of the world.
Professor Rees tells us, “Sustainability is a collective problem requiring a collective approach to solve”. Dr. Jered Diamond suggests in his book, “Collapse”, in past societies which have failed the poor are the first to experience the final days, however the wealthy and powerful suffer longer and still experience the same finality. I do not want to be negative, but the facts tell the story and the future may arrive too quickly. The next 30 years will require major change if we hope to prolong life on our planet. There are only two options available; change our life style to conserve resources and intensify management of our remaining natural world by focusing on its needs rather than on what we can take from the natural world. It is much larger than simply reducing fossil fuel utilization or finding a new substitute energy source. This is truly a collective problem requiring a worldwide effort to solve! Much of our remaining natural world lands are forested and therefore require a major commitment for those responsible the management of these valuable lands. This requires significant re-evaluation of current management principles and goals, as a continued application of current goals too maintain a sustained flow of resources from the forest will lead to an accelerated loss of the life sustaining elements provided only by the NATURAL WORLD!