Resource Overconsumption Not Population Growth the Real Environmental Problem: Fred Pearce
photo: Gamerscoreblog.com via flickr.
Every time I write about overpopulation it's like poking the proverbial hornet's nest: Nothing, and I mean nothing, evokes as visceral responses as suggesting people have fewer children. Well, in a new piece for New Scientist, Fred Pearce asserts that population growth is taking care of itself -- the real problem is overconsumption of natural resources:Pearce has argued before that Paul Ehrlich's "population bomb" is defusing itself and backs it up with: Half the world has population growth rates below the rate of replacement and, apart from some Muslim countries and much of Africa, rates in the rest of the world may still above the rate of replacement, but are falling.
7% of World Population = 50% of Carbon EmissionsWhile all that means that there are still a whole heck of a lot of people on the planet, we need not worry about runaway population growth as much as runaway consumer consumption.
Considering this rather sobering stat:
Take one measure: carbon dioxide emissions. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environmental Institute, calculates that the world's richest half billion people - that's about 7 per cent of the global population - are responsible for 50 per cent of the world's emissions. Meanwhile, the poorest 50 per cent are responsible for just 7 per cent of emissions. One American or European is more often than not responsible for more emissions than an entire village of Africans.'Normal' Consumption Levels Need to DecreasePearce really lays out the essential environmental challenge (and quotes EO Wilson to back it up): How to provide good lives for all of humanity while not destroying the planet in the process.
It might be tempting to think that technology can solve some of this, with greater efficiency in manufacturing, reductions in waste, etc., I think the uncomfortable truth is that, while technological improvements are a crucial part of the equation, at the same time we ought to not assume that these alone will allow a more equitable and environmentally sustainable standard of living. We must consider the real possibility that the "normal" level of consumption in the developed world today must seriously be reconsidered.
More: New ScientistPopulation GrowthIs Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb Defusing Itself? Fred Pearce Thinks SoThe Best Way You Can Go Green: Have Fewer ChildrenWhen Population Growth & Resources Availability Collide