Population Growth, Resource Over-Consumption at Center of 'Looming Catastrophe', Stanford Biologists Claim

times square at night photo

photo by Michael McDonough

This next post is about something which I've found many environmentalists, and even more people who don't consider themselves environmentalists, find very hard to discuss: Overpopulation and the corresponding Overconsumption of natural resources which we now face on this planet.

Yale Environment 360 is currently running a piece by Stanford biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich which discusses what they see as the central environmental crisis which we face: "Too Many People, Too Much Consumption." It's an important topic and a thought provoking piece, so I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but here are some choice bits to get you going:
There is no technological fix that will allow perpetual population and economic growth

The point, all too often ignored, is that this trend is being driven in large part by a combination of population growth and increasing per capita consumption, and it cannot be long continued without risking a collapse of our now-global civilization. Too many people — and especially too many politicians and business executives — are under the delusion that such a disastrous end to the modern human enterprise can be avoided by technological fixes that will allow the population and the economy to grow forever.

Population factor "greater than most people suppose"
Many past human societies have collapsed under the weight of overpopulation and environmental neglect, but today the civilization in peril is global. The population factor in what appears to be a looming catastrophe is even greater than most people suppose. Each person added today to the population on average causes more damage to humanity's critical life-support systems than did the previous addition — everything else being equal.

Affluence = Overconsumption
Consumption is still viewed as an unalloyed good by many economists, along with business leaders and politicians, who tend to see jacking up consumption as a cure-all for economic ills. Too much unemployment? Encourage people to buy an SUV or a new refrigerator. Perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell, but third-rate economists can't think of anything else.

We are overconsuming resources, but multitudes still go without
And, of course, there are the vexing problems of consumption of people in poor countries. On one hand, a billion or more people have problems of underconsumption. Unless their basic needs are met, they are unlikely to be able to make important contributions to attaining sustainability. On the other hand, there is also the issue of the "new consumers" in developing economies such as China and India, where the wealth of a sizable minority is permitting them to acquire the consumption habits (e.g., eating a lot of meat and driving automobiles) of the rich nations. Consumption regulation is a lot more complex than population regulation, and it is much more difficult to find humane and equitable solutions to the problem.

:: Yale Environment 360
Population, Natural Resources
Brits Break Silence on Population-Climate Change Links
Biofuels, Food, Population Growth to Put Increasing Pressure on Forests
The Elephant in the Room: Overpopulation
Shocking News: The Rich Have Bigger Carbon Footprints Than the Poor

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