Many of us are concerned with social ills, or economic problems, and with no small justification (there are many real and major problems in these areas). However, society and our economy both fully depend on ecology (the Earth’s Bio-Sphere). Rome may have fallen but at least the Romans did not make the whole planet into a waste-land as they fell, our current culture is threatening to do just that. . . . That is why, to me, the environment is the primary issue, and, in my mind, it takes top priority.
Unfortunately, current human actions are very detrimental to the welfare of the rest of the bio-sphere.
It is estimated that the population of the world reached one billion in 1804, two billion in 1927, three billion in 1960, four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, and six billion in 1999.
And we are now approaching 7 Billion.
The “Day of 7 Billion” has been targeted by the United States Census Bureau to be in July 2012, while the Population Division of the United Nations suggests 26 August 2011.
The results of massive numbers of humans using large amounts of resources per capita are staggering. . . .
Humans are stripping nature at an unprecedented rate and will need two planets’ worth of natural resources every year by 2050 if current trends continue, according to a report published Tuesday by the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Footprint Network.
“For more than 20 years we have exceeded the Earth’s ability to support a consumptive lifestyle that is unsustainable and we cannot afford to continue down this path,” WWF Director-General James Leape said in releasing the 2006 Living Planet Report in Beijing.
“If everyone around the world lived as those in America, we would need five planets to support us,” Leape added.
This all makes me think of a quotation by Edward Abbey: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
And it indeed seems that humans have become like unto a cancer upon the Earth. . . .
“It’s not just species on islands or in rain forests or just birds or big charismatic mammals,” says Pimm. “It’s everything and it’s everywhere. It’s here in this national park. It is a worldwide epidemic of extinctions.”
Such a rate of extinction has occurred only five times since complex life emerged, and each time it was caused by a catastrophic natural disaster. For instance, geologists have found evidence that a meteorite crashed into Earth 65 million years ago, leading to the demise of the dinosaurs. That was the most recent major extinction. Today the Earth is again in extinction’s grip—but the cause has changed. The sixth extinction is not happening because of some external force. It is happening because of us, Homo sapiens, an “exterminator species,” as one scientist has characterized humankind. The collective actions of humans—developing and paving over the landscape, clear-cutting forests, polluting rivers and streams, altering the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer, and populating nearly every place imaginable—are bringing an end to the lives of creatures across the Earth.
Estimates indicate that:
we have already transformed or degraded 39-50% of the Earth’s land surface (agriculture, urban).
we use 8% of the primary productivity of the oceans (25% for upwelling areas and 35% for temperate continental shelf areas).
we have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by 30%
we use more than half of the accessible surface fresh water
over 50% of terrestrial nitrogen fixation is caused by human activity (use of nitrogen fertilizer, planting of nitrogen-fixing crops, release of reactive nitrogen from fossil fuels into the atmosphere)
on many islands, more than half of plant species have been introduced by man; on continental areas the fraction is 20% or more
about 20% of bird species have become extinct in the past 200 years, almost all of them because of human activity
22% of marine fisheries are overexploited or depleted, 44% more are at the limit of exploitation
It can be argued that humans simply need to make better use of resources, and that is something we can, and should do. And a big part of the problem is an economic philosophy which regards the environment of something for humans to use. However, at some point you simply get to the place where you have to admit that there are too many people. And it looks to me as if we are already there, well beyond that point, in fact.
But humans do not have to simply grow and grow: there are models for a better way to do things. . . .
The southwest Pacific island is of special interest because it appears to have achieved sustainable development. In island of 1.8 square miles and 1,200 inhabitants, it is described by Jared Diamond as being “micromanaged for continuous and sustainable food production” *
Tikopia’s conservation methods have been developed over three thousand years, a period in which slash-and-burn agriculture was practiced and abandoned, bird and marine life have been overexploited, and pigs were raised until it was found they consumed more food than they provided – 10 pounds of vegetables for one pound of pork. Whereupon the islanders reached a collective decision to slaughter all pigs.
Population control is a key element in the island’s stability. Over the millennia, infanticide, abortion, coital control, suicide and conflict have been the means of keeping the population level at about 1200 people. With western influence in the early 20th century, “reforms” led to a rapid increase, which was reversed by cyclones and starvation in 1952. Subsequent measures returned the numbers to their traditional level.
I believe that human overpopulation represents a fundamental issue that we need to face, but I think we need to change the way we look at things in order to limit the out-of-control growth.