Evidence shows that the human population is not sustainable if it maintains current consumption and growth patterns. Sustainability denotes the capacity to meet the present needs of the human population without hampering the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It stems from the fact that the planet’s resources are exhaustible. When man’s lifestyle overruns the earth’s ability to absorb waste and renew its resources, then his survival in the future will be severely hampered.
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Human beings cannot sustain the current growth rate. The world’s population size harms the environment. Further, the consumption patterns, as well as the technology man, has invented have affected the resources that are available now and in the future. Evidence of this negative impact is seen through increased instances of floods, droughts, or rises in sea levels. Furthermore, soil erosion, pollution of sea waters, increased salinity of the soil, and desertification have proven that man’s impact is less than desirable. If these environmental crises continue, then man will lack water, vegetation, food, and other resources needed to survive in the future.
The rate of population growth is affected by birth and death rates. Statistics indicate that the world population is growing exponentially. This means that death rates have reduced due to better healthcare and technology. Improved sanitation and medical services have also minimized infant mortalities. In 1930, the amount of time needed to double the global population was 80 years. This figure has reduced considerably to 45 years in 1975. It is estimated that it will be 50 years by 2025 (Schaefer et. al. 8). A graph of population growth rate versus time over the past century shows exponential growth in population. This has implications on the amount of waste that the earth will have to accommodate, the resources that it must provide to the human population, and the environmental damage it can tolerate. Projections indicate that a rising population growth rate will continue in the near future, and then it will stabilize. The carrying capacity of the earth has been exceeded and will continue if populations increase.
The ecological footprint enables one to understand why the current population has exceeded Earth’s resources. In this model, one measures the rate at which the earth generates its resources and then compares it to the amount expended. One’s ecological footprint is thus the quantity of resources each individual in a population consumes. By 2003, the world had exceeded its biocapacity by 25% (Desvaux 104). The earth would need to increase its size by 1.25 at that time in order to sustain that population. The waste that the human population has been generating over the past decade is not enough for the earth to absorb so most of it is going back to the atmosphere and causing environmental problems like global warming. In 2006, countries like the United States had reached their overshoot ratio. The USA had an ecological footprint of 9.6 gha/cap while the world’s total ecological footprint was 2.23 gha.cap. The overshoot ratio of the United States was 2.04. A country like the United Kingdom reported an ecological footprint of 5.6 gha/cpa. This was an overshoot ratio of 3.5. The entire African content had an ecological footprint of 1.1 gha/ cap in that year. This continent had not yet reached an overshoot as its ratio was 0.85. Therefore, developed nations have a high ecological footprint owing to their consumption patterns as well as the propensity to use technology. If these patterns continue, then the planet will be unsustainable.
Further proof of unsustainability is evident in a graph of the world’s population, against the ecological footprint. An ecological footprint of 2.23 gha/cap is only enough for 5.1 billion, yet the world population is well pver 7 billion. However, this would be under the assumption that current lifestyles are average in nature. If the world adopted an American lifestyle, then the earth would only accommodate 1.2 billion people. This may be compared with the European lifestyle. If all people on earth lived like EU inhabitants then the earth’s resources would only accommodate 2.2 billion people. The earth can account for 5.1 billion people comfortably because persons in the least developed nations have low carbon footprints. In essence the sustainability of the earth’s resources is dependent on two things; population and consumption (affluence). If affluence remains constant and the population increases, then the Earth’s resources will not be enough for its population. Conversely, if the population remains constant and the rate of affluence or the carbon footprint increases, then the earth cannot sustain itself. If both these factors combine, then a dramatic effect on the environment is realized. This is the case today; the earth’s population and its global footprint are rising at unsustainable levels.
Evidence of these excessive patterns can be seen through land use and migration patterns. Increases in population have increased food demand. Persons who are responsible for food production – farmers – cannot meet this demand as most productive land has already been used. As a result, most of them move to urban areas to search for work. Rural–urban migration has led to further expansion of cities. Most expansions eat into agricultural land thus pushing away food production zones. As a result, the crowded residents of urban areas are struggling to feed themselves. These patterns would not have been prevalent if a low population growth rate existed. A high increase in the number of people on the planet places a lot of pressure on land resources. It causes inhabitants to overexploit their resources and live in undesirable conditions. Cases of increasing slum settlements show that a rise in population may lead to certain environmental risks.
Water scarcity is another indicator that the world population growth rate is not sustainable. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are currently struggling with water scarcity. Research indicates that 400 million people do not have safe drinking water. Nations like Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, and Kenya are the most affected by these problems and they have some of the highest population growth rates. If countries cannot meet such a basic human need, then this is indicative that their rate of population growth cannot be accommodated.
Some governments appear to be overwhelmed by the needs of their citizens because the infrastructure or resources available in their countries are not enough to meet the needs of those who live within their borders. Power, fuel, housing, transport, schools, and other amenities need to increase at the same rate at which a population grows. If a population is growing by 2%, then the rate of infrastructure development needs to increase at that rate. However, many governments do not have the resources to achieve this. As a result, the quantity of amenities and services available to these increasing populations is reducing (Howat & Stoneham 12).
Desvaux, Martin. “The sustainability of human populations: How many people can live on earth?” RSS Journal 4.3(2007): 102-107. Print.
Howat, Peter and Melissa Stoneham. “Why Australia needs a sustainable population policy.” Issues 91. 3 (2010): 8-12. Print.
Schaefer, Florian, Ute Luksch, Nancy Steinbach, Julio Cabeca & Jor Hanauer. Ecological footprint and biocapacity. 2006. Web.