The writer is a Professor and Head, Department of Biostatistics, RIMS and President of Population Study Group, Manipur
Man is the only peril to lie at the root of all problems around us. Rapid population growth and its fatal activities have placed incredible stress on earth’s resources. A large population means a large demand for everything and subsequently affects global warming, deforestation, starvation, pollution and related issues. To avoid these catastrophes we should check our population growth and reduce resource consumption.
Environmental impact is gauged by total resource consumption which is the product of population size and the average per capita consumption. It means to manage the present crisis of the shortage of resources (including energy) and environment; there must be a proper balance between population size and per capita consumption. Nevertheless our consumption has gone too far that creates our environment crumbling. Consequently, our demand is more excessive than that of earth’s absorptive and regenerative capacities.
Our earth has its own capacity to sustain her balance in all aspects. For instance, out of the total surface area, 510,066,000 sq. km. of the planet, the land surface area consists of 148,647,000 sq. km. only as against the total water surface area of 361,419,000 sq. km. including oceanic area of 335,258,000 sq. km. It means we have only 29.1% land area and remaining 70.9% belongs to water. Of this land area, nearly 5,000,000 sq. miles are in Antarctica and 9,000,000 sq. miles are in deserts and 11,000,000 sq. miles are in mountainous region. Of the deserts and mountains, at least one fourth of its land area cannot be inhabited. So we have only 5,000,000 sq. miles of land surface of our inhabitation.
Human inhabited land is being squeezed by rising sea level and expanding desert area as an impact of global warming. During the twentieth century, sea level rose by 6 inches and at the end of this century it may rise up to 35 inches. A one-metre rise of sea level would inundate many of the rice-growing river deltas and flood plains. Hundreds of cities and towns would be under water and hundreds of thousands of people would be homeless. During the last Ice Age, more than 30% of the earth’s surface was covered by glaciers – frozen rivers of ice that move very slowly. Even today, as much as, 10% of earth’s surface is covered with glaciers. They hold about 75% of the world’s fresh water. If all glaciers melted, the world’s sea level would rise about 70 metres. Again if Greenland ice sheet is melted, it would force the abandonment of thousands of coastal cities and communities. In fact, the rising sea level primarily the result of temperature increases due to several forms of burning of fossil fuels.
At the same time, the deserts are also expanding their area coverage primarily the result of overstocking grasslands and overplowing land. In fact the deserts cover about a quarter of the world’s land area. They range from extremely arid and barren sandy deserts (about 4% of the total land surface of the globe), through arid (15%) to semi-arid. Most deserts have features of all these, with one zone merging into the next, so the start and finishing of any desert is not exact.
China is losing cropping land to desert at an accelerating rate of 1,400 sq. miles per annum. Nigeria is losing 1,355 sq. miles to desertification each year. According to UNEP, in Afghanistan upto 100 villages have been submerged by windblown dust and sand, and sand dunes are moving onto agricultural land.
Of course, rising sea level and desertification will present the world with an unprecedented flow of environmental refugees and potential for civil strife. It is suggested that a reduction in individual consumption is one of the solution to solve this global environmental problem. The work of the Global Footprint Network (GFN) analyzed the situation. Measuring consumption as the use of biologically productive land and sea, their data shows a global maximum sustainable footprint, at today’s population, of just under 1.8 global hectares (gha) per person. Currently, by drawing down nonrenewable resources, we’re a bit over 2.2 gha, overshooting earth’s limits by about 25%.
Now the question is how much can we reduce per capita consumption? We can not curtail as much as to end our environmental woes. So the main solution to this menace is to end population growth since every hour, the world has an extra 8,000 little mouths to feed. More mouths to feed means less resources to feed them on.
History tells us that world population grew slowly at the very beginning and then at faster rate. It took million of years to reach the level of 230 million at the beginning of the Christian era. It again touched 545 million in 1650 and 1 billion in 1830 A.D. the population rose from 1 billion to 2 billion in 100 years i.e. from 1830 to 1930 and in subsequent 30 yrs to 3 billion i.e. from 1930 to 1960 and another 15 years to 4 billion i.e. from 1960 t0 1975. Around 5 billion was achieved in only 12 years i.e. from 1975 to 1987. At present world population is 6,602,244,175 adding by another 76 million people to the volume of world population per year. According to UN report the world will add another 2.6 billion people by 2050. At present global growth rate is 1.17% which is too high to make a stable population.
If the present trend further continues to grow, within a few decades energy will be scarce and expensive. Projections for the depletion of oil, gas and coal reserves estimated that by 2076, 90% of these reserves will be gone out. Global demand for fresh water has tripled since 1950s, but the supply of fresh water has been declining because of over-pumping and contamination. Half a billion people live in water-stressed and water-scarce countries, and by 2025 that number will grow to 3 billion. In the last 50 years, cropland area has been reduced by 13% and pasture by 4%. Global warming, acid rain, the hole in ozone layer, rampant crime, viral epidemics, homeless – all these problems and more stem from over population.
Human beings are intellectual creatures, created by God and His vicegerent to rule the planet. It is therefore our duty to prevent the catastrophe hovers around us. Whether to save human species or not in this fertile planet is in our hands. There is a biological “overshoot” indicating that population if unchecked, grows beyond the carrying capacity of its environment. And a ravaged environment then causes a population to crash. It is therefore responsibility of every one to face the challenges. Hence the need of the hour is to check the population growth and at the same time to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources.