Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Stemming the Population Tide

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Stemming the Population Tide

Article excerpt

In 1984, a major global event went unnoticed by most Americans and the rest of world. That year, two great lines intersected as predicted in 1804 by the Englishman Thomas Malthus.

Malthus' graph showed that population quickly increases along a curved line while agriculture slowly follows a straight line. This worried Malthus because he knew that after the two lines intersected population would rapidly outgrow food production. What he could not predict exactly was when.

Ten years ago we reached that point, and population is now increasing faster than food production. Lester R. Brown's book, "State of the World 1994," reports: "After nearly four decades of unprecedented expansion in both land-based and oceanic food supplies, the world is experiencing a massive loss of momentum. . . . By 1993, the fish catch per person declined 7 percent from its high in 1989. And after 1984, the growth in grain production slowed abruptly, falling behind that of population."

But that's not all. In 1804, the Earth seemed to have limitless resources. Malthus could not imagine humans having any lasting impact on nature. But now, even American politicians seem to agree with a recent report from the Population Information Program at Johns Hopkins University. Cynthia P. Green summarized the impact of population on the environment with a simple formula in the program's 1992 report:

I = P x A x T

I = environmental impact, P = population size, A = the per capita affluence of the population, and T = technology (resources consumed and pollution generated during production and consumption per unit goods and services).

Destruction of the natural environment increases as I becomes bigger. But how fast is all this happening?

This formula can help estimate the environmental impact of population growth over time simply by dividing the annual percentage change in total consumption by the annual percentage change in population.

For example, U.S. energy consumption grew 2.76 percent a year between 1960 and 1985. Meanwhile, population grew 1.33 percent annually, accounting for nearly half the increase in energy consumption (1.33 (divided by) 2.76 x 100 = 48 percent). Measuring I requires additional impact data. Still, this formula is used for separating direct from indirect factors. Technology is usually a direct factor. Population growth and per capita consumption are indirect factors.

The impact formula clearly shows that to offset the environmental impact of technological growth (or per capita affluence), total population must be proportionately decreased. Otherwise, to offset population growth, technological growth must be reduced (or made so enormously efficient that its growth reduces environmental impact). Reducing per capita affluence can also offset population growth, but this means a lower standard of living for most. …

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