Economic Development and Environmental Protection in Latin America

By Joseph S. Tulchin | Go to book overview

4
Commentary

Jessica T. Mathews

In an obvious oversimplification, the central global environmental issues for the developing and developed worlds are population and energy, respectively.If we as a global community were to deal satisfactorily with those two issues, we would have touched virtually every one of the environmental concerns that seems to be growing into an ever longer list. The world's population currently stands at 5.2 billion. The United Nations official estimates place the midlevel range—the best guess stabilization level for ultimate global population—at ten billion, about double today's population.A much more recent estimate by the UN Population Fund suggests that along the trend (the fertility rates) that we are currently following we will reach that ten billion as early as 2025 or 2030, and that stabilization will come near the end of the next century at around fourteen billion inhabitants.

There are any number of environmental issues, of which global warming is probably the most important, where there could be a successful outcome, so to speak, at ten billion, but perhaps not at fourteen billion. The choice between those two figures, at what would be considered an acceptable level of individual human welfare—in Herman Daly's terms, an acceptable level of individual consumption of resources and energy—will in effect be made in the next couple of decades, because the momentum of population growth is such that in order to reach a certain stabilization level, choices must be made seventy to seventy-five years in advance.

Herman Daly spoke about the need to change our preanalytic vision. This is a terribly useful and powerful phrase. In the population context it is especially poignant because the history of human experience on this planet has been one in which people have been in short supply. We have now reached the point where exactly the opposite is true. That calls for a change at a preanalytic level that has to be incorporated in an analytic

____________________
Jessica T. Mathews is vice president of the World Resources Institute.

-27-

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