Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment

By John P. Holdren; Paul R. Ehrlich et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Population, Resources,
Environment: Dimensions
of the Human Predicament

It is clear that the future course of history will be determined by the rates at which people breed and die, by the rapidity with which nonrenewable resources are consumed, by the extent and speed with which agricultural production can be improved, by the rate at which the underdeveloped areas can industrialize, by the rapidity with which we are able to develop new resources, as well as by the extent to which we succeed in avoiding future wars. All of these factors are interlocked.

--Harrison Brown, 1954

Providing people with the ingredients of material well- being requires physical resources - land, water, energy, and minerals -- and the supporting contributions of environmental processes. Technology and social organization are the tools with which society transforms physical resources and human labor into distributed goods and services. These cultural tools are embedded in the fabric of the biological and geophysical environment; they are not independent of it.

As the number of people grows and the amounts of goods and services provided per person increase, the associated demands on resources, technology, social organization, and environmental processes become more intense and more complicated, and the interactions among these factors become increasingly consequential. It is the interactions -- technology with employment, energy with environment, environment and energy with agriculture, food and energy with international relations, and so on -- that generate many of the most vexing aspects of civilization's predicament in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

This book is about that predicament: about its physical underpinnings in the structure of the environment and the character of natural resources; about its human dimensions in the size, distribution, and economic condition of the world's population; about the impact of that population on the ecological systems of Earth and the impact of environmental changes on humanity; about the

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