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Population & environment - June 30

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This planet ain't big enough for the 6,500,000,000

Chris Rapley, The Independent
Behind the climate crisis lies a global issue that no one wants to tackle: do we need radical plans to reduce the world's population?
...population growth is almost entirely ignored. Which is odd, since it is at the root of the environmental crisis, and it represents a danger to health and socioeconomic development.

The statistics are quite remarkable. For most of the two million years of human history, the population was less than a quarter of a million. The advent of agriculture led to a sustained increase, but it took thousands of years, until 1800, before the planet was host to a billion humans. Since then growth has accelerated - we hit 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1975, 5 billion in 1987 and 6 billion in 1999. Today's grand total is estimated to be 6.5 billion, with a growth rate of 80 million each year.

To what can we attribute such a dramatic rise? Impressive increases in the food supply have played a part, but the underlying driver has been the shift from an "organic" society, in which energy was drawn from the wind, water, beasts of burden (including humans) and wood, to a fossil fuel-based world in which most of our energy is obtained by burning coal, oil and gas. This transition has fuelled the changes in quality of life associated with modern technology, especially the major advances in hygiene and medicine. Although unevenly distributed, these bounties have seen life expectancy double and a corresponding reduction in mortality rates.

...If debate is started, some will say that we need to stop the world's population booming, and to do so most urgently where the birth rates are highest - the developing world. Others may argue that it is in the developed world, where the impact of individuals is highest, that we should concentrate efforts. A third view is to ignore population and to focus on human consumption.

[The author is] director of the British Antarctic Survey, I was previously executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere programme, looking at the chemistry and biology of how Earth works as a system.
(28 June 2007)
One of the better discussions about population. A no-brainer starting point would be to abolish the subsidies put in place by several European countries to encourage population growth. -BA

Planet of The Slums: UN Warns Urban Populations Set To Double

Daniel Howden, The Independent (UK) via Common Dreams
The combined forces of population growth and urbanization are creating a planet of slums, where the urban population will have doubled by 2030, according to a report released by the United Nations today.

The shanty towns that choke the cities of Africa and Asia are experiencing unstoppable growth, expanding by more than a million people every week, according to the "state of the world's population" report.0627 01

The UN's findings echo recent predictions that 2008 will see a watershed in human history as the balance of the world's population tips from rural to urban. Many of the new urbanites will be poor and the shelters into which they move, or are born, will be slums.

"The growth of cities will be the single largest influence on development in the 21st century," the report states. It maintains that over the next 30 years, the population of African and Asian cities will double, adding 1.7 billion people - more than the current populations of the US and China combined.

In this new world the majority of the urban poor will be under 25, unemployed and vulnerable to fundamentalism, Christian and Islamic.

Mike Davis, a population expert, described this emerging underclass in his recent work Planet of Slums as: "A billion-strong global proletariat ejected from the formal economy, with Islam and Pentecostalism as songs for the dispossessed."

While some critics have accused Mr Davis of scaremongering, the UN's findings appear to back many of his basic assertions.
(27 June 2007)
Related stories at The Guardian and elsewhere on the Web.

It may be time for the demographers to start factoring in global warming and peak oil. As public health specialist Dan Bednarz found out when investigating a study from WHO, many planners have not absorbed the implications of these trends. -BA

American Inst of Biological Sciences on population, environment

Nathan Stenstrom, Action Bioscience
Our web site,, features several articles about overpopulation impacts, which may be of interest to your readers. Please see our environment menu at,, is an education resource of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, aiming to promote literacy. The site provides peer-reviewed articles on bioscience issues. The site also provides educators with lessons and other resources to enhance bioscience teaching. Selected articles are translated into Spanish.

Nathan Stenstrom
Editorial Assistant
American Institute of Biological Sciences
(28 June 2007)
Looks like good information from a reputable organization. Headings in the environment section include:
Climate Change
Overpopulation impacts
Health of humans and ecosystems
Food and Medicine
Water resources

The Carbon Cycle: Implications for Climate Change and Congress

Peter Folger, U.S. Congressional Research Service

Carbon is stored in the atmosphere, in the oceans, in vegetation, and in soils on the land surface. Huge quantities of carbon are actively exchanged between the atmosphere and the other storage pools of carbon. The exchange, or flux, of carbon between the atmosphere, oceans, and land surface is called the carbon cycle. In sheer magnitude, human activities contribute a relatively small amount of carbon, primarily as carbon dioxide (CO2), to the global carbon cycle. Burning fossil fuels, for example, adds less than 5% to the total amount of CO2 released from the oceans and land surface to the atmosphere each year. If humans add only a small amount of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, why is that contribution important to global climate change?

In short, the oceans, vegetation, and soils cannot consume carbon released from human activities quickly enough to stop CO2 from accumulating in the atmosphere. Humans tap the huge pool of fossil carbon for energy, and affect the global carbon cycle by transferring fossil carbon -- which took millions of years to accumulate -- into the atmosphere over a relatively short time span. As a result, the atmosphere contains 100 parts per million more today (380 ppm vs 280 ppm) than prior to the beginning of the industrial revolution. As the CO2 concentration grows it increases the radiative forcing (more incoming radiation energy than outgoing) of the atmosphere, warming the planet. In response, Congress is considering legislative strategies that would reduce U.S. emissions of CO2, or increase the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere, or both.

Less than half of the total amount of CO2 released from burning fossil fuels during the past 250 years has remained in the atmosphere because two huge reservoirs for carbon -- the global oceans and the land surface -- take up more carbon than they release. They are net sinks for carbon. If the oceans, vegetation, and soils did not accumulate as much carbon as they do today, then the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase even more rapidly. A key issue to consider is whether these two sinks will continue to store carbon at the same rate over the next few decades. Will the sinks remove more, less, or the same amount of CO2 released from fossil fuel combustion each year? Currently, most of the total global carbon sink is referred to as the unmanaged, or background, carbon cycle. Very little carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored, or sequestered, by deliberate action.

Congress may opt to consider how land management practices, such as afforestation, conservation tillage, and other techniques, might increase the net flux of carbon from the atmosphere to the land surface. How the ocean sink could be managed to store more carbon is unclear. Iron fertilization and deep ocean injection of CO2 are in an experimental stage, and their promise for long-term enhancement of carbon uptake by the oceans is not well understood. Congress may consider incorporating what is known about the carbon cycle into its legislative strategies, and may also evaluate whether the global carbon cycle is sufficiently well understood so that the consequences of long-term policies aimed at mitigating global climate change are fully appreciated.
(25 June 2007)
The full 14-page report is available on-line as PDF.

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