World Population Awareness

Impacts and Carrying Capacity

Environmental Impacts from
Unsustainable Population Growth

The human impact on natural ecosystems has reached dangerous levels, even significantly altering the Earth's basic chemical cycles, says a new report, World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems, The Fraying Web of Life. The report paints a dismal picture of over-fished oceans, over-pumping of water for farming, destruction of coral reefs and forests, even too much tourism, with human population growth and increasing consumption as the two principal drivers of the decline. The report was released by the the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNEP, the World Bank and the Washington DC-based World Resources Institute (WRI). Over 175 scientists contributed to this global research effort, which took more than two years to complete. The report grades the health of coastal, forest, grassland, and freshwater and agricultural ecosystems on the basis of their ability to produce the goods and services that the world currently relies on. "For too long we have focused on how much we can take from our ecosystems, with little attention to the services that they provide," said Thomas Johansson, Director of UNDP's Energy and Atmosphere Programme. "Ecosystems provide essential services like climate control and nutrient recycling that we cannot replace at any reasonable price." The world's population has tripled since 1980, to the current 6 billion people, and is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. By then, economists predict that the global economy may expand by a factor of five. Consumption of everything from rice to paper to refrigerators to oil has risen in tandem with the population -- all at a cost to ecosystems. Demand for rice, wheat, and maize is expected to grow 40% by 2020, pushing water demand for irrigation up 50% or more. By 2050, demand for wood could double. The sponsors of the report said that the study faced limitations and called for a larger, more comprehensive effort to monitor and compile information on current ecosystem conditions, and to analyze the effects of future changes in ecosystems. This larger effort is called the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and hopes to bring the best available information and knowledge on ecosystem goods and services to bear on policy and management decisions.   Widespread Decline in the World's Ecosystems September 15, 2000, BBC/World Resources Institute doclink
Humans have gravely altered the chemistry, biology and physical structure of the Earth's land and water, according to the latest findings on the "human footprint on Earth."
  • Half of the mangrove forests, which serve as estuaries in the tropics, have been lost to a combination of coastal development and conversion to aquaculture.
  • Global aquaculture now accounts for more than one-quarter of all fish consumed by humans. In the case of shrimp and salmon -- the fastest growing segment of aquaculture -- two to three pounds of fish are needed to grow one pound of the raised seafood. Thus this practice is depleting the oceans of food for wild fish, birds, and marine mammals.
  • About 3000 species of marine life are in transit in ballast water of ships around the world, resulting in a serious invasion of non-native species in our waterways. A minor but increasing contributor to the problem is escape of non-native fish and plants from aquariums.
  • There are now some 50 'dead zones' in the world's coastal areas, she reported. The largest in the Western Hemisphere is in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus flowing down the Mississippi River
  Nearly Half of Earth's Land Has Been Transformed by Humans July 30, 1999, Eureka Alert doclink
The one process ongoing ... that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.   E.O. Wilson doclink
since loading this page ...The world has added PEOPLE (2.8 /sec. net)
and lost acres of WILD LANDS (1.6 acres/sec)

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  • Half of the world's wetlands were lost last century.
  • Logging and conversion have shrunk the world's forests by as much as half.
  • Some 9 percent of the world's tree species are at risk of extinction; tropical deforestation may exceed 130,000 square kilometers per year.
  • Fishing fleets are 40 percent larger than the ocean can sustain.
  • Nearly 70 percent of the world's major marine fish stocks are overfished or are being fished at their biological limit.
  • Soil degradation has affected two-thirds of the world's agricultural lands in the last 50 years.
  • Some 30 percent of the world's original forests have been converted to agriculture.
  • Since 1980, the global economy has tripled in size and population has grown by 30 percent to 6 billion people.
  • Dams, diversions or canals fragment almost 60 percent of the world's largest rivers.
  • Twenty percent of the world's freshwater fish are extinct, threatened or endangered.
  •   People and Ecosystems, the Fraying Web of Life United Nations Development Programme doclink
    A pioneering analysis of the world's ecosystems reveals a widespread decline in the condition of the world's ecosystems due to increasing resource demands. The analsysis, by the World Resources Institute (WRI) warns that if the decline continues it could have devastating implications for human development and the welfare of all species. The analysis examined coastal, forest, grassland, and freshwater and agricultural ecosystems. The health of the each ecosystem was measured, as based on its ability to produce the goods and services that the world currently relies on. These goods/services include production of food, provision of pure and sufficient water, storage of atmospheric carbon, maintenance of biodiversity and provision of recreation and tourism opportunities. The analysis shows that there are considerable signs that the capacity of Earth's ecosystems to produce many of the goods and services we depend on is rapidly declining. To make matters worse, as our ecosystems decline, we are also racing against time since scientists lack baseline knowledge needed to properly determine the conditions of such systems.   New Analysis of World's Ecosystems Reveals Widespread Decline ENN doclink
    Will our great- grandchildren inherit a desiccated husk of a once shimmering planet, and curse us for a legacy of droughts, plagues,storms and hardscrabble moonscapes? The four-fold increase in humans and the advent of the consumer society - have made the end of the millennium a cusp of history. Affluent consumers in Hong Kong want exotic fish and presto! Poachers in the Philippines destroy vital reefs to meet that demand. In 1998 the Yangtze floods, which resulted in damage of 3,000 dead and $80 billion, were exaggerated by deforestation of the watershed. Millions of workers in China and Russia are plagued with pollution-related ailments. U.S. policy makers seem to be negotiating with nature and debate how much warming might be averted for how much economic pain. In a Scripps Howard poll in 1998, 61% of those questioned agreed: global warming is happening. New threats: the release of synthetic estrogens, compounds that appear in everything from plastics to pesticides, is messing up the endocrine systems of innumerable species, including humans.   What Estate Will Our Century Leave? doclink

    The Oceans

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