World Population Awareness

July 04, 2015

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Sustainable Solutions

A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development

April 14, 2015, New York Times   By: Eduardo Porter

Compared to the average annual consumption of electricity per citizen in Nepal (100 kilowatt-hours), Cambodia (160 kw-hr), and Bangladesh (260 kw-hr), a standard 20 ft3 refrigerator in an American home consumes 300 to 600 kw-hr in a year.

United States officials are concerned that numerous countries, including Nepal, Cambodia, and Bangladesh, have joined China's new infrastructure investment bank. The new institution may rival the existing fiscal organizations that are supported by the United States. However, many countries feel that their accesses to energy are curtailed due to the environmental priorities of the West. Developing nations seek assistance from established nations and the financial institutions to alleviate their conditions of living and expand the accessibility of energy infrastructure, but to no avail.

Average Electricity Consumption, 2011 ... Source: World Bank

Selected Countries Killowatt-hours per capita per year

United States 13,250; Japan 7,850; Germany 7,100; Albania 2,200; India 680; Bolivia 620; Mozambique 450; Ghana 340; Senegal 190; Yemen 190; Nigeria 150; Myanmar 110; Ethiopia 50; Haiti 30;

Although the United States depends on coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear power as sources for 95% of their electricity, the U.S. government has strictly restricted the overseas financing of these sources. Ironically, the environmental policies of the West are augmenting the initial problem that they wished to solve. In order to make significant advances in sustainability and preservation of environment, financing low-carbon energy sources for impoverished societies is not enough; there is a need for a plethora of new energy.

There is a new point of view in the relationship between sustainability and the increasing needs of the population. According to the "Eco-Modernist Manifesto," economic development is required to preserve the environment. Rather than adopting "sustainable development" as in the past to promote a symbiotic relationship with nature, this new approach supplants such harmony with a stratagem to reduce humanity's effect on nature through more intensive use. This ideology states that to preserve the environment, the goal should be "intensifying many human activities - particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement - so that use less land and interfere less with the natural world." This idea is supported by historical records, as ¾ of all global deforestation was before the Industrial Revolution, whereas the land allocated for crops and animal feed per average person was reduced by half over the last fifty years.

The proposal is not without obstacles: the plan requires high energy demands, safer and cheaper nuclear reactors, and new methods of energy storage. However, this concentrated development would not only contribute to the efforts to preserve the environment; it will also allow poorer classes to migrate to cities to attain better education and opportunities. The subsequent acceleration in demographic transitions will reduce the rate of population growth. doclink

Karen Gaia says:

Nice idea, but the Green Revolution, which intensified farming, is petering out, leaving behind overused soil, excess nitrogen in soil and water, destruction of beneficial soil micro organisms, and salinization. While crop production is still growing, the rate of growth is slowing.

Energy intensification means going after energy sources that are more and more difficult to get, wrecking the environment and people's health in the meantime.

The only answer is to conserve, conserve, conserve. Learn to live happily on less. Eat less meat. Drive and fly less. Hang our clothes on a clothesline to dry.

Is it Too Late to Save the Planet?

January 24, 2015, Nation of Change   By: Thomas Magstadt

Astrophysicist Adam Frank said: "The defining feature of a technological civilization is the capacity to intensively 'harvest' energy. But the basic physics of energy, heat and work known as thermodynamics tell us that waste, or what we physicists call entropy, must be generated and dumped back into the environment in the process." Globally, we generate around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy every year and dump 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere and oceans, not to mention rivers, coal slurry impoundments ("sludge ponds"), aquifers, and underground "sequestration", all of which goes a very long way to explaining the overheating planet and acidifying oceans.

Everything from biodiversity to ocean chemistry is being degraded, entropy due to global population growth and human activity is a major cause. Climate change is happening; the signs are abundant, and too many voters are indifferent. What is needed is 1) a policy prescription for the government and 2) an action program for the rest of us.There is rarely any mention of conservation as a kind of categorical public-policy imperative.

Even though population is nearly 7.3 billion and rising, nobody wants to talk about population in part because they think most everything that can be done about that issue has already been or is being done.

Maybe our indifference will give way to our instinct for survival in time. Maybe we will come to understand that we have to conserve in order to survive, reorganize our cities and societies, depend less on long-distance transport and travel, and do more on a local level. We have to drive fewer cars fewer miles, build mass transit systems, and subsidize riders for being good citizens. We have to consume less and conserve more of everything -- from water and fossil fuel to wildlife and rain forests. We have to do a much better job of protecting the atmosphere, oceans, topsoil.

Our species has caused this problem and there will be a lot more of us either contributing to the problem or becoming the solution in the future. We have to learn to do more with less. A lot less. It probably won't happen any time soon on the scale that's needed, but it will happen sooner or later because it has to. Let's hope it won't be too late. doclink

The Greatest Threat of All: Human Instincts Overwhelm Reason

We live unsustainably because our drive to survive is more powerful than reason
January 19, 2015, Psychology Today   By: David Ropeik

The year 2014 was the hottest year on Earth since 1888, the first year such temperatures were recorded. December was the hottest for any year ever. Six of the months last year, in fact, hold that record. The last time a 'coldest month ever' was recorded, was 1916.

Planetary Boundaries is a survey of nine basic systems critical to life on Earth as we know it. An updated review finds that human activity has pushed past the boundary in four of those categories; climate change, loss of biosphere integrity (things like genetic diversity because of species loss), land-system change (soil and forestation loss, etc.) and altered biogeochemical cycles (how the biosphere uses and replaces the critical elements of phosphorus and nitrogen). The study can be found at http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-news/1-15-2015-planetary-boundaries-2.0---new-and-improved.html

Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries.

Most of us probably didn't notice any of those changes, which is the problem that has all but guaranteed the serious crash for Life on Earth as We Know It. Most of the seven billion humans on the planet took the resources necessary for safety and survival from the system, and put back into the system both their products and their wastes. Each us us satisfying our own needs but cumulatively taking from a system more resources than it has to offer, and putting back more waste than it can handle (air pollution in Beijing recently got so bad it was beyond the highest and most dangerous levels on the health scale designed to measure such things).

Even though we, and all current Life on Earth, face an unavoidable crash, we are compelled from the deepest level of our genes and survival instincts to taking more from the system than it can provide and put back in more waste than it can handle. Many species live unsustainably in their finite ecosystems and when their demands on the system outpace supply, move on. We are, however, the only animal where the system limits are the entire biosphere itself.

Many people pin their hopes on technological solutions to some of our challenges (cleaner power, advances in agriculture and food production, reduction in pollution and waste), less violence as more of us live closer together, and even the faith that human reason itself can, when the crises really start hitting the fan, figure out ways to stop doing the damage we're doing, undo the harm we've already done, or adapt to at least some of the harms we face.

If we get a little more realistic about just how much/little human reason can help us conquer our deepest animal instincts, and a little less naïve that we can 'live with restraint', we might sooner get to the task of preparing for what's to come rather than pretending we can head it off. It is probably in the best interest of Life on Earth As We Know It if humans accepted that there will be a steep price to pay for our unsustainable ways, that given what we've already done this price is unavoidable, and that pretending we can head this off and preparing as soon as possible is urgently needed if we're going to at least keep that cost as low as possible. doclink

A Darker View of the Age of Us - the Anthropocene

June 18, 2014, New York Times   By: Andrew C. Revkin

According to those best placed to make projections, a world 4 degrees C. warmer would be a very different kind of planet, one unsympathetic to most forms of life, including human life. Apart from climatic change, other manifestations of human impact in the Anthropocene, from interference in the nitrogen cycle to plastics in the oceans, only add to the grim outlook.

Psychologist Shelley Taylor claims humans can benefit from "benign fictions", unrealistic stories about the world that lead us to predict what we would prefer to see, rather than what is objectively most likely to happen. Yet these healthy illusions that can spur us on against the odds can become dangerous delusions when they continue to be held despite evidence from the outside world telling us we must change course.

Personally, when I think about those toiling, vulnerable masses who are going to suffer the worst consequences of a warming world, I find it offensive to hear a comfortable, white American say, "We are going to do OK."

Eco-pragmatists say that "Humans have solved these sorts of problems before" and "Technology will always provide a solution. It is not surprising that they attract support from conservatives who have doggedly resisted all measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, defended the interests of fossil fuel corporations, and in some cases worked hard to trash climate science. These are the same people now drawn to geoengineering, especially solar radiation management, as a substitute for reducing emissions.

Things are bad, and if we carry on as we are things will be very bad. It is the possibility of preventing bad turning into very bad that motivates many of us to work harder than ever. But pretending that bad can be turned into good with a large dose of positive thinking is, even more so than denying things are bad, a sure-fire way of ending up in a situation that is very bad indeed.

In the end, grasping at delusions like "the good Anthropocene" is a failure of courage, courage to face the facts. The power of positive thinking can't turn malignant tumors into benign growths, and it can't turn planetary overreach into endless lifestyle improvements. doclink

Karen Gaia says, the same case can be made for the impacts on our lives from resource depletion.

Tracking Earth's Limits in a World of Ecological Overshoot

October 21, 2013, Huffington Post

To support our lifestyle and regenerate the ecological resources we use, the U.S. would need an ecosystem 1.9 times larger than its actual landmass. Japan's residents consume the ecological resources of 7.1 Japans. Italy's residents consume the ecological resources of 4 Italys, and China the resources of 2.5 Chinas. These and scores of other "ecological debtor" nations deplete their own stocks of fish, trees, and other resources, and import some of the difference from other nations. But much of what they consume the Earth cannot replenish.

Since the 1970s humans have been consuming more renewable resources that Earth can sustain. According to our Global Footprint Network calculations, Earth's annual demand for renewable resources now exceeds what 1.5 Earths could produce sustainably, and before mid-century we will be using twice as many renewable resources as the Earth can replenish.

Wealthy nations also emit more than their share of carbon dioxide into the air and oceans and more than nature can restore to normal. Climate change is the most pressing impact of this excess activity, but there are others -- shrinking forests, biodiversity loss, fisheries collapse, food shortages, higher commodity prices and civil unrest, to name a few. To achieve sustainability, we must make ecological limits central to decision making. As per-capita consumption rates grow at the same time the global population increases, we endanger the future of our planet and the quality of our lives.

Global Footprint Network is an international think tank working to advance sustainability. In 1990 Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees developed Ecological Footprint, an accounting tool that tracks what nature can provide relative to what people demand. It quantifies every nation's ecological resource demand (Ecological Footprint) against its supply (biocapacity). This allows governments, investors, corporations and opinion leaders to better manage their ecological capital and develop policies that advance sustainable development within Earth's ecological capacity. The demand calculation includes the land and sea area a population uses to consume resources, the ecosystems that absorb waste emissions, and the space used for buildings and roads. The supply calculation tracks how much biologically productive area is available to provide such ecological services.

Global Footprint Network works to make resource accounting as commonplace as tracking GDP, employment, and debt. Like a balance sheet, our annual National Footprint Accounts quantify each nation's ecological footprint, documenting whether that nation is living within or exceeding its ecological budget. Global Footprint Network also produces Country Trends which graphs track patterns of resource demand and availability, a Human Development Initiative which strives to meet human needs while maintaining natural capital, a Competitiveness 2.0 Initiative with a goal to redirect billions of investment dollars toward more sustainable development, a Finance for Change Initiative which leverages the finance industry and capital markets to shift national government policies and investments in a more sustainable direction. The organization also runs the Earth Overshoot Day campaign to spark a global dialogue about how we can facilitate a one-planet future.

Eleven governments have accepted the Ecological Footprint (EF) as an official metric. The WWF International's biennial Living Planet Report highlights the EF of 150 nations, and The United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report 2013 combines EF with its Human Development Index (HDI) to measure well-being by nation. And the New Economics Foundation uses EF to form its Happy Planet Index calculation. Also, more than a million people per year use the individual Ecological Footprint calculator to measure their own nation's footprint. doclink

The State of the World: is it Too Late for Sustainability?

There is plenty of evidence of ecological strain and so far the response has mostly been denial or ignorance. But trouble is coming and we need to respond now.
April 28, 2013, Mail and Guardian

Five months ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report that concluded it was too late to hold the future increase in global average temperatures to just two degrees Celsius. "It's time," the report announced, "to prepare for a warmer world".

At the same time, the World Bank released Turn Down the Heat, which set out why a 4 degree warmer world must be avoided. Meanwhile we have seen in the press: the failure of the Rio+20 talks to result in positive action, "zombie" coral reefs, calls for higher birth rates, declining Arctic sea ice, an approaching "state shift" in the earth's biosphere.

In our newest annual report, State of the World 2013 we added an important section, "Open In Case of Emergency."

We should consider ways to upgrade the design of the environmental movement so that it doesn't just respond to immediate threats, such as air pollution and chemical run-off, but helps to cultivate a truly sustainable culture and ground the way we live and think more deeply in ecological reality.

We need to strengthen community roots and social capital, including intergroup networks to bridge different communities. This both inoculates against the worst impacts of disruption and helps with the rebuilding process if it comes to that. We need for the government to be more flexible and responsive to the governed. That requires participation, high skill levels, robust debate, and mutual respect - in other words, a deepened democracy.

The movement for a sustainable future may need to utilize non-violent civil disobedience, especially as things get desperate and governments turn to uncertain solutions such as giant space mirrors, carbon-capturing cement - as quick fixes for a disrupted climate.

There may be some comfort in the lessons learned from Cuba's decline. After the Soviet Union's collapse, Cuba suffered a period of harsh adjustment but has scavenged a culture with a small environmental footprint and remarkably high levels of non-material well-being, including infant mortality rates better than its neighbor to the north.

Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson says the real question is not "is it too late?" but "how much will we save?" And that will depend on how quickly and boldly we act now. "We can see our present danger, and we can also see our future potential," Robinson explains. "This is not just a dream but a responsibility, a project. And things we can do now to start on this project are all around us, waiting to be taken up and lived." doclink

Karen Gaia says:

1) you can but an electronic copy of State of the World through Amazon for only $3.99 . See http://www.amazon.com/State-World-2013-Sustainability-ebook/dp/B00C4Y9AYM

2) I've been to Cuba and they indeed have developed a wonderful culture of music and art, as well as a decent health care system. I wouldn't mind living there except for the language barrier.

Environment and Development Challenges: the Imperative to Act

February 17, 2012, MAHB - Millenium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere

This paper is a synthesis of the key messages from the individual papers written by the Blue Planet Laureates. It discusses the imperative of action now. The paper does not claim to comprehensively address all environment and development issues, but a sub-set that are deemed to be of particular importance.

We have a dream - a world without poverty - a world that is equitable - a world that respects human rights - a world with increased and improved ethical behavior regarding poverty and natural resources - a world that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, where the challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and social inequity have been successfully addressed. This is an achievable dream, but the current system is deeply flawed and our current pathway will not realise it.

Population size and growth and related consumption patterns are critical elements in the many environmental degradation and social problems we currently face. The population issue should be urgently addressed by education and empowerment of women, including in the work-force and in rights, ownership and inheritance; health care of children and the elderly; and making modern contraception accessible to all.

There is an urgent need to break the link between production and consumption on the one hand and environmental destruction on the other. ... Unsustainable growth is promoted by environmentally-damaging subsidies in areas such as energy, transportation and agriculture and should be eliminated; external environmental and social costs should be internalized; and the market and non-market values of ecosystem goods and services should be taken into account in decision-making.

Governments should recognise the serious limitations of GDP as a measure of economic activity and complement it with measures of the five forms of capital, built, financial, natural, human and social capital,

The world's current commitments to reduce emissions are consistent with at least a 3oC rise (50-50 chance) in temperature: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 3 million years, with serious risks of 5oC rise: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 30 million years

Effective change in governance demands action at many levels to establish transparent means for holding those in power to account. Governance failures also occur because decisions are being made in sectoral compartments, with environmental, social and economic dimensions addressed by separate, competing structures.

There is a need to scale-up the grass roots actions by bringing together a complementary top-down and bottom-up approach to addressing these issues.

Unfortunately, humanity's behavior remains utterly inappropriate for dealing with the potentially lethal fallout from a combination of increasingly rapid technological evolution matched with very slow ethical-social evolution. The human ability to do has vastly outstripped the ability to understand. As a result civilization is faced with a perfect storm of problems driven by overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich, the use of environmentally malign technologies, and gross inequalities.

Total food production has nearly trebled since 1960, per capita production has increased by 30%, and food prices and the percent of undernourished people have fallen, but the benefits have been uneven and more than one billion people still go to bed hungry each night. Furthermore, intensive and extensive food production has caused significant environmental degradation. Aside from the loss of much biodiversity through outright habitat destruction from land clearing, tillage and irrigation methods can lead to salinisation and erosion of soils; fertilizers, rice production and livestock contribute to greenhouse gas emissions; unwise use of pesticides adds to global toxification; and fertilizer runoff plays havoc with freshwater and nearshore saltwater habitats.

One of the key challenges facing the world is to increase agricultural productivity, while reducing its environmental footprint through sustainable intensification, given that the demand for food will likely double in the next 25-50 years, primarily in developing countries. Unfortunately, climate change is projected to significantly decrease agricultural productivity throughout much of the tropics and sub-tropics where hunger and poverty are endemic today.

.. http to download the entire report (pdf). doclink