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Discussions of Population Growth and Resources

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Published: 6th Aug 2021 in Environmental Sciences

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Natural resources are a subject of constant debate in the contemporary political and economic scene. Forms of appropriation, exploitation and trade of such resources affect in crucial way international relationships, and they are even a cause of violent conflicts. But its importance goes further. Their allocation has been always a crucial element due to its effects in the economy; its possession determines the economical organization and political development of a region.

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Today, there is an increasing awareness of the need for production systems to incorporate the objective of sustainable development. In order to manage this, natural resources should be renewal, in the sense that they are the determining condition for sustaining a long-term economic dynamic. Looking at this approach, natural resources are regarded as a link between societies and the environment.

But what is the really relationship between population and natural resources? Is it sustainable?

The study of interactions between population growth and the environment has a long history. According to Malthus 1, a growing population exerts pressure on agricultural land, forcing the cultivation of land of poorer and poorer quality. This environmental degradation affects natural resources and reduces the marginal product of labor and, through its effect on income, lessens the rate of population growth. The result is an equilibrium population that enjoys low levels of both income and environmental quality.

But, the modern economic models replace agricultural land with nonrenewable resources. In this model, natural resources impose a limit to economic growth, with population pressures reducing economic development as scarce natural resources are exploited more intensively.

However, a more recent theme in discussions of population growth and resources is the importance of environmental quality, measured by the stock of forests or by absence of air and water pollution. In this view the environment is seen not as a factor that limits productivity as populations expands, but as good whose quality is degraded by a growing population. In fact, population pressures, for example, are frequently cited as a cause of deforestation: population growth, by increasing the need for arable land, encourages the conversion of forest land to other uses. Moreover, it is related to the major cause of air, water and solid-waste pollution.

In the past, the main cause of alarm was the depletion of natural resources. Many specialists repeatedly calculated how long the reserves of coal, oil, etc., will last. Now source of alarm is an entire complex of questions relating to the interaction between man and the environment. As in any other natural ecosystem, the increase in population means an increasing pressure on it. In the case of the human population, such pressure is even greater because it is not only a numerical increase, but also associated with the creation and diversification of new needs. This qualitative aspect is reflected in demands on resources, which are scarcer and scarcer.

2Nevertheless, the effects of population growth cannot be discussed independent of other factors that can cause resource and environmental pressures. While it makes sense to ask about relative importance of population in causing these pressures, it cannot be forgotten tastes, technology, institution policies and international relations. These and other determinants strongly condition the resource and pressure generated by population growth; they often change and affect the situation more than do demographic changes within specific time periods; and they often interact with each other and with demographic variables.

But focusing on the sustainability of this relationship; there are at least three reason of why concerns about population growth have retreated over the last years. First,3 the demographic transition, which refers to the idea that at sufficiently high incomes, fertility tends to fall, owing to voluntary family size decisions. Indeed, fertility has fallen significantly in those parts of the world where most educated people live such as Unite States, Europe and East Asia. In spite this trend, population for the world as a whole is still growing rapidly.

Second, population growth can be related to the technology optimism, which points out that increasing population is a positive force on living standards, largely because of induced innovation arising from population pressure. This model put an end on the Malthusian problem which 1said that there was a possibly tendency of human population to grow more rapidly that can be accommodated by arable land and other components of the source base.

Third, it is related to political or ideological considerations. Population concerns are often in conflict with the strongly pro-natal positions of several major religions, particularly with the fundamentalist elements that have grown in influence over the past few decades.

Cornering now about environmental degradation, especially air and water pollution, and concerning about depletion of natural resources like forests and oil reserves has become a significant issue. Both, environmental damage and resource depletion derive from the same fundamental question regarding the interaction of economic activity and the natural environment. Thus, important natural resources include environmental resources such as air and water, agricultural resources in the form of land and soil; renewable resources such as forests, fisheries and wildlife; and non-renewable resources such as oil and various metals and minerals.

Global warming is a somewhat distinct topic, although it interacts closely with environmental, agricultural and renewable resources and is an important cause of resource degradation.

Following studies like “Limit to growth” 4 put on the table whether the present growth trends continue unchanged, the limit to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. Looking at this premonition, the word “sustainability” becomes widely used in discussion of resource use. Unfortunately, the term was used in a variety of different ways, leading to significant semantic confusions.

Therefore, extending this sustainable concept to an entire economy seems difficult.

5This concept cannot apply to non-renewable resources. Petroleum that is used up cannot be replaced by new petroleum. So, it makes more sense to apply the concept to energy sources that can replace the non-renewable ones. Building the right infrastructures might include facilities to produce hydroelectric power, solar energy, wind energy, and so on.

The issue is whether this sustainable word has appeared too late, because human has already cause huge damages. Some of them have even affected our own specie. 5About 3 million people die annually due to contamination. In the past decade and in every environmental sector, conditions have not improved. For example, contaminated water, together with poor sanitation, kills over 12 million people a years, mostly in developing countries. Air pollution kills another 3 millions. And heavy metals and other contaminates also cause widespread health problems;

Will we have enough food to feed everyone? In 64 of the 105 developing countries studied by FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture), the population has been growing faster than food availability. The population pressures have degraded some 2.000 million hectares of arable land, an area the size of Canada and the United States together.

About the fresh water: The availability of freshwater is finite, but demand is rising rapidly as the population grows and increasing use per capita. By 2025, when projected to the world’s population reaches 8.000 billion is expected that 48 countries, containing 3.000 million people will face water shortages.

Focusing now in coastal and oceans; half of all coastal ecosystems are under pressure due to high population densities and urban development. In the world’s oceans is rising tide of pollution. The ocean fishery is being overexploited, and fish catches or harvests have declined.

References

Clausen, AW 1985, ‘Population Growth and Economic and Social Development’, Journal of Economic Education, 16, 3, pp. 165-176.

Ridker, Ronald G. “Population and Economic Growth: Resource and Amenity Implications of Population Changes.” American Economic Review 64, no. 2 (May 1974): 33

Peyrache-Gadeau, V 2007, ‘Natural Resources, Innovative Milieux and the Environmentally Sustainable Development of Regions’, European Planning Studies, 15, 7, pp. 945-959

Smith, V. Kerry, and John V. Krutilla. “Economic Growth, Resource Availability, and Environmental Quality.” American Economic Review 74, no. 2 (May 1984): 226

HOMER-DIXON, T 2011, ‘GROWTH WON’T LAST FOREVER’, Foreign Policy, 184, p. 56

Don Hinrichsen and Bryant Robey; Population and the Environment: The Global Challenge. Johns Hopkins University report, september 2000

 

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