Population and Pollution


Now that the public has finally woken up to the danger that global warming and other associated forms of environmental disaster that threatens our planet, very serious moral or ethical choices face us as well. Foremost is the question of population control.  For if we already confronted with amounts to an environmental Armageddon with some six-billion or more people on the face of the earth today, what happens when the population reachesas experts predictat least nine-billion by the end of this century?


True, some of these same experts are claiming that once we reach the nine-billion mark things will stabilize at that point.  But there seems to be a “Catch 22” lurking in that prediction.  That’s because the prediction is based largely on the observation that when countries become “developed” through industrialization, population growth is almost inevitably decreased, or as is the case with Europe, almost comes to a total halt.   But the flip side is that when this industrial development happens, the amount of pollution produced by this same population grows by leaps and bounds.  


The major example of this problem at present is the United States.  With only about 5% or one twentieth of the world’s population, we nevertheless are responsible for 20% or one-fifth of its pollution and global warming effects.   So what happens when China, with about one-fifth of the world’s people, becomes as industrially developed as the United States?   It hardly takes a rocket scientist to figure out that when that happenswhich the Chinese seem determined to dothe amount of pollution and global warming, unless drastic new anti-pollution measures are taken, could practically double within a decade or so.


So what to do?   China has long taken draconian measuressuch as enforcing a one child  per family rule, even by abortion if necessaryto stabilize it population growth, and seems to have largely succeeded, even to the point where in some areas it is now offering family subsidies to those couples who produce an additional, especially girl, child.   India, with its intensive birth-control promotion, including sterilization, has been less successful in curbing its growth.  By the end of the century, its population is expected to surpass China’s, even though its industrialization is advancing full tilt.


It appears then that the only sane remedyone that includes a limit on population growthhas to be one that also emphasizes drastic measures to cut back the amount of pollution, beginning with those populations that are consuming the highest amounts of energy, both proportionatelysuch as the USAand China, whose energy consumption, in absolute terms, will soon equal that of the USA. High -tech fixes, like producing large amounts of ethanol, to replace petroleum-based fuels (gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil) is not enough, and, in fact, in some ways could make the situation worse.  Replacing fossil-fuel generated electricity with that produced by hydroelectric and wind-powered generators may help some.   New, safer nuclear-powered electrical generating plants, such as those developed by France, could also greatly help.  


However, when push comes to shove, nothing can replace the necessity of adopting a simpler, less energy-consuming life-style.   Here, on this count, the so-called “developing nations” still have an advantage.  This is the kind of life most of their people have been living all-along.  


What remains is, especially for us who have lived so lavishly at the expense of the environment for so long, is to share the really worth-while life-enhancing developments, such as our nutritional, medical, and other social advances with less-fortunate peoples, yet at the same time, ridding ourselves of the wasteful and pollution-producing habits that are rapidly destroying our environment.    


It is this challenge, perhaps more than any other, that forms the moral/ethical imperative of the remainder of this new century.  Many of the other problems, like war, disease, famine are directly or indirectly connected with environmental degradation.   Some of them may be temporarily “fixed” by various short-term measures.   But if we fail to secure the long-term future of planet Earth as a suitable home for life, we will have, in the end, lost it all. 


R W Kropf     2/17/07                 


Population&Pollution.doc (675 words)  07-02-17.html