Last orders please … room is running out at the global dinner table
by Dr David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agricultural science at Cornell University, New York, Sydney Morning Herald, 12/07/2002, p 11, edited transcript of two speeches given in Australia, July, 2002.
With the world’s population jumping by 250,000 every day, argues David Pimentel, firm action is needed quickly.
I’ve been trying to save the world for the past 50 years and I’m not doing too good a job. The problems are getting worse.
The freedom to reproduce is creating problems for other freedoms: from poverty, from disease, from malnutrition and from environmental problems. And it has an impact on our democratic freedoms, because each new person in a democracy dilutes our vote and our views.
Trying to limit population growth will have a significant impact on social structure and the economy. However, allowing the population to continue to grow will have significantly more social and environmental impacts.
Each day, about 250,000 people are added to the 6 billion who exist. Yet the availability of natural resources food, fresh water, quality soil, energy and biodiversity are being degraded and depleted. The world’s population is more than 6.2 billion. It doubled during the past 45 years, and is projected to double again within 50 years.
Even now, as the human population continues to increase and expand its activities, including transport systems and urbanisation, vital cropland is being lost to production. The growing shortage of cropland is one of the underlying causes of worldwide food shortages and poverty.
Globally, the annual loss of land to urbanization and highways ranges from 10 million to 35 million hectares (about 1 per cent) a year, half from cropland. As a result, the average per capita cropland, worldwide, has diminished to about a quarter of a hectare, or about half the amount needed to provide diverse food supplies similar to those enjoyed in the US and Europe.
Worldwide, more than 10 million hectares of productive arable land are degraded and abandoned each year. To compensate, about 10 million hectares of new land must be put into production each year, most coming from the world’s forest areas. This urgent need to feed people accounts for more than 60% of the deforestation occurring worldwide.
As well, per capita fresh water supplies are declining. Water demands far exceed supplies in nearly 80 nations. For instance in China, more than 300 cities suffer from inadequate water supplies, and the problem is intensifying as the population increases.
Water and fossil fuel supplies are emerging as a major constraint on food production, too.
If all people are to be fed adequately and equitably, we must have a gradual transition to a global population of 2 billion. A population policy ensuring that each couple produces an average of only 1.5 children would be necessary. If this were implemented, more than 100 years would be required to make the adjustment.