People in affluent countries most readily think of population
growth as the cause of environmental degradation. In fact the
need to limit population growth in low-income countries was one
of the main points of disagreement between low-income and high-income
countries at the recent Earth Summit. The Brundtland Report argues
that rapid population growth in some parts of the world could
not be sustained by available environmental resources, and was
jeopardising the chances that everyone could be provided with
housing, food, health care and energy supplies (p. 11).
Population is seen as a third-world issue because that is where
populations are growing fastest. The Brundtland Report estimated
that the overall population growth rate in industrialised nations
was less than 1 per cent and declining, and that the population
in those countries would only grow from 1.2 billion to 1.4 billion
by the year 2025. In contrast, the population in low-income countries
was estimated to increase from 3.7 billion in 1985 to 6.8 billion
in 2025. It therefore argued that the 'challenge now is to quickly
lower population growth rates, especially in regions such as Africa,
where these rates are increasing' (p. 100).
However, the view that population growth in low-income countries
is a major cause of unsustainable development is controversial.
Although most people agree that environ- mental degradation results
from a combination of numbers of people, resource use per person
and environmental impact per unit of resource used (or population,
consumption and technology), there is a tendency for some people
to stress population over the other two factors. For example,
an academic writing in the Australian Conservation Foundation's
magazine Habitat Australia said, 'There can be no doubt
that the unrelenting increase in human numbers is the greatest
single threat to the stability of our environment' (Short 1991,
p. 12). Another, writing in the well-respected US magazine Technology
Review, said, 'The continuing surge of human expansion throws
dangerously out of kilter the intricate ecological balance that
sustains life' (Fornos 1992, p. 14). The Prince of Wales told
world leaders at the Earth Summit that there would be a global
catastrophe unless they tackled population growth and poverty
which, he said, were causing environmental destruction (Erlichman
1992, p. 22).
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The idea that population growth causes environmental degradation
has been criticised strongly. Holmberg, Bass and Timberlake say
that: "Representatives from the North tend to stress population
growth as a cause of environmental degradation and unsustainable
development in the South. Population growth, they say, is the
underlying cause. Most of them are comfortable with such an analysis,
because population growth is one problem which apparently cannot
be blamed on industrialized countries." (1991, p. 32)
An editorial in New Scientist said: "It will be a travesty of
both justice and truth if the rich nations use population growth
in the poor world as a smoke screen for their own overconsumption
and industrial pollution."('Too many people' 1992, p. 3)
Vandana Shiva, an Indian writer and activist, argues that there
are four main reasons why population growth in low-income countries
is not a primary cause of environmental degradation:
- The increasing numbers of poor in low-income countries cannot
afford to buy and use most of the products that cause environmental
problems, such as CFCs that cause depletion of the ozone layer.
- The large numbers of poor people in these countries use only
a small proportion of the resources used by most people in affluent
countries and the wealthy people in their own countries. [New
Scientist reports that the world's wealthiest nations now have
incomes per person 65 times those of the world's poorest nations,
and that this inequality has doubled in the last 30 years ('Too
many people' 1992, p. 3). Each child born in an affluent society
will consume 10 to 100 times as many resources and contribute
as much pollution. 'A three-child American family is, in logic,
many more times as dangerous to the planet than an eight- (or
even an eighty-) child African family' (Pearce, F. 1992c, p.
- Production processes and technologies developed in the North
have been 'inherently destructive of the environment'.
- Population growth is caused by poverty and resource alienation.
It arises from the same causes as environmental degradation--colonialism
followed by the imposition of development models by high-income
nations. (Shiva 1991)
To support this argument, Shiva points out that population levels
were stable in India prior to British rule, 'when resources and
rights and livelihoods were taken away from people' (p. 33).
Source: Sharon Beder, The Nature of Sustainable Development,
2nd ed. Scribe, Newham, 1996, pp. 171-2.
A Czech language translation of this page by Barbora Lebedova can be found at http://www.bildelarexpert.se/blogg/2017/01/26/dela-rust-populace-pricinou-degradace-zivotniho-prostredi/
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