Unchecked Growth Is a Path to Poverty

    By William Ryerson | 18 January 2013
    Post Carbon

    Endless growth is not possible because of constraints of renewable resources like fresh water, clean air and biodiversity. Also, much of our industrial system depends on nonrenewable resources like oil and various metals and minerals, which are being depleted and becoming more expensive over time.

    Using the concept of the “ecological footprint,” or the area of land required to support an individual for all of his or her activities, from food and fiber to waste treatment to support for energy systems, etc., the Global Footprint Network has estimated that because of population growth, humans globally consume 50 percent more resources each year than can be sustained by natural systems. This means we are eating into the natural capital that makes the planet habitable. Climate change is just one measure of this “overshoot.” Maintaining an appropriate natural resource foundation for human activities, both now and in the future, is critical for the future well-being of our descendants.

    The depletion of fresh water is an important example. Like China and India, the American Southwest is losing farmland because of overpumping of underground aquifers for irrigation. As the water table sinks, more and more land is turning into desert. In India, about 150 million people are being kept alive through unsustainable overpumping.

    Human population numbers and economic activity must stop growing. Our goal should be sustainability, not endless growth. This means working to achieve a population size that can live comfortably within the carrying capacity of renewable resources. Continued depletion of natural resources will drive the entire world’s population into poverty and deprivation.

    Originally published at New York Times ‘Room for Debate’

    William Ryerson is founder and President of Population Media Center, and President of the Population Institute. For over 40 years he has worked in the field of reproductive health, including two decades of experience adapting the Sabido methodology for behavior change communications to various cultural settings worldwide. He has also been involved in the design of research to measure the effects of such projects in a number of countries, one of which led to a series of publications regarding a serialized radio drama in Tanzania and its effects on HIV/AIDS avoidance and family planning use. In 2006, he was awarded the Nafis Sadik Prize for Courage from the Rotarian Action Group on Population and Development. He received a B.A. in Biology (Magna Cum Laude) from Amherst College and an M.Phil. in Biology from Yale University.

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