There is no question that the world’s population will grow dramatically in the next decade. The members of the United Nations are working to understand the impact that population growth has in developing countries. For this assignment, imagine you have been hired by the UN to help assess the social impact of population growth. Your first project as a consultant with the UN is to develop a whitepaper on three issues related to the population growth faced by a developing country of your choosing. Read the overview below, then write a whitepaper addressing the questions below.
Our obsession with continual economic growth deters us from studying the role that an expanding population plays in global warming. (1)
About 3 billion years ago, the earth suffered a mass extinction caused by catastrophic volcanic activity in Siberia and wildfires that covered the entire planet. Since then, four more mass extinction events eradicated up to 80% of all species each time. The world’s community of climatologists and scientists overwhelmingly agree that we are now on the verge of a sixth mass event that, over the next few tens of thousands of years, will wipe out nearly all living species on Earth, including mankind. This is not the stuff of science fiction or speculation, but rather the studied view of the experts who are most qualified to make this kind of assessment. As anthropologist Richard Leaky, author of The Sixth Extinction, wrote in 1995, “Homo sapiensmight not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims” (2).
This leaves us with two issues worth reflecting on:
1.Does the rate at which people are reproducing need to be controlled to save the environment?
2.To what extent does human population growth impact global warming, and what can be done about it (3)?
The answer to the first is quite simply “yes,” but the solution to the second is more problematic. The damage humans do to the climate is ruining the atmosphere surrounding the planet; at the rate this damage is increasing, there will eventually be no atmosphere left to protect life on Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Compared with other planets in our solar system, Earth has mild temperatures, thanks largely to an atmosphere protected from harmful gases. However, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (around 1775), damaging gases have become stuck in the atmosphere. This causes some of the heat radiating from the sun—that which does not exit into space—to reflect back to Earth. The result is that oceans have become warmer, and glaciers are melting, including parts of Antarctica. If we think of Antarctica as the stopper in a bottle, its disappearance by melting away will release the water it holds, raising sea levels to uncontrollable levels and flooding coastal regions for miles inland. The two main culprits for this warming trend are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). These gases, called “greenhouse gases,” are trapped by the earth’s atmosphere and, in turn, heat up the entire planet. It is worth noting that warming oceans are killing off kelp beds throughout the earth’s oceans and coastlines at a prodigious rate. Not only do hundreds of millions of people depend on the fish that thrive on this ecosystem, but kelp is a natural absorbent of CO2and purifies both the water and the air we breathe.
A growing population that consumes natural resources is partially to blame for the release of greenhouse gases, as are deforestation, soil erosion, and farming (overturned dirt releases CO2). However, the real issue is the burning of fossil fuels (hydrocarbons) such as coal oil and natural gas, which is produced by the organic remains of prehistoric organisms. The release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) such as refrigerants, propellants in aerosol sprays, and solvents contributes heavily to the depletion of the ozone layer in the earth’s stratosphere. At the current rate at which these gases and CFCs are released into the atmosphere, affecting the earth’s ecosystems and level of biodiversity, the earth’s surface temperature will increase by about two degrees Fahrenheit. This will cause a change weather patterns across the globe. In December 2017, the World Bank stated, “Climate change is an acute threat to global development and efforts to end poverty. Without urgent action, climate impacts could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030” (4).
1.George Gitlitz. 2018. Opinion: The pernicious climate dictum–don’t mention population
2.Gemma Tarlach.2018.Mass Extinctions.
3.Larry LeDoux. 2018. Does Population Growth Impact Climate Change.
4.Bill McKibben. 2018. A Very Grim Forecast.
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