“We Have An Environmental Crisis Because We Have A People Crisis – A Crisis of
Population Growth, of Wasteful Consumption of Resources, and A Crisis of Apathy
An environmental crisis is an emergency concerned with the place in which every
human lives – the environment. A people crisis is an emergency with the
community that inhabits the world environment. A crisis of population growth is
a turning point where the environment can no longer sustain the amounts of
people which it contains. A crisis of apathy and inaction is one where the
human race cannot be motivated to solve the problems with the environment that
they themselves have created.
The claim that we have an environmental crisis because we have a people crisis
is valid because our environmental problems have largely resulted from
population growth, which has lead to apathy and inaction with regard to the
wasteful consumption of resources. Examples are the desertification of the Sahel
in Africa, the one child policy in China and the mis-management of our oceans.
The Sahel is a strip of land that extends for more than 6000 kilometres across
the southern edge of the Sahara desert. It stretches from Senegal and
Mauritania in the west to Ethiopia and Somalia in the east. These nations are
among the world’s poorest.
The area is one of social and biophysical crisis because of the way the
population are forced to live; they are destroying the productivity of the land.
The alarming rate of population growth and ever increasing pressure on the land
have initiated an expansion of desert-like conditions into the Sahel – a process
Traditionally, the people of the drier, northern Sahel followed a nomadic
lifestyle, constantly moving their herds of cattle, sheep and goats over large
areas in the search for suitable grazing land. These movements prevented
overgrazing and lessened the likelihood of land degradation. With increasing
human numbers, the increased intensity of land use, and the harvesting of trees
and scrub for fuel wood threaten to overwhelm the region’s fragile environment
and result in permanent ecological damage and declining standard of living.
During the 20th century 3.9 billion people have been added to the world’s
This is an increase of 244%. Rapid growth occurred because of the improvement
of living conditions, reduced child mortality rates and increased life
The population of undeveloped nations will continue to grow in the foreseeable
future because at present 45% of the population is under 15 years of age.
In the North the population growth is slowing down because children are
considered an expense. In Italy, Germany and Austria, the growth rate is
The slowdown in population growth is a result of the lower fertility rates that
have accompanied improvements in the quality of people’s lives and the
increasing use of contraceptives throughout the South. As peoples’ economic
well-being improves they tend to have less children.
Future efforts to control population growth will depend on the North’s capacity
to share the world’s resources and the ability of poor nations to improve the
quality of life experienced by their people.
At the beginning of this century there were some 426 million people living in
China. This has resulted in a country that has endured the demographic effects
of devastating famines, wars, and epidemics for millennia; the population growth
and change that occurred in the 20th century is unprecedented.
By the year 2000, the Chinese population is officially projected to top the 1.3
billion mark. About two-thirds of this 900 million increase was added within the
last 50 years, as mortality was reduced amid high fertility rates.
The Chinese government has been moved by this “demographic affluence” to curb
fertility. China’s strategic demographic initiatives (SDI) were contrived out of
this need. The government installed numerous measures for curbing fertility,
embracing delayed marriage, sterilisation, all known contraceptive methods, and
abortion. Exhortations, campaigns, financial and material incentives, and
numerous other sanctions were used to implement the policies. All these efforts
were, at first, to redirect young couples to have fewer offspring and, later, to
heed the one-child-per-couple, or “minimal reproduction,” policy.
The purpose of this call for minimal reproduction was to keep the population
from exceeding 1.2 billion by the year 2000. The scheme has proved problematic
inside the country and controversial abroad for practical, political, ethical,
and religious reasons.
The massive gain in population in recent decades has intensified old
difficulties in the country’s effort to raise living standards, and has ignited
new economic, environmental, and social concerns within the nation’s borders.
The major issues range from China’s population carrying capacity, unemployment
and underemployment in the countryside, surging urbanisation, and spreading air
and water pollution to mass illiteracy and education in relation to development.
SDI itself has added such new concerns as the effect of son preference on female
infanticide and the sex ratio, the impact of a fast fertility reduction on
population aging, and the implications of exempting the country’s 55 minority
groups from the nation’s fertility control measures.
The global significance of China’s demographics is likewise enormous. Whatever
the size of China’s population is at the dawn of the 21st century it is certain
to account for twenty percent of the world’s projected population. China’s
industrialisation, modernisation, expanding use of natural resources, and rising
consumption will increasingly disrupt the earth’s ecosystem.
It has been thought that the world’s seas would provide an inexhaustible supply
of fish, however, this has been found to be untrue. Since the 1950’s there has
been a rapid increase in the amount of fish caught and most traditional food
fishes are now over-exploited and stocks are falling.
Overfishing is partly the result of the belief that the world’s oceans are
common property, and belong to everyone. They have been seen as a resource open
to everyone with no one responsible for their protection. This has led to
exploitation and the Tragedy of the Commons”. This tragedy occurs when a
resource is freely available to everyone; everyone uses the resource to the
maximum so that the resource is eventually destroyed.
Each year the cities of the world flush enough oil down their storm water
drains and sewers into the sea to fill three Exxon Valdez supertankers. Large
areas of seas such as the Baltic and Mediterranean are now dead from pollution.
Fishing is the most traditional activity in Australian waters . Today a fleet of
10,000 boats lands a harvest of 200,000 tonnes of fish, prawns lobsters ad
shellfish worth $1.2 billion a year.
Being long-established, the fishing industry was also first to encounter the
biological limits of local waters: of our top 10 fisheries, five are now classed
as over-exploited and five fully exploited. Now, if a particular fishery drops
to unsustainable levels, catch limits may be imposed. In greatest difficulties
are southern bluefin tuna, southern shark and gemfish. New fishery prospects are
few and costly to develop, most being in deep water.
Related problems in fishing include the extent to which trawling damages the
sea-bottom and changes the populations of sea creatures, and the growing
confrontation between inshore fishers and recreational anglers, which many now
predict will end in bans on professional fishing.
The ever increasing need for food due to population growth, has led to wider
areas of the oceans being fished. Increasingly, fishing is taking place far out
to sea, beyond the continental shelf in the waters of the continental slopes and
ocean depths. Large fishing nations such as Japan, the USSR and the USA have
fleets of trawlers that operate in these areas using the latest technology which
further deplete ocean stocks.
These modern methods exploit the ocean resources by catching too much fish and
by not being selective in what fish they catch before it is too late to throw
them back. This will eventually deplete world’s fish supplies and if trawler
companies do not start to limit catches.
The major issue concerned with the downfall of our oceans is that marine life is
vital to the food chain which includes our survival in the future.
There are many other long term issues involved within environmental crisis.
Some of these are air pollution, garbage, logging and erosion. Often governments
overlook these problems when creating new policies because they seem to be more
concerned with immediate economic considerations. Globally, there is an
indifference towards environmental issues and a lack of concern for the well-
being of the world environment today. These examples have illustrated that
people put their own personal needs before the survival of the earth. The
developed nations of the earth need to take a larger responsibility for the
environment, as they have been educated to the ill effects of pollution and
over-population and they have only themselves to blame for environmental
destruction. As for the people in the nations of the South, population growth
needs to be slowed possibly by educating women about contraception, economic
incentives, people interested in careers, less infant mortality and increasing
the cost of children.
Apathy and inaction can be reversed by concerted and effective Government
policies that encourage personal, social and economic benefits. Apathy must be
resisted if our planet is to survive.