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Cornell University www.news.cornell.edu
ITHACA, N.Y. -- One hundred years
from now, democratically determined population-control practices and sound
resource-management policies could have the planet's 2 billion people thriving
in harmony with the environment. Lacking these approaches, a new Cornell
University study suggests, 12 billon miserable humans will suffer a difficult
life on Earth by the year 2100.
"Of course, reducing population and
using resources wisely will be a challenging task in the coming decades,"
says David Pimentel, lead author of the report titled "Will Limits of the
Earth's Resources Control Human Numbers?" in the
first issue of the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability.
"It will be much more difficult," Pimentel
says, "to survive in a world without voluntary controls on population growth
and ever diminishing supplies of the Earth's resources."
Even at a reduced world population of
2 billion in A.D. 2100, life for the average Earth dweller will not be
as luxurious as it is for many Americans today. But the lifestyle won't
be as wasteful of resources, either, the Cornell ecologist predicts. Some
observers are seeing early signs that nature is taking a hand at reducing
human populations through malnutrition and disease. According to the
report, global climate change is beginning to contribute to the food and
"With a democratically determined population
policy that respects basic individual rights, with sound resource-use policies,
plus the support of science and technology to enhance energy supplies and protect the integrity of the environment," the report concludes, "an optimum
population of 2 billion for the Earth can be achieved."
Then the fortunate 2 billion will be
free from poverty and starvation, living in an environment capable of sustaining
human life with dignity, the report suggests, adding a cautionary note:
"We must avoid letting human numbers
continue to increase and surpass the limit of Earth's natural resources
and forcing natural forces to control our number by disease, malnutrition
and violent conflicts over resources," the report
Among the key points in the report:
-- The world population is projected
to double in about 50 years.
-- Even if a worldwide limit of 2.1
children per couple were adopted tomorrow, Earth's human population would
continue to increase before stabilizing at around 12 billion in more than
60 years. The major reason for continued growth is "population momentum,"
due to the predominantly young age structure of the world population.
-- The U.S. population has doubled during
the past 60 years to 270 million and, at the current growth rate, is projected
to double again, to 540 million, in the next 75 years. Each year
our nation adds 3 million people (including legal immigrants) to its population,
plus an estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants.
-- Increasing U.S. and global population
will place restrictions on certain freedoms: freedom to travel and commute
to work quickly and efficiently, freedom to visit and enjoy natural areas,
freedom to select desired foods and freedom to be effectively represented
-- Today, more than 3 billion people
suffer from malnutrition, the largest number and proportion of the world
population in history, according to the World Health Organization. Malnutrition
increases the susceptibility to diseases
such as diarrhea and malaria.
-- One reason for the increase in malnutrition
is that production of grains per capita has been declining since 1983.
Grains provide 80 percent to 90 percent of the world's food. Each additional
human further reduces available food per capita.
-- The reasons for this per capita decrease
in food production are a 20 percent decline in cropland per capita, a 15
percent decrease in water for irrigation and a 23 percent drop in
the use of fertilizers.
-- Biotechnology and other technologies
apparently have not been implemented fast enough to prevent declines in
per capita food production during the past 17 years.
-- Considering the resources likely
to be available in A.D. 2100, the optimal world population would be about
2 billion, with a standard of living about half that of the United States
in the 1990s, or at the standard experienced
by the average European.
The study was funded by Cornell University.
In addition to Pimentel, authors of the Environment, Development and Sustainability
report include Owen Bailey, Paul Kim, Elizabeth Mullaney, Joy Calabrese,
Laura Walman, Fred Nelson nd Xiangjun Yao, all students at Cornell University.
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