Earth Day April 22 2011 – What’s going wrong?
April 21st 2011
Since the first Earth Day was held in 1970 to focus attention on “the crisis of the environment”, the world population has almost doubled and will reach 7 billion in the next twelve months. Not surprisingly, humanity’s impact on the environment has increased, too. It is estimated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that the current rate of species extinction is between 1,000 and 10,000 above natural levels.
The causes are human: converting natural areas to farming and urban development, introducing invasive alien species, polluting or over-exploiting resources including water and soils and harvesting wild plants and animals at unsustainable levels.
At the same time, man made climate change is increasingly posing a threat to the wellbeing of all life, human and animal alike. Moreover, those seeking to satisfy humanity’s ever-growing needs are often proposing even greater exploitation of our environment: more intensive farming and exploitation of the resources of ever less accessible regions.
That’s inevitable in a world where competition can be unrestrained and many are on the borderline of survival. However, the only answer in the long term is to limit our demand to renewable resources, not to squeeze ever more from a finite planet. Such limiting of demand means more sustainable lifestyles and adopting green technologies, but it should include addressing our numbers, too.
The ways to lower our birth rate are well-known, and successful where adopted. They include alleviating poverty, encouraging women’s rights and reducing infant and maternal mortality. Above all, they include universal access to affordable family planning and the adoption of reliable modern methods of contraception to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. Recent years have seen gross underinvestment in this area: in part, because funds have been diverted to the treatment of AIDS. That’s understandable, but AIDS and family planning shouldn’t compete for funds. Effective family planning, leading to lower birth rates and ultimately smaller populations, is fundamental to a sustainable future in a healthy environment.