Engineering is not enough: We must address resource demand as well as supply
The Optimum Population Trust welcomes the recent report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers “Population: One Planet, Too Many people?”
We endorse the Institute’s view that “Population increase is likely to be the defining challenge of the 21st Century, a global issue that will affect us all whether or not the countries in which we reside become more crowded or not.” We share the Institute’s concern about the need to ensure that resources can meet demand; in particular, food, water, urbanisation and energy; and that “failure to act will place billions of people around the world at risk of hunger, thirst and conflict as capacity tries to keep up with demand”. And we fully support approaches that will develop and spread the sustainable uses of technology.
We have four main criticisms of the report and of how it is being interpreted.
1. The report fails to address the crisis of ecosystem collapse. Extinctions, driven by population growth and economic development, are running at one thousand times the natural rate and governments have consistently failed to set stretching targets or even to achieve those they have agreed for slowing this loss in biodiversity.
2. The report acknowledges climate change could be a highly significant adverse factor, though one that is difficult to quantify. It also acknowledges the impact of growing per capita consumption levels as countries develop. Finally, it acknowledges that social and political barriers are as, or more important than, technical ones. We believe that these three factors mean that purely technological solutions are unlikely to be sufficient to solve the problems we face.
3. The clearly enormous cost of the investment required for the comprehensive and widespread development, adoption and implementation of the solutions proposed is not examined.
4. Above all, the report fails to address solutions on the demand side of the equation. It notes that UN global population projections range between, for 2050, 8 and 10.5 billion and, for 2100, 5.1 and 14.2 billion. The differences between these alternate projections have enormous consequences for meeting projected demand, and are largely driven by differences in birth rates i.e. in the ability of individuals to access family planning services and their willingness to use them. The importance of reproductive health in facilitating development and sustainability is now increasingly recognised, with the UN and US and UK governments all recently announcing increased funding for such programmes.
Simon Ross, OPT chief executive commented “As the global population grows, environmental and resource issues are multiplying. We should respond to them with a joined up approach, including sustainable technical solutions, promoting sustainable lifestyles, poverty mitigation and social and gender justice, and improved reproductive health.” He added “Improving reproductive health, promoting contraception and encouraging a lower birth rate is a low cost, practical and highly reliable approach to addressing the emerging global imbalance between resource supply and demand. It should be one of our top priorities.”
The IME report may be sourced here http://www.imeche.org/Libraries/2011_Press_Releases/Population_report.sflb.ashx