Assignment: Impact of Population Growth
Assignment: Impact of Population Growth
The United Nations has hired you to be a consultant on global issues. One of the challenges is assessing the impact of population growth. There is no question that the world population will grow dramatically in the next decade throughout many countries of the world. The members of the UN are working to understand the impact that population growth has on society, specifically in developing countries. Your first project with the UN is to develop a whitepaper on three issues related to the population growth faced by one of these countries. Read the Case Study and provide an assessment based on the questions below.
(For a brief list of resources for this assignment, please see the end of the course guide.)
Our obsession with continual economic growth deters us from studying the role that an expanding population plays in global warming.
About 3 billion years ago, the Earth suffered through a mass extinction caused by catastrophic volcanic activity in Siberia and wildfires that covered the entire planet. Since then, four more extinctions have eradicated up to 80% of all species each time. The world’s 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 humankind.
This is not the stuff of science fiction or speculation, but rather the studied view of the people who are most qualified to make this kind of assessment. As anthropologist Richard Leaky, author of The Sixth Extinction, wrote in 1995, “Homo sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims.”
This brings us to two issues worthy of reflection:
Does the rate at which people are reproducing need to be controlled to save the environment?
To what extent does human population growth impact global warming… and what can be done about it?
The answer to the first is quite simply “yes,” but the solution to the second is more problematic. The damage humans are doing to their climate is ruining the atmosphere surrounding their planet. At the rate this damage is increasing, at some point in the future there will be no atmosphere left to protect life on Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Compared to other planets in our solar system, Earth has mild temperatures, thanks largely to the protective gases of its atmosphere.
However, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (around 1775), those gases have become stuck in the atmosphere, causing heat radiating from the sun to reflect back to Earth (rather than exiting to space). The result is that oceans have become warmer and glaciers are melting, including parts of Antarctica. If we think of that continent as the stopper in a bottle, its melting away will release all the water it is holding back. This will raise sea levels to uncontrollable levels and flood coastal regions for miles inland.
The two main culprits for this warming trend are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. 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 CO2. It purifies both the water around the kelp and the air we breathe.
Population growth 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). The real issue, however, is the burning of fossil fuels (hydrocarbons) such as coal oil and natural gas, which have been produced by the organic remains of prehistoric organisms. The release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) such as refrigerants (used to cool the air in air conditioners and refrigerators), propellants in aerosol sprays, and solvents also contribute heavily to the depletion of the ozone layer in the Earth’s stratosphere. The stratosphere is responsible for filtering out much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, preventing humans from burning to death.
Continuing to release these gases and CFCs into the atmosphere at these rates will have catastrophic effects on the Earth’s ecosystems and its level of biodiversity. Temperatures will warm by about two degrees Fahrenheit, changing weather patterns for the worse 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.”
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