POPULATION and POVERTY
The ultimate driving force behind all deforestation is human overpopulation; both the population in the temperate region that places demands on the resources derived from the tropical rainforests, and the expanding population of developing tropical nations, who exploit the rainforest for survival. Today the world's population stands at approximately 6,490,000,000 (6.49 billion) people. Each minute another 145 people are added to the planet, each day another 208,000, and each year another 76,000,000. Despite declining global birth rates, which have now fallen to the lowest level in recorded history, the U.S. Bureau of the Census projects the population will reach 8 billion by 2026 and expects the population to then level off at 9.1 billion in 2050, barring an outbreak of a widespread deadly plague or a catastrophic environmental disaster. Over 99 percent of this new growth will occur in the less-developed countries of today.
World population growth rate continues to plummet
Whether one is a Malthus believer or not, this increase in human population will place tremendous pressure on the planet's resources. The most pressure will come from the world's developing countries, which have the fastest-growing populations and most rapid economic (industrial) growth. In 1995, economic growth in developing countries reached nearly 6 percent, compared with the 2 percent growth rate for developed countries.
Despite economic growth in developing countries, poverty and hunger continue to expand as economic disparities in these countries continue to widen. One in six people in the world lacks sufficient food to fulfill basic daily requirements, despite increasing food supplies worldwide. There are many reasons for this hunger, including the increasing cost of food against falling real wages and the limited access to food reserves. FAO predicts that food demand in developing countries will grow 1.8 percent annually until 2010. To meet this need, another 222 million acres (90 million hectares) of new land must be brought into agriculture in developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. It is no longer a question whether forest land will be converted, but what forest land.
Additionally, as developing countries become more integrated into the world economy, they will place greater demands on their own natural resources and as a result, pollution and environmental degradation are projected to increase at a rate exceeding the population growth rate. For example, during the 1980s, the population of tropical developing countries grew by roughly 19 percent, while their deforestation expanded by 90 percent. Industrial demand increases for wood, oil, and mineral products found on forest lands. Consumption of wood products—including sawnlogs and veneer logs, pulpwood, and roundwood—is projected to increase over the next few years to supply demand.
One of the greatest threats to the world's environment is the compounding numbers of rural poor who turn increasingly to the rainforests to feed and shelter themselves. These poor, essentially peasant farmers are frequently pushed off more fertile soils by the large, wealthy landowners who have more political clout. Without realizing it, these poor farmers are perpetuating their own situation by their role in deforestation, which worsens their quality of life by increasing their chance of disease, degrading their drinking water stocks, escalating soil erosion, and leaving their children without the benefits of sustainably utilized forest. As the human population grows, the quality of all forms of life plummets as people are forced to move into more and more marginal lands with higher incidence of natural disasters (floods), crop failures, and disease.
- How does population growth impact the environment?
- How can a falling population growth rate in developed countries still result in deforestation and other environmental problems?
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Continued: Consumption, Conclusion
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