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Population Growth Damages Earth's Ecosystem

By Robert Stiles

Published: Friday, April 15, 2005

Updated: Saturday, September 11, 2010 08:09

At the time this column was written, the number one movie in America was “ Sahara ,” in which a mysterious pollutant pouring into an African river created a plague and threatened to really mess up the world’s ecology.  

Needless to say, there was a plucky group of heroes to put a stop to all that nonsense and put things right.

A report that was released late last month may not have the glitz and pyrotechnics of the action thriller, but it is worth paying attention to.

According to a March 30, 2005, MSNBC article, a study done by 1,360 experts in 95 nations, from various United Nations agencies and the World Bank, has described some startling information about the Earth and what human activity is doing to it.

The planet is being damaged at an unprecedented rate by human activity. The rising human population — now more than 6 billion — has polluted or overexploited two-thirds of the ecological system upon which life on our planet depends. The report said that in the past half-century, humans have caused more rapid and extensive change in ecosystems than ever, mainly to meet our needs and wants for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel.

The simple truth is that if we do not find a way to slow this trend, it will likely have a profoundly negative impact on all our lives.

For example, climate change could bring about the warming of the Great Lakes in Africa and create conditions for the spreading of cholera. Fertilizers washing off of farmlands into seas could create a buildup of algae because of large quantities of nitrogen being put in the water. This would choke fish or create “dead zones” depleted of oxygen along coasts.

It is also believed that deforestation leads to less rainfall, and this could undermine growing conditions.

The MSNBC article also noted that ecosystems can be worth more if they are used in a way that maintains them. 

One illustration of this is that nearly 9,000 square miles of the Amazon was destroyed last year alone. 

The Amazon is home to as much as 30 percent of our planet’s plant and animal species.

Industrialization has caused excess carbon dioxide, which traps heat in space.

Many scientists believe this process caused the 1-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures the past century, and high temperatures and climate disruptions have been projected, according to a Feb. 16, 2005 , Associated Press article.

Even more alarming is a report put out by Global Business Network, a think-tank, for the Pentagon in October 2003.

The authors of this report say that in some places, the Earth’s temperature could rise somewhere between .2 degrees and .5 degrees Fahrenheit.

They went on to explain that as the Earth warms, the hydrologic cycle (evaporation, precipitation and runoff) could be accelerated and drive the Earth’s temperature even higher.

According to Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, the authors of the report, the worst-case scenario could be the collapsing of the Gulf Stream , changing of circulation patterns in the ocean and serious shifts in climate. Wildlife, agriculture, fisheries, water and energy supplies would all suffer a terrible impact.

Floods, fires and outbreaks of disease have become more common, and a third of all species are currently at risk for extinction, according to a March 31, 2005 , article in the Irish Examiner.

The article also noted that a fifth of coral reefs and a third of mangrove forests have been lost.  

Few reasonable people would say we should stop human development for the sake of the Earth, but the simple truth is that we are having a very real impact upon the planet we all depend on for life, and we could come to have a much greater impact on it in the future.  

And when we start to see the impact that these policies have upon the Earth, I sincerely doubt that there will be a plucky band of heroes to save the day.

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