e-book Environment in the 21st Century and New Development Patterns

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Product Highlights Economic growth after World War II was made possible through dramatic increases in the use of material resources and energy. It is apparent that current development patterns followed by industrialized countries are causing serious environmental problems and that they are neither ecologically nor soc.

About This Item We aim to show you accurate product information. Manufacturers, suppliers and others provide what you see here, and we have not verified it. Human ecology is a functionalist field of study that focuses on the relationship between people and their built and natural physical environments Park According to this Chicago School approach, urban land use and urban population distribution occurs in a predictable pattern once we understand how people relate to their living environment.

For example, in Canada, we have a transportation system geared to accommodate individuals and families in the form of interprovincial highways built for cars. In contrast, most parts of Europe emphasize public transportation such as high-speed rail and commuter lines, as well as walking and bicycling. The concentric zone model Burgess is perhaps the most famous example of human ecology.

In this model, Zone A, in the heart of the city, is the centre of the business and cultural district. Zone B, the concentric circle surrounding the city centre, is composed of formerly wealthy homes split into cheap apartments for new immigrant populations; this zone also houses small manufacturers, pawnshops, and other marginal businesses.


Zone C consists of the homes of the working class and established ethnic enclaves. Zone D consists of wealthy homes, white-collar workers, and shopping centres. Zone E contains the estates of the upper class exurbs and the suburbs. One way to do this is to examine how urban areas change according to specific decisions made by political and economic leaders. City space is acted on primarily as a commodity that is bought and sold for profit. For example, sociologists Feagin and Parker suggested three aspects to understanding how political and economic leaders control urban growth.

First, economic and political leaders work alongside each other to effect change in urban growth and decline, determining where money flows and how land use is regulated. Second, exchange value and use value are balanced to favour the middle and upper classes so that, for example, public land in poor neighbourhoods may be rezoned for use as industrial land. Finally, urban development is dependent on both structure groups such as local government and agency individuals including business people and activists , and these groups engage in a push-pull dynamic that determines where and how land is actually used.

For example, NIMBY not in my backyard movements are more likely to emerge in middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods, so these groups have more control over the usage of local land. At the micro-level of interaction, sociologists have been interested in how human interaction is affected by living in cities. The subfield of environmental sociology studies how humans interact with their environments.

This field is closely related to human ecology, which focuses on the relationship between people and their built and natural environment. This area is garnering more attention as extreme weather patterns and policy battles over climate change dominate the news. Two key concepts in environmental sociology are the concepts of carrying capacity , which refers to the maximum amount of life that can be sustained within a given area, and the commons , which refers to the collective resources that humans share in common. These collective resources are typically shared natural resources like air, water, plant and animal life, or ecosystems that have remained outside of private ownership or processes of commodification and trade.

In an environmental context, the carrying capacity of different environments depends on the commons to the degree that the commons are necessary for sustaining life. When the commons are threatened through pollution or over-exploitation the carrying capacity of the environment is degraded. While both concepts can refer to local grazing lands or to rivers, they can also be applied to the Earth as a whole. Hardin was not the first to notice the phenomenon. Back in the s, Oxford economist William Forster Lloyd looked at the devastated public grazing commons and the unhealthy cattle subject to such limited grazing, and saw, in essence, that the carrying capacity of the commons had been exceeded.

However, since no one held responsibility for the land as it was open to all , no one was willing to make sacrifices to improve it. Their rational choices have an irrational outcome. Cattle grazers benefited from adding more cattle to their herd, but they did not have to take on the responsibility of the destroyed lands that were being damaged by overgrazing.

So there was an incentive for them to add more head of cattle, and no incentive for restraint. Satellite photos of Africa taken in the s showed this practice to dramatic effect. The images depicted a dark irregular area over miles around. When seen from above, there was a large fenced area, where plenty of grass was growing. Outside the fence, the ground was bare and devastated. The reason was simple: the fenced land was privately owned by informed farmers who carefully rotated their grazing animals and allowed the fields to lie fallow periodically.

Outside the fence was land used by nomads. The nomads, like the herdsmen in s Oxford, increased their heads of cattle without planning for its impact on the greater good.

The soil eroded, the plants died, then the cattle died, and, ultimately, some of the people died. How does this affect those of us who do not need to graze our cattle? Well, like the cows, we all need food, water, and clean air to survive.

2. An urban laboratory for the world

Whether for cattle or humans, when too many take with too little thought to the rest of the population, the result is usually tragedy. However, once contaminant levels reach a certain point, the results can be catastrophic. Look at your watch. Wait 15 seconds. Then another In that time, two children have died from lack of access to clean drinking water. Access to safe water is one of the most basic human needs, and it is woefully out of reach for millions of people on the planet.

Many of the major diseases that peripheral countries battle, such as diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid, are caused by contaminated water. Often, young children are unable to go to school because they must instead walk several hours a day just to collect potable water for their family. The situation is only getting more dire as the global population increases. Water is a key scarce resource in the 21st century. As every child learns in school, 70 percent of Earth is made of water. Despite that figure, there is a finite amount of water useable by humans and it is constantly used and reused in a sustainable water cycle.

The way that humans use this abundant natural resource, however, renders much of it unsuitable for consumption and unable to sustain life. For instance, it takes two and a half litres of water to produce a single litre of Coca-Cola. The company and its bottlers use close to billion litres of water a year, often in locales that are short of useable water Blanchard Industrial processes like tars sands extraction use vast amounts of water that is not returned to the natural cycle.

The methods of food production used by many core nations rely on liberal doses of nitrogen and pesticides, which end up back in the water supply. In some cases, water pollution affects the quality of the aquatic life consumed by water and land animals. As we move along the food chain, the pollutants travel from prey to predator. Since humans consume at all levels of the food chain, we ultimately consume the carcinogens, such as mercury, accumulated through several branches of the food web. In China, as in Depression-era Oklahoma, over-tilling soil in an attempt to expand agriculture has resulted in the disappearance of large patches of topsoil.

Soil erosion and desertification are just two of the many forms of soil pollution. In addition, all of the chemicals and pollutants that harm our water supplies can also leach into soil with similar effects. Brown zones where nothing can grow are common results of soil pollution. One demand of the population boom on the planet is an attendant requirement for more food to be produced. The immediate result was positive: food yields went up and burgeoning populations were fed. But as time has gone on, these areas have fallen into even more difficult straits as the damage done by modern methods leave traditional farmers with less than they had to start.

Dredging certain beaches in an attempt to maintain valuable beachfront property from coastal erosion has resulted in greater storm impact on shorelines, and damage to beach ecosystems Turneffe Atoll Trust The results of these dredging projects have damaged reefs, sea grass beds, and shorelines, and can kill off large swaths of marine life. Ultimately, this damage threatens local fisheries, tourism, and other parts of the local economy.

Where is your last cell phone?


What about the one before that? Or the huge old television set your family had before flat screens became popular? For most of us, the answer is a sheepish shrug. In several provinces, there are product stewardship programs that oblige manufacturers and retailers to pay a per-item fee to fund electronic recycling Fishlock , but it is not always clear what happens to the items after they are recycled.

Garbage creation and control are major issues for most core and industrializing nations, quickly becoming one of the most critical environmental issues faced in North America. North Americans buy products, use them, and then throw them away. There are two primary means of waste disposal in Canada: landfill and incineration. When it comes to dangerous toxins, neither is a good choice. In the case of more innocuous trash, the synthetic Styrofoam and plastics that many of us use every day do not dissolve in a natural way.

Burn them, and they release carcinogens into the air. Their improper intentional or not incineration adds to air pollution and increases smog. Dump them in landfills, and they do not decompose. As landfill sites fill up, we risk an increase in groundwater contamination. Electronic waste, or e-waste, is one of the fastest growing segments of garbage. And it is far more problematic than even the mountains of broken plastic and rusty metal that plague the environment. E-waste is the name for obsolete, broken, and worn-out electronics—from computers to mobile phones to televisions.

The challenge is that these products, which are multiplying at alarming rates thanks in part to planned obsolescence designing products to quickly become outdated and then replaced by the constant emergence of newer and cheaper electronics , have toxic chemicals and precious metals in them, which makes for a dangerous combination. So where do they go?

In fact, it is one of the dirtiest jobs around. Overseas, without the benefit of environmental regulation, e-waste dumps become a kind of boomtown for entrepreneurs willing to sort through endless stacks of broken-down electronics for tiny bits of valuable copper, silver, and other precious metals. Unfortunately, in their hunt, these workers are exposed to deadly toxins. These regulations both limit the amount of toxins allowed in electronics and address the issue of end-of-life recycling. But not surprisingly, corporations, while insisting they are greening their process, often fight stricter regulations.

Meanwhile, many environmental groups, including the activist group Greenpeace, have taken up the cause. Greenpeace states that it is working to get companies to:. Greenpeace produces annual ratings of how well companies are meeting these goals so that consumers can see how brands stack up. For instance, Apple moved up five spots since the report. Hopefully, consumers will vote with their wallets, and the greener companies will be rewarded. Smog hangs heavily over the major cities, sometimes grounding aircraft that cannot navigate through it.

Pedestrians and cyclists wear masks to protect themselves. In Beijing, citizens are skeptical that the government-issued daily pollution ratings are trustworthy. Increasingly, they are taking their own pollution measurements in the hopes that accurate information will galvanize others to action.

Given that some days they can barely see down the street, they hope that action comes soon Papenfuss The amount of air pollution varies from locale to locale, and you may be more personally affected than you realize. Along with breathing in oxygen, most of the time we are also breathe in soot, hydrocarbons, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur oxides. Ground-level ozone O3 , which is associated with eye irritation, respiratory problems, and heart diseases, is a colourless gas that forms when nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds from engine exhaust and industrial processes combine in sunlight.

Approximately 5, people a year die prematurely in Canada due to air pollution Office of the Auditor General of Canada and more than half of all Canadians live in areas where ground-level ozone during the summer smog season reaches unacceptable levels Duncan et al. Much of the smog in Canada is the product of coal-fired electrical generation stations and industries south of the border.

The nitrous oxides and other contaminants drift north with the prevailing winds. The hot and stagnant summers in the Windsor-to-Quebec-City corridor are unfortunately ideal for the creation of ground-level ozone. Much of the pollution in the air comes from human activity. Vancouver and the lower Fraser Valley have the dubious distinction of having the highest per capita car ownership in Canada.

Eighty percent of the ground-level ozone in this area comes from automobile exhaust Vincent and Fick Who checks the environmental report card on how many pollutants each company throws into the air before purchasing a cell phone? Many of us are guilty of taking our environment for granted without concern for how everyday decisions add up to a long-term global problem. How many minor adjustments can you think of, like walking instead of driving, that would reduce your overall carbon footprint? But like the herder who adds one more head of cattle to realize the benefits of owning more cows, but who does not have to pay the price of the overgrazed land, we take the benefit of driving or buying the latest cell phones without worrying about the end result.

Air pollution accumulates in the body, much like the effects of smoking cigarettes accumulate over time, leading to more chronic-illnesses. And in addition to directly affecting human health, air pollution affects crop quality as well as heating and cooling costs. In other words, we all pay a lot more than the price at the pump when we fill up our tank with gas. While nuclear energy promises a safe and abundant power source, increasingly it is looked upon as a danger to the environment and those who inhabit it. The meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan, in resulted in the release of substantial amounts of radioactive material into the environment.

In addition to the problems of accidental meltdown, regular operation of nuclear power plants leads to the accumulation of nuclear waste, which we must then keep track of long term. When disaster occurs, how can we safely evacuate the large numbers of affected people? Indeed, how can we even be sure how far the evacuation radius should extend?

Radiation can also enter the food chain, causing damage from the bottom phytoplankton and microscopic soil organisms all the way to the top. Once again, the price paid for power is much greater than what is seen on the electric bill. The enormous oil disaster that hit the Louisiana Gulf Coast is just one of a frighteningly high number of environmental crises that have led to toxic residue. Often, the stories are not newsmakers, but simply an unpleasant part of life for the people who live near toxic sites such as in the stories of Fort Chipweyan, Alberta, and Hinkley, California.

In many cases, people in these neighbourhoods can be part of a cancer cluster without realizing the cause. World systems analysis suggests that core nations like the United States and those of western Europe were historically the greatest source of greenhouse gases, but have now evolved into postindustrial societies.

Now that semi-peripheral and peripheral nations are industrializing, the core nations wish to enact strict protocols regarding the causes of global warming since their economies are no longer so dependent on greenhouse-gas-causing industries. There are no easy answers to this conflict. But with China leading the way as a top greenhouse gas emitter, it matters less to the planet whether they get their fair shake at polluting.

The international community continues to work toward a way to manage climate change. The Durban Talks that concluded in December point to a willingness by both core countries and peripheral nations to move toward a legally binding instrument for all countries World Resources Institute Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures due to human activity and, in particular, the release of greenhouse gases into the environment.

While the planet as a whole is warming——hence the term global warming——the term climate change is now used because the short-term variations can include higher or lower temperatures, despite the overarching trend toward warmth. Another effect is more extreme weather. There are increasingly more record-breaking weather phenomena, from the number of Category 4 hurricanes to the amount of snowfall in a given winter.

These extremes, while they make for dramatic television coverage, can cause immeasurable damage to crops, property, and even lives. So why is climate change a controversy? So do the close to countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol, a document intended to engage countries in voluntary actions to limit the activity that leads to climate change.

Well, for the companies making billions of dollars in the production of goods and services, climate change is a dirty concept indeed. The idea of costly regulations that would require expensive operational upgrades has been a source of great anxiety to much of the business community, and as a rebuttal they argue, via lobbyists, that such regulations would be disastrous for the economy. Some go so far as to question the science used as evidence. From breakfast cereals to sports cars, we are used to seeing our favourite actors touting products of all kinds. But what about environmental causes?

Who is more trustworthy when it comes to promoting the health of our planet: former vice-president Al Gore or international superstar Angelina Jolie? Globally, Kofi Annan and Al Gore won top spots as trustworthy spokespeople, but among respondents under age 25, Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie joined Kofi as the most influential spokespeople.

Regionally, results varied, with some countries preferring rock stars while others liked getting their environmental messages from sports heroes Nielsen The tradition of rock stars and film celebrities identifying with, if not leading, counter-cultural or progressive social movements was firmly established in the s. Why do we trust the message when it comes from these sources?

As we discussed in Chapter 17 on the topic of image politics, it is clear that the strong emotional basis of contemporary politics can be given a sharper focus when popular celebrities step out of their pop culture role and become the face of an issue. Malthusian theory: Theory which asserts that population is controlled through positive checks war, famine, disease and preventive checks measures to reduce fertility. Demography and Population Scholars understand demography through various analyses.

Malthusian, zero population growth, cornucopian theory, and demographic transition theories all help sociologists study demography. Factors that impact population include birth rates, mortality rates, and migration, including immigration and emigration. There are numerous potential outcomes of the growing population, and sociological perspectives vary on the potential effect of these increased numbers. The growth will pressure the already taxed planet and its natural resources.

At the same time, high-population areas can lead to tensions between demographic groups, as well as environmental strain.

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While the population of urban dwellers is continuing to rise, sources of social strain are rising along with it. The Environment and Society The area of environmental sociology is growing as extreme weather patterns and concerns over climate change increase. Human activity leads to pollution of soil, water, and air, compromising the health of the entire food chain. Demography and Population 1. Urbanization 6. What, in the concentric zone model, is Zone B likely to house? The Environment and Society Urbanization Interested in learning more about the latest research in the field of human ecology?

The Environment and Society What is your carbon footprint? Droitsch, D. The combination of grave environmental alerts obliges us to urgently rethink the argument that human ingenuity, market mechanisms and technological development will be able to overcome whatever crisis arises. The imbalance between human activities and the environment has increased persistently as shown by the Global Footprint Network The ecological footprint helps to evaluate the impact that human beings exert on the biosphere.

It measures the area of productive land and water ecosystems required to supply the resources that a population consumes and assimilate the wastes that it generates. Until the mid s, humankind still lived within the renewable limits of the Planet. Since then, the ecological footprint of the world population has been growing continuously, as both the number of people and income per capita increased. Earth's total biocapacity was 12 billion gha, or 1.

Since there were only 12 billion global hectares availabIe, humankind was already using the resources of one and a half planets. The consequences of this rapid journey toward unsustainability can already be perceived in the infringement of planetary boundaries. A study published in by the Stockholm Resilience Center at the University of Stockholm traced an initial sketch of planetary boundaries and defined the safe operational space for humanity on the basis of intrinsic biosphere processes that regulate the stability of the Earth System.

The study identified nine central dimensions for the maintenance of the conditions for a decent life for human societies and for the environment. This new study, based on a large number of peer-reviewed scientific studies, aimed to solidify the methodology of the previous analysis. It generally confirms the original set of planetary boundaries but provides an updated analysis and a quantification of the situation in several of them. It maintains the same processes as the study but improves the methodology and the analysis of the planetary boundaries with a focus on biophysics based on scientific advances over the previous five years.

Several of the boundaries are now presented in two levels in order to reflect scale and regional heterogeneity. According to the authors, the methodology of the Planetary Boundaries does not propose to dictate how human societies should develop but to help civil society and decision-makers in the definition of a safe operational space for humanity and for life on Earth.

These nine processes affect the mechanisms that regulate and maintain the stability and resilience of the Earth system. Interactions between land, oceans and the atmosphere control the conditions under which our societies depend for their survival. Transgression of a boundary increases the risks for all human activities and could generate a much less hospitable state for the planet, frustrating efforts to reduce poverty and leading to the deterioration of human well-being in many parts of the world, including in the rich countries.

The main novelty in this second study is the discovery that four of the planetary boundaries have already been breached: climate change, biodiversity integrity; landuse change, and; biogeochemical flows phosphorus and nitrogen cycles. Two of these - climate change and biodiversity integrity - constitute what the scientists call "core" planetary boundaries due to their fundamental importance for the Earth system.

Aggravating the violation of these core frontiers would be catastrophic and could lead to the collapse of the civilization we know. In other words, there are basic tipping points that cannot be surpassed.

The risks of ecological chaos if we continue to exceed planetary limits were dramatized in another study published in by 12 scientists from the University of California. The scientists alerted us to the fact that we are on the brink of a "state shift", that is, an abrupt critical transition that could suddenly alter known conditions, producing unanticipated biotic effects BARNOSKY et al. Hence, the analysis of planetary boundaries confirm previous theoretical studies, such as those of Beck and Giddens in the sense that capitalist modernization, while overcoming some previous conflicts, escalates those between society and nature, creating global risks of catastrophic magnitude.

In this light, contrary to the cornucopian perception, the prevailing economic system is taking us towards an unsustainable future and succeeding generations will find it much harder to survive with a good quality of life.

Discourse - Environment and Environmentalism in 21st century

History shows us that civilizations follow a cycle of ascension, but when they are unable to accept new values or to change their trajectory, they tend to collapse. However, we have no historical record of any civilization that has ever deliberately risked suffering such vast devastation as ours! The next segment presents a brief analysis of the two threats that, according to current science, are particularly menacing for our current civilization - climate change and the integrity of biodiversity.

Climate change is the most obvious threat and it has received the most attention from the general public as well as from scientists and politicians. The inherent volatility of the weather and its everyday significance favors widespread puzzlement and scepticism - particularly among the negationists, but also from laymen - concerning the origins and the real dimensions of ongoing changes. In contrast, the scientific evidence is ever more conclusive. Despite the efforts of negationists, the enormous majority of scientists who study these questions is totally convinced that climate change is occurring and that it is related to our paradigm of development.

That is, in this "Anthropocene" era, the diffusion and application of "the growth imperative" is primarily responsible for the present crisis. The particulars of climate change and its probable consequences are well-known and confirmed by the literature and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to quote a recent typical report prepared by Mario Molina, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in , who recently led a committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The resulting paper -"What we know: the reality, risks, and response to climate change", published in , warns that the effects of greenhouse gases that we produce in the atmosphere can be horrific: "The evidence is overwhelming: Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising.

Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heatwaves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying" AAAS, , p. It recently announced that the month of June was the warmest since systematic data on the temperature of the Planet have been gathered. The six first months of also marked the hottest semester on record since Despite not having received nearly as much attention as climate change, the reduction of flora and fauna - or, the loss of biodiversity - is another major ecological threat that could potentially have comparably significant impacts.

Humankind occupies an ever-increasing extent of planetary space and this has resulted in the harmful invasion of all other forms of ecosystemic life on Earth. In and of itself, this increases global risks. In other words, the quantity of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish on the Planet is, on average, only half of what it was 40 years ago WWF, In July of , the journal "Science" published a series of studies showing alarming rates of crime against other living creatures. The responsibility of humankind to risks of the disappearance of species is times greater than natural processes.

The journal confirms that human beings are causing, over a brief period of time, the sixth massive extinction on the planet. The causes are multiple - landuse, changes in soil cover, deforestation, disappearance of pollinators, soil erosion, changes in the quality of water and other related factors.

History of urban planning - Wikipedia

Ultimately, the effects are systemic and result from increasing discrimination against non-human species and the generalization of the crime of ecocide. Various proposals have been put forth to mitigate the damage caused by the human presence on the Planet and to avoid the collapse of biodiversity. Harvard biologist Edward Osborne, who classifies the situation as a "biological holocaust", suggests a conservation plan called "half Earth" in which half of the planet would be reserved for wildlife and for the extension of forest cover to sequester carbon and mitigate the effects of global warming HISS, Elizabeth Kolbert , in her book The sixth extinction, also calls attention to the dangers caused by the reduction of biodiversity, not only for ethical reasons, but also because ecological losses endanger those natural mechanisms which guarantee the equilibrium of ecosystems, the regulation of the climate, the purification of air, the protection of soil fertility, the control of pests and the healthy renovation of hydrographic basins.

The unsustainability of unequal development: globalization, ecology and population. Social unsustainability is a critical component of global sustainability. Although economic growth has contributed to improving life conditions for billions of people, its fruits have been distributed unequally. The mechanism that produced this growth is best characterized as throughput growth stimulated by consumerism.

Globalization has massified this process and rapidly extended it to all continents. According to the McKinsey consulting firm, the number of global consumers 5 already surpasses 2. Such estimates are based on a very broad definition of "consumer" persons who have an income of 10 dollars or more per day.

The study concludes that the rapid expansion of the middle class is more promise than reality. Be that as it may, the point is that, despite the optimism of global business concerns, there is still an enormous number of people who will NOT be participating in the world middle class. By , when according to most scientific predictions, the crisis produced by this model of growth will already be showing clear signs of stress, more than half of the world's population will still not have made it into the world's consumer class. It is exactly at this intersection between increased consumption and the environmental limits to a growth model based on constant increases in consumption and increasing global inequality that the social and political importance of demographic issues needs to be understood today.

The economic growth we know requires constant increases in production and consumption, either through the incorporation of new consumers or by boosting consumption among present consumers. Consumption is the engine that moves economic growth and the reduction of poverty. Interest in consumption has a long history. Humanity has always been enticed by positional goods, that is, by those goods that others envy because they do not possess them.

Increasingly effective mechanisms were devised to incite the population to consume more goods and services, a good proportion of which were superfluous. Not by accident, the networks of mass communications such as radio and TV were extended and improved, along with the increase in practices such as "planned obsolescence" of consumer goods, stimulation of constant renewal of products and processes generated through technological development and increasing physical access to channels of consumption through the spread of supermarkets and shopping malls.

The constant rise of consumption at the individual, national and global levels is being ensured with increasing efficacy by an proficient constellation of actors and institutions who remind us daily that we need to buy and consume more stuff. The culture of consumption has consecrated itself as the most efficient engine of capitalism in its efforts to promote economic growth, which has, in turn, become synonymous with "development". This culture entails a collection of values, beliefs and behavior patterns that are considered by society as appropriate.

The omnipresent shopping malls have become the temples in which this culture and its gods are worshipped. The culture defines the contours and the objectives of happiness as well as the determinants of social status of individuals and social groups that are blessed with the ability to participate in this civilization.

Consumerism ultimately induces people to search for contentment and social acceptability via the purchase of goods and services. The culture of consumption can be considered as the most significant human force in recent decades, surpassing religions, ideologies, ethnicity or political parties. Since it functions so well at the individual level, the motivation to consume exercises a strong capacity to mobilize society at the aggregate level. The constant quest for happiness through consumption, though ethereal, feeds persistent increases in production which, in turn, foster economic growth.

Given its efficiency in stimulating economic growth as well as poverty reduction, this model is aggressively promoted, not only by the market and business concerns, but also by national governments and international development agencies. Fomenting consumption has become, in this context, the essence of the development paradigm. Unfortunately, this arrangement, whereby the promotion of consumption patterns that support constant increases in production give form, content and vigor to economic growth, also generates the two major threats to humankind in the 21 st century: ecological chaos as seen in previous segments and deep global inequality.

These two threats are intimately related and, as seen in the next segment of this paper, are directly conditioned by demographic dynamics. Despite the vast literature on both the benefits of economic growth, population dynamics and the expansion of environmental threats, three critical aspects of this issue have not been sufficiently highlighted:. The confluence of these three situations configures the profile of inequality that castigates the world at this historical moment and, at the same time, gives new dimensions to the demographic question.

Resolving income inequality is an imperative and an essential condition in the promotion of social justice. But inequality is also a problem for economic growth itself: Increasing inequality means not only that an enormous segment of the world's population subsists in poverty, but also that riches are increasing in a limited portion of humankind. At the base of the pyramid, some 3. The richest group contained 35 million adults 0. In short, the two groups at the top of the pyramid comprised 8. At the base of the pyramid, 4. The worse part is that multiple sources indicate that this concentration is rising.

The injustices of this social architecture notwithstanding, the number of consumers and the value of wealth has increased over recent decades, creating more pressure on natural resources. The worsening of the environmental crisis today reflects, in part, the incorporation of numerous contingents of consumers, especially rich ones, many of which come from countries that were, until recently, considered as "underdeveloped".

In the context of increasing international concern with environmental problems in China and other emerging countries, it is easy to forget that the global environmental crisis was created by consumer patterns in a minority of the world's population - that from the developed countries together with the elites from other countries. Even before the recent economic expansion of the emerging countries, a small proportion of humanity had already disturbed the global ecological equilibrium. In the Babylonian setting of the many large conferences focused on the environmental crisis, the poor countries obviously demand the same right to consume - and thus to pollute - as much as the initiators of the crisis.

Developed countries, in turn, refuse to alter their economic trajectory so as to allow the others a certain leeway to grow; on the contrary, they constantly point to the dangers of development in emerging countries. Should the "underdeveloped" countries be denied the right to escape poverty and to also become consumers?

Despite the enormous economic progress of recent times, almost two-thirds of the world's population still do not participate in globalized consumption and one quarter are definitely poor. Industrialized countries systematically procrastinate in relation to any environmental agreement that represents a threat to their current way of life. Retarding the socioeconomic progress of poorer population groups while consumption and degradation are stabilized or even increased in the rich countries signifies an expansion of the already-large gap between the two blocs.

How can the level and rhythm of humanity's consumption be controlled without diminishing the social progress of the enormous mass of people who are not yet consumers and who, on the whole, still suffer from basic needs? Improving the situation of the poor is an imperative, but the generalization of the production and consumption patterns of the rich to a significant proportion of the still-poor would require the natural resources of several planets.

That is, in the absence of a dramatic turnaround in our conception of development, and of the culture of consumption that sustains it, the incorporation of significant numbers of new consumers - thereby fulfilling the aspirations of economists, corporations, governments and development agencies - would evidently mean the hastening of the ecological crisis. Are there enough resources and technology to guarantee minimal welfare for the entire world population now and into the future?

Possibly so, but this would demand radical changes in the development paradigm and a drastic reduction of consumption. Proof of this is the international failure to implement effective environmental measures. A study carried out by UNEP and the Stockholm Environmental Institute on 90 environmental agreements signed by governments over the past few decades showed that only four of these had made any progress: removing lead from gasoline, improving access to good drinking water, promoting research on the marine environment and avoiding further damage to the ozone layer UNEP, In brief, conciliating the demands for consumption of a growing population - in a capitalist system centered on making greater profits by selling more merchandise that use up more natural resources in a finite planet wherein the energy flow is entropic - seems like an impossible task.

What solutions can be offered to this vital dilemma of humankind in the 21 st century? Several alternatives are being intensely discussed but, in practice, only 'painless' solutions are being seriously considered, that is, solutions that do not require profound alterations in a development paradigm that is founded on increased consumption and which has, so far at least, been efficacious in increasing wealth and reducing poverty - albeit, at the cost of the environment.

In this context, the first recommendation that tends to be evoked in relation to environmental problems is the need to reduce population size and its rate of growth through the intensification of family planning programs. The issue is very important and complex, but needs to be better understood. First of all, there are different levels of environmental impacts from population dynamics. On the most general level, practically any environmental challenge is made more difficult by population growth. As succinctly expressed by Vaclav Smil , p.

Yet, the nature and extent of the population challenge to sustainability is neither uniform nor linear. It is ultimately determined by the manner in which production and consumption is organized in a given society, at a given moment in time, and by the relative size of the different social groups that engage in particular patterns of consumption within that society. The rise in global emissions resulting from economic growth are due to increased wealth and not to increased population. The countries that originally created the ecological crisis were low-fertility countries, while high fertility countries are poor and contribute little to major environmental problems.

As noted earlier, only one-third of the world's population actually consumes in the global market and contributes to major emissions. Therefore, one unit of population - a person - is not equivalent to one unit of consumption. In this light, population control continues to be an ineffective solution by itself since the problem does not spring from the increase in global population but from the growth of consumers in today's globalized economy.

Secondly, family planning programs are not a quick fix since they do not guarantee rapid fertility decline nor population reduction. The evidence shows that fertility tends to decline only after some form of development sets in. As analysed by Demeny , , the mechanisms which nudge lower vital rates are prompted by transformations in the socio-economic system which set the framework for individual actions; fertility declines when many individuals in a given society find it to their advantage to have less children.

Hence, the reduction of fertility in a country or population group is generally linked to improvements in living conditions and to urbanization. Providing people with the means to control their offspring is important to the welfare, health and liberation of women, but it does not necessarily reduce fertility drastically if people do not perceive prospects for improved living conditions. Moreover, much of today's population growth is inertial, that is, it results as much from the size of reproductive cohorts produced by fertility patterns in the previous generation as from current fertility rates.

Hence, there is no quick reduction in total population size in sight. Thirdly, fertility decline does not guarantee a decrease in consumption. The very reduction of family size itself favors increased per capita consumption, annulling in some form the gains from a reduced size of the total population. In sum, the same factors that reduce fertility also increase consumption.

Consequently, without a change in the dominant consumption-based development pattern, fertility decline - a process which is well underway in most of the developing world - will have, per se, very little environmental impact in the short run. Fourthly, and despite the thrust of the above arguments, the role of population in environmental issues acquires much greater urgency when viewed within a time perspective. Depending on development outcomes, current population growth rates can have a critical impact on the number of consumers in the future.

The poor and high fertility countries of today can obviously increase their consumption levels drastically to the extent that they are successful in adopting the hegemonic economic model. This observation is critical, as dramatically illustrated by the trajectory of China in recent decades. Future increases in the number of consumers in such countries will be determined by the rates of population growth in current generations. Thus, the sensible approach would be to promote fertility reduction sooner rather than later, in case a more rational path to 'development' and the reduction of poverty is effectively adopted.

Paradoxically, this reduction of fertility rates is unlikely to occur without access to urbanization and some type of development. Fifth, a moderate but constant increase in population is seen by developmentalists to be an effective stimulus for throughput growth based on constantly increasing levels of production and consumption.

From an environmental standpoint, this is a disastrous assessment since additional people will also have the right to consume. The dilemma is that we already have, worldwide, a much greater number of people consumers and potential consumers that can be supported at middle-class consumption levels by the Earth's resources. For Smil, it is impossible to generalize the consumption patterns that typify today's affluence to the whole of the human species without irreversibly compromising the supply of ecosystemic services on which we all depend.

The problem is not technical progress, whose rhythm is extraordinary and which clearly reduces the quantity of materials and energy for the manufacture of goods. The problem is that, globally, this reduction is only relative.