Letter: Environmental realities of population growth

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The Independent Online
Sir: A misleading and dangerous conflict of views is evident on the question of population and environment as represented by your report of David Pimentel's study (22 February) and of Jules Pretty's response (Letters, 25 February).

I suggest that the protagonists for population growth provide some answers to the following questions. When a majority of areas experiencing rapid population increase depend for their energy requirements on wood fuel, can we ensure the replacement of trees at a rate which can allow this practice to continue until new energy sources become available?

If we can achieve this, how will sufficient clean water for people and for agriculture be provided? In many parts of the world we are now mining fossil water in an unsustainable manner, while surface water supplies become erratic and suffer loss of quality as soil is eroded from degraded land. Is it really an option to ignore this soil loss in favour of the spread of high energy agriculture?

It may be politically correct to decry attempts at population control, but it cannot be scientifically correct to assert that there is no threat of imbalance between population and resources.

If those who say that population growth does not affect sustainable development seek an improved quality of life for every new baby, let them answer one last question. As living standards improve we use more fuel, more water and are likely to live in towns, where we need housing, sanitation, a transport infrastructure and employment. Can all this be provided, for a majority of even our present world population, and without massive pollution? The human race is innovative, and many will manage these changes, but it is already an unequal contest and vast numbers of people suffer daily indignity. If the bottom line is the welfare of people, then we should be more careful about the premises we accept in seeking to alleviate this very complex web of problems.

Yours faithfully,

MICHAEL F. THOMAS

Professor of Environmental Science

University of Stirling

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