Probably the most serious cause of environmental degradation is overpopulation. More people live on Earth today than all the people who died since Creation (or, if you prefer, the "accidental" beginning of "evolution"). Three hundred years ago the world's population doubled every 250 years. Today it doubles in less than a life span. When I was editing the first edition of this handbook, the population of the planet was under 4 billion; today it is near-ing 6 billion (Figure 4). During that same time period, the population of the Third World increased by more than the total population of the developed countries.
The choice is clear: we either take the steps needed to control our numbers or nature will do it for us through famine, plague, and loss of fertility. We must realize that the teaching which was valid for a small tribe in the desert ("Conquer nature and multiply") is no longer valid for the overpopulated planet of today. We must realize that, even if we immediately take all the steps required to stabilize the population of the planet, the total number will still reach some 15 billion before it can be stabilized.
To date, food production has kept pace with population growth, but only at a drastic price: increases in pesticide (300%) and fertilizer (150%) use, which in turn further pollutes the environment.
The total amount of land suitable for agriculture is about 8 billion acres. Of that, 3.8 billion acres are under cultivation and, with the growth of the road systems and cities, the availability of land for agricultural uses is shrinking. The amount of water available for irrigation is also dropping. Without excessive fertilization, one acre of land is needed to feed one person: therefore, the human population has already exceeded the number supportable without chemical fertilizers. As chemical fertilizer manufacturing is based on the use of crude oil, models simulating world trends predict serious shortages in the next century (Figure 5).
While all these trends are ominous, the situation is not hopeless. The populations of the more developed countries seem to have stabilized, the new communication technologies and improved mass transit are helping to stop or even reverse the further concentration of urban masses. Environmental education and recycling have been successful in several nations. New technologies are emerging to serve conservation and to provide nonpolluting and inexhaustible energy sources.
When Copernicus discarded the concept of an earth-centered and stationary Universe, the Earth continued to travel undisturbed in its orbit around the Sun, yet the consequences of this discovery were revolutionary. Copernicus' discovery changed nothing in the Universe, but it changed our subconscious view of ourselves as the "centerpiece of creation." Today, our concept of our immediate universe, the Earth, is once again changing and this change is even more fundamental. We are realizing that the planet is exhaustible and that our future depends
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