7 Billion and Counting

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Last month the world population reached 7 billion.  In only 12 short years, since ~October 1999, the human population has increased by 1 billion.  Let us take a few moments to think about the fact that we now share this planet with 6,999,999,999 other people… and counting.  If our global growth rate continues, it is anticipated that by 2050, you could be one of 10 billion!  So what exactly does this increase mean for the other species that share our space?  Furthermore, what do 7 billion humans mean for the environment?  Regardless, if we live in a developing or industrialized nation, an increase in population puts an increased burden on our planet.  More people ultimately means more resources, i.e. food, water, shelter, and space, will be needed.

Whether caused by man or a natural phenomenon, climate change is occurring, putting even further pressures on the earth.  Earlier this year, the Horn of Africa experienced the worst drought in 60 years; the lives of nearly 20 million people have in some way been affected.  In this area, death via malnutrition has taken the lives of nearly 30,000 children.  It is hard to tell if this environmental condition was aggravated by increasing agricultural practice to support more people, climate change, or political agenda.  No matter, it is sad to think that drought and subsequent famine may be more common in the near future.  At present, the United Nations World Food Programme estimates that 925 million people, almost 1 in 7, do not have enough to eat.

Likewise, in the U.S. state of Texas, wildlife has suffered immensely due to drought and wildfires.  Even without the stress of natural disasters, wildlife not only has to fight for resources with other species in the ecosystem, but also for space due to increasing human encroachment into wildlife habitat.  As resources become less abundant wildlife are forced to inhabit areas they normally would not, resulting in a disruption in the natural ecological balance.  In addition, incidences of human-wildlife conflicts are drastically increasing; a no-win situation for all involved.  Unfortunately, this scenario is not isolated to Texas; it is a scene that is playing out all around the world as animals continue to lose habitat.

As humans require more space to build homes, grow crops, or graze livestock, additional forests will be cleared; an increase in deforestation results in desertification.  Trees are important for life on planet Earth for a variety of reasons.  During photosynthesis trees convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar molecules.  Forests also play key roles by sustaining the hydrological or precipitation cycles through evapotranspiration; this process also cools the climate.   In addition, root systems of trees and surrounding vegetation prevent soil erosion and thereby prevent the increase in sediment pollution in waterways.  Increasing sediment content is detrimental to aquatic ecosystems in many ways by:  clogging waterways; smother aquatic life; increase water turbidity wherein water temperature also increases; and decomposing plant material causes a decrease in oxygen content in water.

An increase in humans inevitably equals an increase in garbage.  Think about the waste a single person produces in one year.  What about if that person is an infant that still requires formula and diapers?  The truth is humans are wasteful; whether we intend to be or not.  Think about the trash generated by a single trip to Starbucks.  From the paper the receipt is printed on and the wrapper protecting our scone or muffin, to our disposable coffee cup with cardboard heat protector and plastic lead, we are generating garbage at an alarming rate.  Now I completely understand that what I have just described is something that happens more often in industrialized countries; I am yet to see a McCafe on the Serengeti.  If this is the case, then should it not be those same great nations that step up and make every opportunity to lead by example and reduce our wasteful habits?  Can we break the routine of our daily grind, or will our “sheeple” (humans acting like sheep) mentality be our undoing?

As our population continues to increase we need to be aware that our every move impacts our planet.  Now more than ever we need to practice sustainable living daily via reducing our waste, reusing what we can, and recycling what cannot be reused.  Sad, but true, people will continue to reproduce.  However, we can lessen the burden on Mother Nature by reducing our carbon footprint.  Carpool when you can, or walk rather then drive.  Pack a lunch rather than eating out, but if there is no alternative at least use reusable utensils, mugs, and cups to reduce waste.  Likewise, reusable shopping bags not only cut down on paper and plastic use, but are also more durable.  Send electronic holiday greetings and birthday wishes via email instead of paper cards.  At Christmas purchase a tree that has its root ball intact so that it can be replanted the following year.  It only takes the smallest change to make a big difference in our ever-growing world.

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