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The population
The Kyoto Protocol

Population, Part Four

Population Home Part I Part II
Part III Part IV Part V

Effects of the Current and Future Population On :

Food Supply

The most pressing issue of population growth is food supply. Since 1984, global grain harvest per person has been declining. Although cropland has increased since 1950, population has grown 7 times faster. Between 2000 and 2050, it is estimated that cropland per person will drop from 0.3 acres to 0.2 acres. This is an average, as there are many countries that are self-supportive while others cannot feed their own citizens. These concerns raise many questions of future sustainability. Will we have enough productive cropland to grow an adequate amount of food? If so, will import systems be able to provide food to the countries that cannot grow enough of their own? Will those countries have enough money to pay for imported food?

In 1999 there are 82 countries that cannot grow enough food to feed their people, nor can they afford to buy it from another country. As the population increases in many developing countries their cropland per capita will shrink to unsustainable levels. Countries like Japan and Taiwan already import 70% of their grain, but they have the money to do so.

Food "Facts"

  • "In two or three decades farmers might need to produce 50 percent more food than they do now, without increasing their use of land and water, just to keep up with population and economic growth."(13)

  • "The U.S. annually paves over an area the size of Delaware (9). "Almost 40 percent of the Earth's land surface has been converted to cropland and permanent pasture."(9)

  • Desertification is claiming 29% of the earth's total landmass (8).

  • We are currently over-harvesting all major world fisheries (9).

  • To feed an exploding population over the next 50 years Africa will need to increase its food production by 400%, Latin America by 80%, Asia by 68%, and North America by 30%. Europe won't need to produce more since it has the lowest birth rates in the world (9).

  • The world loses about 4.5 tons of farmable soil per person every year (6).

  • "In 1830, there were 32 acres of land per living human being. Today there are fewer than 5 acres, including uninhabitable land."(8)

  • Grain harvest per person rose 38% from 1950 to 1984, exceeding population growth. It declined 9% from 1984 to 1998, falling behind population growth (2).

  • Since 1950, grain area has increased by 19% and global population has increased 132% (2).

  • Ironically, as we try to feed more hungry mouths, the pesticides we use poison 25 million people and kill 20,000 people every year in less developed countries (16).

  • Hunger and malnutrition claim 6 million lives worldwide every year (2).

  • "Famine is no longer due to a global food shortage," but to unequal global consumption and poor distribution (1).

  • Irrigation worldwide is only about 40% percent efficient more water is wasted than reaches the crops. Modern techniques could raise the efficiency 25-80% (9).

  • Globally, people only use a few hundred species of edible plants of the 50,000 discovered. Only 15 species account for 90% of world food energy intake. Two-thirds of the global population rely on wheat, rice, and maize for their staple food (9).

  • Rangeland for animal meat production covers twice the global area of cropland (2).


Forests are extremely endangered by population growth. Just about everything humans do in order to grow and cook food, build shelter, acquire power sources, and develop areas affects forests. Clearing land for agriculture in developing countries is the top cause of forest destruction, as food production must keep up with the growing numbers of mouths to feed. Tropical forests are being cut down at an estimated rate of 59,500 square miles the size of Florida every year for various reasons.

Forests provide many services for the environment. Frontier forests can store "more carbon than is likely to be released by fossil fuel burning and cement manufacture over the next 70 years or so." But once the trees are cut down, they release into the atmosphere the carbon they stored. In fact, forest clearing accounts for 25% of the world's carbon emissions. Forests are also a source of many medicines that we manufacture today, and there is no telling how many cures are being destroyed every day. Humans are trading biodiversity, food and medicinal sources, nutrient recycling, climate regulation, and watershed management for cropland, pasture, fuel, and urban development.

Forest "Facts"

  • Average forest area per person: 9,067 square meters (95 x 95 meters) (8)

  • 75% of population growth and 75% of deforestation have occurred in the 20 th century (2).

  • Forests covered about 40% of the earth's total land area earlier in the 20 th century. That is down to 27% or 20% in developing regions that clear land for agriculture and fuel wood (9).

  • "Half of the planet's tropical forests have been destroyed or degraded."(9)

  • For every acre of forest that is converted to farmland or pasture, another acre is left too degraded to maintain diverse ecosystems or produce food (13).

  • Every minute 50 acres of rain forest are destroyed (8).

  • "One production run of the Sunday New York Times requires product from 75,000 trees."(3)

  • North America, Europe, and Japan comprise 19% of the global population but consume almost 50% of the world's industrial wood and 63% of its paper and paperboard (2).

  • The world is producing 25% more forest products than is estimated for sustainable consumption (2).

  • About 97% of population growth will occur in developing countries, where most large-scale deforestation of temperate and tropical forests occurs. The most affluent countries are responsible for destroying boreal forests for paper and wood (9).

  • 75% of the world's tropical forests will be harvested by 2025 (3).

Water Quality and Supply

Intensive farming practices and deforestation cause siltation of streams and rivers. Urbanization creates industrial and residential run-off, contaminating water supplies. Between water pollution, rising affluence from socioeconomic development and a rapidly growing population, an insufficient supply of clean water threatens many regions.

Water "Facts"

  • Globally, 70% of the water supply is used for irrigation, 20% for industry, and 10% for residential purposes (2).

  • Water shortages plague 80 countries, 12 of which have a severe lack (9).

  • Groundwater levels in northern China are dropping up to 1 meter per year (9).

  • The primary cause of water pollution is run-off from farmland, city streets, parking lots, and lawns (8).

  • "Waterborne infections such as cholera and other diarrhea-type diseases account for 90 percent of all infectious diseases in developing countries ? and 40 percent of all deaths in some nations" (2).

  • The water needed to supply world agriculture by 2025 will be the equivalent to the annual flow of 24 Nile Rivers (2).

  • Industry will use twice as much water as it does today by 2025 (11).

  • "One billion people will be living in countries facing absolute water scarcity by 2025."(2)

Species Diversity

No matter how humans interact with their environment, there is a clear correlation between population and species loss. The more people, the less wildlife. Paul Harrison studied 50 countries and concluded the following:

Population per Square Kilometer

Original Wildlife Habitat Remaining

294 people or less


379 people or less


454 people or less




Biodiversity "Facts:"

  • Species loss today is 100 to 1,000 times the natural rate (2).

  • Half of all species in the world live in the watersheds of tropical forests (9).

  • About 4,000 species are lost every year in tropical regions (3).

  • An estimated 27,000 plant and animal species worldwide vanish each year three animals, plants, insects, or microorganisms per hour (9).

  • It is estimated that an average of only 0.1% of the pesticides used on crops reaches pests; 99.9% of the pesticides poison the ecosystem (16).


The population will be increasingly more urban in the 21 st century. It is estimated that half of the global population will be living in cities, in numbers exceeding the current world population. Urban sprawl has already taken a toll on the environment. It has been calculated that 50% of wetlands, 90% of northwestern old growth forests, and 99% of tall grass prairie in the United States have been lost in the last 200 years due to development.

Urban "Facts"

  • 1 of 10 people lived in the city in 1900 and 1 in 2 people lived in the city in 1994 (1).

  • Of cities, Manhattan , New York , has 68,000 people per square mile, and parts of Cairo 's older districts have 160,000 people per square mile (15).

  • Employment opportunities in Africa are dismal, where 40% of people live in absolute poverty (2).

  • Europe averages 19 square yards of green space per person whereas Cairo has an average of 7 square inches (15).

  • Half of the global population (3 billion) has no access to sanitation. Almost half (2.7 billion) has no reliable source of safe drinking water (2).

  • By the middle to end of the coming century, 70% of the human population will live on only 2% of the world's surface ? in cities (15).

  • "The combined population of the ten largest cities at the end of the century 163 million will equal that of the twenty-six smallest countries."(15)

  • In 2000, there will be 3 billion people living in cities, 4 billion by 2025 (9).

  • Housing demand will double by 2050 due to population growth and a shift to fewer people per household (2).

  • It is estimated that by 2050, global population will have increased 47% while the urban population will increase 114% (2).


While the U.S. enjoys its longest peacetime prosperity in history, 16% of the world's population lacks clean water, sanitation, health care, and education. One in five people live on less than a dollar per day. By year 2000 it is estimated that over 75% of urban families living in developing countries will be impoverished. The "Pollyannas" are adamant that humans will overcome future problems, but a growing proportion of impoverished people lack good health, education, and other resources needed for survival. In effect, we may have a larger population with about the same "stock of imagination" as we had with a smaller population.

People "Facts"

  • It is estimated that "the richest 225 people in the world today control more wealth than the poorest 2.5 billion people. And that the three richest people in the world control more wealth than the poorest 48 nations."(9)

  • "The poorest 10% of the world's countries earn less than $130 per person per year," or 35 cents a day (8).

  • In developing countries, about 3/5 of people don't have access to sanitation, don't have adequate housing, and 1/3 lack clean water (2).

  • Half the people in developing countries suffer from 1 of the 6 diseases linked to poor sanitation and water supply (2).

  • It is estimated that "every year one million children are forced into prostitution mostly girls in Asia ."(9)

  • Many women do not want larger families: of all pregnancies are purposely terminated worldwide. 150,000 abortions are performed daily, 1/3 of which are illegal. U.S. Poverty Rates (9):

# of Children per Family

Families in Poverty