Population and the Environment

Something that has been on my mind a lot recently is the degradation of the environment, and the impact that humans are having upon climate change. Monitoring this issue on the news is a constant source of anxiety, where one can find alarming reports from scientists about current emission rates, in addition to constant distressing political updates that the US is deregulating pollutants and has pulled from the Paris Agreement. All of this has been very discouraging and frequently leaves me feeling anxious about the state of the world and the future.

In learning more about climate change and the environment, one question that I've always had is wondering about the inevitability of climate change. Since humans began domesticating animals and expanding agriculture practices, have we always been doomed to deplete our natural resources? In other words, regardless of the many industrial emissions and pollutants that have contaminated our world, is the massive rise in human population alone responsible for our current and future demise?

In an attempt to answer this question, I reviewed the article "Population and Environment, available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The answer is a complicated one, as it is difficult to examine population alone as a single variable within a complicated equation. One of the theories I found most compelling was a mediating variable theory, which states that population dynamics impact the environment through a variety of other variables, including: technology, consumption, poverty, and culture. For example, the vicious circle method (VCM) is built on a number of positive feedback loops. Here's an example: poverty leads to high fertility as families need extra hands to assist with agricultural work. This in turn increases population growth in local areas, leading to the conversion of non-agricultural land areas (forest frontiers). Deforestation of the land negatively impacts natural resources in the area, thus contributing to poverty and the start of the cycle.

While I do feel I received some clarity in the basic premise of my question, the scale of this problem and the troubling nature of the positive feedback loops make it difficult to feel satisfied. I hope to continue to research this area, and next determine how impactful individuals can truly be in minimizing their footprint on the environment.