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  1. 1

    Sustaining life on the earth.

    Kates RW

    SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. 1994 Oct; 114-22.

    At the time of the toolmaking revolution, around 1 million years ago, human numbers rose to 5 million. As humans invented agriculture and animal husbandry, the population grew to about 500 million. In 1994 the number was 5.6 billion; it may double or triple before leveling off again 300 years after the industrial revolution began. If the transition to a warmer, more crowded, more diverse world can be managed, there may be promise of an environmentally sustainable future. The reconstructed population series for 4 ancient regions, the Nile Valley (6000 years), the Tigris-Euphrates lowlands of Iraq (6000 years), the basin of Mexico (3000 years), and the central Maya lowlands of Mexico and Guatemala (2200 years) all show waves in which population doubled over the previous base and then fell by at least half. This raises questions about human life on the earth: perhaps even regions that are world leaders can collapse in modern times. Among likely threats are 3 areas of concern: 1) pollutants: acid rain in the atmosphere, heavy metals in the soils, and chemicals in the groundwater, 2) global atmospheric dangers of nuclear fallout, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climatic warming, 3) deforestation, desertification, and species extinction. 10 billion people would require a 4-fold increase in agricultural production, a 6-fold rise in energy use and an 8-fold increase in the global economy. 2.1 births per woman is required for zero-population growth, while the current birth rate is 3.2. In developing countries after World War II, the life expectancy at birth was 40 years, now it has increased to 65 years. The slowing of the rate of population growth everywhere is encouraging for sustaining life on the earth, which requires cohabitation with the natural world; limits to human activity; and wider distribution of the benefits of human activity.
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  2. 2

    Rapid population growth and environmental degradation: ultimate versus proximate factors.

    Shaw RP

    ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION. 1989 Autumn; 16(3):199-208.

    This philosophical review of 2 arguments about responsibility for and solutions to environmental degradation concludes that both sides are correct: the ultimate and the proximal causes. Ultimate causes of pollution are defined as the technology responsible for a given type of pollution, such as burning fossil fuel; proximate causes are defined as situation-specific factors confounding the problem, such as population density or rate of growth. Commoner and others argue that developed countries with low or negative population growth rates are responsible for 80% of world pollution, primarily in polluting technologies such as automobiles, power generation, plastics, pesticides, toxic wastes, garbage, warfaring, and nuclear weapons wastes. Distortionary policies also contribute; examples are agricultural trade protection, land mismanagement, urban bias in expenditures, and institutional rigidity., Poor nations are responsible for very little pollution because poverty allows little waste or expenditures for polluting, synthetic technologies. The proximal causes of pollution include numbers and rate of growth of populations responsible for the pollution. Since change in the ultimate cause of pollution remains out of reach, altering the numbers of polluters can make a difference. Predictions are made for proportions of the world's total waste production, assuming current 1.6 tons/capita for developed countries and 0.17 tons/capita for developing countries. If developing countries grow at current rates and become more wealthy, they will be emitting half the world's waste by 2025. ON the other hand, unsustainable population growth goes along with inadequate investment in human capital: education, health, employment, infrastructure. The solution is to improve farming technologies in the 117 non-self-sufficient countries, fund development in the most unsustainable enclaves of growing countries, break institutionalized socio-political rigidity in these enclaves, and focus on educating and empowering women in these enclaves. Women are in charge of birth spacing and all aspects of management of energy, food, water and the local environment, more so than men, in most countries.
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  3. 3

    Public health and the ethics of sustainability. Swellengrebel Lecture.

    King M

    TROPICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL MEDICINE. 1990 Jul; 42(3):197-206.

    An exposition of the ethical arguments for placing sustainability as a priority in implementation of public health programs is made, considering the definition of sustainability, theories of the demographic transition, the ecological transition, the relationship between sustainability of the ecosystem and the human birth rate, types of ethical conflicts over the issue of child survival interventions, a suggested way of resolving the dilemma and a possible paradigm shift constituting a scientific revolution in the field of international health. Sustainability means maintenance of the capacity to support life in quantity and variety. Although most demographers are familiar with Notestein's classic definition of the demographic transition, many are unaware of the likelihood that many countries will become entrapped in stage 2, to the extent that they destroy their ecosystem and thus their population, the "demographic trap." The 3 stages of the ecological transition are 1) expanding human demands with sustainable yield; 2) excess human demands with consumption of biological reserves; 3) ecosystem collapse and death or exit of the human population. An early sign of the 3rd phase is a rise in infant mortality. Sustainability can be increased by adjusting the environment or by lowering human birth rate, with Chinese rigor in need be, or by adding sustainable elements to the system that outweigh de-sustaining ones. Unfortunately there are too many unremovable constraints, and not enough time to wait for socioeconomic gains to lower birth rates. The current attempt by UNICEF to lower the child death rate to effect a demographic transition is attractive but unsound, since it has been proven that numbers of child deaths do not affect family fertility sufficiently. Reducing child deaths will only make population pressure worse. Ethical principles arguing for lowering child deaths have been articulated in Western culture, but now the challenge of sustainability may outweigh them all. It may be possible to apply sustaining measures to countries where possible, but for others, it is argued that child survival measures should not be instituted. These would only make the demographic transition impossible and prolong human misery for larger numbers. For these societies, only the kind of care Mother Teresa gives is appropriate. Finally, residents of developed countries must assume a "deep green" behavior code, a sustainable consumption level. WHO's definition of health should be updated to "Health is a sustainable state of complete...well-being."
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