More people, more environmental stress

Jun 11, 2012

Although it's long been suspected that human activity has greatly contributed to environmental stress, it's only recently that science has begun to show just how great a role that activity is playing.

In an article published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Michigan State University's Thomas Dietz and his colleague, Eugene Rosa of Washington State University, take a critical look at the various factors that have long been prime climate-change suspects. One in particular: The role of .

"How does population growth influence ?" Dietz asks. "Well, in looking at most nations of the world during the last few decades we find that for each 1 percent increase in population, we get a bit more than a 1 percent increase in emissions."

And with the Earth's population projected to reach 10 billion by the end of this century, "it unquestionably will add to the stress we place on the planet," Dietz said.

Until recently, climate-change debate had focused on whether it was brought about by human activity. Recently that debate has shifted to what sorts of activities are creating it.

"No single factor acts independently of the others," said Dietz, a professor of sociology and and policy, and assistant vice president for environmental research. "The effect of depends on ; the effects of consumption depend on how many people are consuming at that level."

Another factor that has sparked climate-change debate focuses on how affluent a nation is. On one hand it's argued that more affluent nations use more resources, thus creating more emissions.

On the other hand, citizens of more affluent nations tend to be more socially conscious and are willing to work and pay for a cleaner environment.

"For example," Dietz said, "increased use of electricity generated by that do not emit might partially or wholly compensate for the tendency toward increased emissions that come with increased affluence."

Dietz and Rosa write that they are not optimistic about the future, calling the paper they did "sobering."

"The population and economic growth that can be anticipated in coming decades will tend to push emissions substantially upward," they wrote.

The only possible saving grace, they say, is improved technology and changes in the way humans use resources.

"However, these changes will need to be huge because they must counter substantial increases in scale coming from population growth and especially increasing affluence."

Explore further: Halliburton pays $1.1 bn for Gulf of Mexico BP spill

More information: www.nature.com/nclimate/journa… ll/nclimate1506.html

Related Stories

Scientists suggest how countries can cooperate on climate

Sep 12, 2011

When countries try to work together to limit the effects of climate change, the fear of being the only nation reducing greenhouse gas emissions – while the others enjoy the benefits with no sacrifice – can bring ...

Nature paper calls for carbon labeling

Mar 29, 2011

Labeling products with information on the size of the carbon footprint they leave behind could help both consumers and manufacturers make better, environmentally friendly choices.

Combating climate change by helping poorer countries

Nov 12, 2010

The effects of global climate change could be minimised by transferring ‘best available’ low carbon technologies from the rich to the poor nations, say researchers at the University of Bath.

Recommended for you

Halliburton pays $1.1 bn for Gulf of Mexico BP spill

12 hours ago

Oil services company Halliburton said Tuesday it would pay a $1.1 billion settlement over its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig blowout that led to the United States' most disastrous oil spill.

Underwater grass comeback bodes well for Chesapeake Bay

12 hours ago

The Susquehanna Flats, a large bed of underwater grasses near the mouth of the Susquehanna River, virtually disappeared from the upper Chesapeake Bay after Tropical Storm Agnes more than 40 years ago. However, ...

Clean air halves health costs in Chinese city

15 hours ago

Air pollution regulations over the last decade in Taiyuan, China, have substantially improved the health of people living there, accounting for a greater than 50% reduction in costs associated with loss of life and disability ...

User comments : 0