The impairment of the ecosphere due to
human activities: war, overpopulation....
War and Armament:
The bill for world-wide military spending was $236 billion per year in 1969, and
$650 billion in 1983. 1 It
escalated to $1,000 billion per year in 1985, a figure which exceeded the combined income of the poorer half of the people on
earth. 2 This continuous growth in military expenditure is diverting vital human
and natural resources away from the much needed areas of development and
||In 1995, it was estimated that less than 15% of the annual U.S. military
expenditure would fund the most urgent global environmental requirements -
halting desertification and soil erosion, protecting and replacing forests,
protecting the ozone layer, moderating global warming, cleaning up hazardous
waste, developing renewable resources of energy, and implementing population
stabilization measures. 3,4
||Fuel consumed by Pentagon in a single year would run the entire public
transport system of the US for 22 years.
||War itself has the effect of shortening planning horizons and shifting
resources to immediate survival needs. For example, during World War II timber
cutting increased in the interest of defense while investments in long-term
environmental benefits were deferred.
||The direct effects of modern war are now
far more odious and permanent than at any time in the past - consider, for
example, defoliation used in Vietnam; the consequences may last for centuries.
||There are two and a half times as many military personnel as health workers,
and one in every two scientists is employed in perfecting the instruments of
war and developing technologies that might do harm to human life and the
Such facts and figures are a harrowing indictment of our society.
And what about
actual wars? According to the National Priorities Project, toward the end of
November 2005 the war in Iraq costs reached some $225 billion.
7 The National
Public Radio (NPR) put the expenditure toward the end of 2005 past $200
billion. 8 Keith Hartley, Director of the
York University's Centre for Defence
Economics, puts the Iraq war cost (to the USA + UK together) to more than $260
billion by the end of 2006, with the UK contributing $7.5 billion. Eventually,
he predicts that the total cost of the Iraq war is likely to top US $1.25
trillion! 9 Also, Keith Hartley calculates that the cost of the Iraq venture to
the UK over three months in 2005 would build 25 hospitals in the UK.
Comments on the ecology of war and the preparation for it are obvious. It is
therefore more than surprising that the horrendous waste of resources on the
armaments industry were not on the agenda of the 2002 Johannesburg Environment
Overpopulation is a ratio of two components: Population and resource. As to
the human population of the Earth, the available figures are: 1 billion in 1804, 1.6
billion in 1900, 2 billion in 1927, 3 billion in 1959, 3.5 billion in 1970, 4
billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1986, 6 billion 1999, 6.5 billion in 2006. The
estimates for 2050 vary between 9.1 billion and 9.2 billion, almost all of the
growth occurring in the developing world. Only slightly over 1.2 billion people
are expected to live in countries that are currently designated as developed.
11 When a population cannot
be maintained without rapidly depleting its non-renewable resources and without
degrading the capacity of the environment
to support it, the area is overpopulated. Africa, where currently the population
grows at a phenomenal rate, is overpopulated, because the production of
necessities, such as food, does not keep pace with the grooving number of
people. Its soils and forests are being depleted so rapidly that, in the future,
their carrying capacity for humans will be much lower than it is now. When the
same criterion is used, even the United States had to be considered
overpopulated: Namely, the consequences of American fertility, combined with
substantial immigration, have to be seen on the background of the depletion of
American soils and water resources by over-consumption.
Our wasteful generation has to be constantly reminded that our planet has limits
to its capacity to support life. We are faced with:
||Overwhelmed water treatment systems;
||Water sources depletion;
||Shortage of fresh water both for domestic
purposes and for agriculture;
||Falling production of grain;
||Loss of topsoil through erosion;
||Massive loss of forest cover;
||Decreasing income in the fastest growing regions in the world;
||Growing unemployment in much of the developing world; and
||A growing number of environmental refugees.
All these are symptoms of a serious
global problem which is made much worse by the yearly addition of 80 million new
people to the overall population. The sheer number of people on earth is already
past what Paul Ehrlich has called the 'carrying capacity' of the planet. A vast
numbers of people are becoming malnourished, marginalized, and disaffected 13,
and there is an increased ecological destruction. 2
The present increases in
human numbers and in per capita consumption has a considerable
impact on the environment, disrupting ecosystems and depleting resources 14 -
just about every step in the direction of reducing the effects of affluence and
technology is negated by population growth. The more people are on earth, the
more resources are needed to maintain them, and the greater is the amount of the
waste-products escaping into the atmosphere. There is probably no practical way
to achieve an improvement in this respect without population control. For
example, as to the emission of greenhouse gases, every person who lives makes a
contribution to the CO2 in the atmosphere by burning wood, coal, or oil. ...
Small increases per person can have an enormous effect in China and India with
huge populations there. The report of the Club of Rome stated already in 1972
that 'with the existing trend in population, food production, industrialization,
resource use, and population continuing unchanged, limits to growth would be
reached within a century'.
To achieve zero population growth in the twenty-first century even in the most
developed countries, birthrates would have to fall well below replacement
levels. The reason for the population momentum is the relative youth of the
The current situation is well demonstrated on the population of the Philippines,
the islands of the archipelago being now one of the most densely populated areas
in the world with 173 persons per square kilometre.
6 By 1960 the population of
the Philippines was 6 million people. By 1949 it had jumped to 19.3 million;
1970 saw the population pass the 38.5 million mark, and in 1989 it was estimated
to be 63.8 million. It was 70 million in 1991, and since 50% of the people are
under the age of 18, the figure will most probably shoot past 100 million
shortly after the year 2010. Meanwhile, the mangrove swamps are being destroyed,
and 80% of the coral reefs, which are among the richest ecosystems on the
planet, have been severely damaged. A third of the soil is severely damaged, two
thirds are partly damaged, and the rain forest that once covered over 90% of the
area will, it seems, soon be totally gone - only 10% survives now. 15 In 1988, a
Catholic bishop in the Philippines presented a document called What is Happening
in Our Beautiful Land? to the national meeting of all the bishops of the
Philippines. They approved it, but only after taking out the statement on
population, which was vital. This diminished the importance of the document and
showed the reluctance of the Catholic Church to deal with the population
problem, even though overpopulation is one of the most disastrous realities
facing the Philippines and the planet. Population pressures will not go away
with our refusal to face them.
Unless we solve the problem of overpopulation, all future generations will be
impoverished. Where are the children and future generations going to grow food
that they will need for their expanding numbers? For the sake of future
generations, we need to 'lower population, alter consumption levels, and promote
more resource-efficient technologies'. 16
We already know much of what is needed in order to solve the problem of
overpopulation, but we are limiting ourselves to exhortations and promotion of
general ideas. At the minimum, exchange of ideas on population control, family
planning, and obstacles to it should be encouraged across cultural, religious
and political boundaries. The present policy of fertility control, promoted
by the leadership in the Catholic Church, may not be really pro-life when looked at from
a wider angle.
Trade and Economy:
In our society, it is acceptable to profit from other peoples suffering and
misery. Economists identify the pursuit of private gain as rational, and imply
that other sorts of behavior (that include regard for others and actions
directed toward public good) are not rational. Current economic theory simply
ignores everything to which monetary value cannot be assigned, This means that
the gifts of nature, provided by the normal working of biospheric processes, are
considered of no importance; to be deprived of these 'non-benefits' cannot
constitute a 'cost', and the natural systems that provide them can thereby be
destroyed with total impunity. 17
The most fundamental tenets with which we have all been imbued since our most
tender childhood are that all benefits are man-made, that they are the product
of the scientific, technological and industrial progress, and that they are made
available via the market system. The normal benefits provided by the functioning of the ecosphere (fertile soil,
fresh water, and so on) are totally ignored, and are assigned no value of any
kind. We are told that to maximize all benefits and hence our welfare and our
wealth we must maximize economic development and progress.
18 We assess the
success of our government, the wealth of our country, as well as our standard of
living by the so-called Gross National Product (GNP), which provides a rough
measure of our ability to provide man-made commodities. However. it is a rather
poor indicator of well-being - man's welfare is assured not by maximizing the
GNP but by preserving the natural order. 19 And the difference between the GNPs
does not give a feeling for what is hidden behind the numbers. It certainly does
not show that for every well-fed baby in the north five die of malnutrition in
the south. 20
The result of all this is that despite increased environmental concerns, the
economy is not being steered onto an environmentally sustainable path.
Population growth requires more jobs to be created. Since no government can hope
to survive widespread and protracted unemployment, it becomes necessary to
stimulate economic growth regardless of consequences. This conclusion is
directly contradicted by the fact that the economy that we have
institutionalized in the last few years is so highly automated that it could
probably function with less than 20% of the world's work force, thereby
marginalizing 80% of humanity. 19,21 It also disagrees with the notion that to
move towards increased environmental sustainability will necessitate a
substantial reduction in the throughput of industrial economies. There is an
impasse over how to proceed with long-term planning in order to make it
compatible with environmental needs. A similar impasse exists over the
agreement of global trade agreements with global environmental agreements. At
present, primarily through inaction, we seem to be perfectly willing to
contemplate sacrificing forests, fisheries, and the ozone layer on the altar of
We consider acceptable that third world governments service their debts by
cutting more trees or planting more cash crops, which is the only way open to
Under present conditions, undeveloped nations have little or no hope of markedly
improving their standard of living. 14 The main stumbling block is that many
third-world countries depend on a single primary export like wood, coffee,
copper, or cotton, and that the prices of such commodities have been declining.
Another obstacle is that over the past 40 years, food aid has deteriorated into
a political instrument: In the third-world countries there is now dependence on
imports, local markets are disrupted, local agriculture is discouraged, and, to
a large extent, the ability to purchase food locally or
regionally has been lost. Attempts to fully open all markets to imports threaten the
livelihoods of agricultural workers from South Korea, India, the Philippines,
and Brazil. Many poor countries have been left behind as rich countries have
subsidized agriculture and blocked access to their markets. Huge agricultural
monetary grants by the main Western countries to their small farm population
($350 billion) far outweigh the aid given the developing countries ($50
billion). 22 And yet the world's richest nations are refusing to cut subsidies to
their own farmers and remove import tariffs for overseas producers, i.e., stop
measures that ruin the livelihoods of millions of poor people who rely on
farming to survive. The US and EU repeatedly promise to take down their domestic
subsidies and export assistance programs, but fail to deliver, denying the
poorest countries access to the lucrative Western markets.
Any food aid sold in the local markets is competing with local food producers.
(The same considerations apply also to clothing collected in the West and sent
as aid to the various third-world countries.) This has the same effect as the
dumping of products below cost prices on world and local markets. If, on top of
that, this food aid in kind is the result of surpluses created by agricultural
subsidies in the donor countries, then subsidized food aid in kind is to be
considered as dumping.
Some published comments on free trade:
||In 2001 Europe exported 770,000 tonnes of subsidized white sugar to Algeria
150,000 tonnes to Nigeria, both natural export markets to African producers like
Mozambique. But sugar farmers in Mozambique (one of the poorest countries in the
world) can't compete with subsidized EU sugar. Meanwhile, small farmers in
don't benefit - traders and retailers are the main beneficiaries of
||Before 1992 Jamaican dairy farmers produced over 25% of the milk consumed in
country. After the World Bank had Jamaican import taxes eliminated, subsidized
powdered milk from the European Union poured in. In 1993, millions of dollars
of local milk had to be dumped, hundreds of cows were slaughtered prematurely,
many dairy farms closed down. 23
A new threat to the third world agriculture comes from genetically engineered
(GE) crops which could have a devastating effect. These crops certainly will give
enormous control of the staple foods of the world to a handful of powerful first
world agribusiness companies. People are hungry either because they do not have
access to food production processes, or do not have enough money to buy food. Do
the proponents of genetically engineered food assume that agribusiness companies
will distribute GE food free to the hungry poor who have no money?
Nature is a source of raw materials. They are not destined for selfish
exploitation by one group of people, but are available to be shared by all
creation. We must accept the fact that they form a closed system that has a
limited carrying capacity. An overuse of renewable resources by a massive,
uncontrollable economic development, which we usually identify with progress,
converts them into non-renewable ones - this is a triumph for greed and
self-interest and a tragedy for the environment.
Consumption has become
an overall aim, with the objective to process the greatest possible amount of
natural resources as quickly as possible, and then (after some use) throw the
product onto the waste heap. The faster this process goes, the more of the
natural world is consumed, the higher is the Gross National Product, the happier
we are supposed to be. This is the myth of our times. We do not see the rising
junk, the expanding garbage heaps, the
increasing amount of radioactive refuse. We are estranged from nature which we
use primarily for our own purpose. The West is without any meaningful ethic of
the environment, it has practically no moral direction in the manner the
resources are used.
There is a certain amount of conviction on the part of a lot of people (like the
US commercial establishments) that the well-being of everybody depends on
keeping the industrial economy going, i.e., on keeping the jobs and on keeping a
high rate of production and consumption. Today's policy is to create a global
economy totally controlled by vast, uncontrollable, and socially and
ecologically irresponsible transnational corporations, catering for the world
market. 19 Mass production has become skewed to provide not what is needed by the
customer but what is needed by the manufacturer to maintain or even increase
Overproduction demands overconsumption. Advertising companies fan the flames of
consumerism, creating unbridled consumerism and a throw-away mentality, and
various methods are used to manipulate the customer into buying a new product
before the old one has come to the end of its life:
||Demand is created by changes in fashion (such as swinging from fancy frocks to
hooded tops, or from lace-less trainers to sharply pointed shoes, as advocated
in the glossies). The fashion demands that styles must change, otherwise what
will the shops sell and what will the people buy?
||Customer is manipulated into buying a new product before the old one had come
to the end of its life. For example, products may have expiry dates indicating
expiry long before the item becomes inedible or unusable, but there are more
||If machines break down because some part wears out, the repair and replacement
cost may be, (and frequently is) approximately the same or even lower than the
repair cost. Typical example is the malfunction of the timer of a microwave.
Similar cases are known from the repair of food mixers, refrigerators, washing
machines, heaters, cars, computers, and so on. The current industry-projected lifespan for personal computers is about two
years! Today, there are over 100 million people using PCs in the U.S. alone.
Since 1997, the country has produced a tidal wave of junked laptops, monitors,
and hard drive, estimated in excess of $300 million. 24 And, in addition to PCs,
3.2 million tonnes of other high-tech hardware gets tossed every year. 24
||A specific method of stimulating consumer demand is planned (or built-in) obsolescence:
Products are designed to wear out or become outmoded after rather limited
use. The method has great benefits for the producer: The consumer will buy
the product repeatedly. The impact of planned obsolescence is felt
particularly strongly when the cost of bringing the item to the required level
is comparable to the replacement cost.
Obsolescence can also be created by stopping the provision of service parts. For
example, Microsoft by withdrawing customer support for Window 95 and reducing
interoperability for the system, created a greater incentive to buy a more
updated versions of Windows (such as XP).
||A type of obsolescence, frequent in computers, consists of the introduction of
new lines of products that do not interoperate (are not compatible) with older
products. The production of the older line may then cease. The new technology
may provide many benefits, but the sale is driven by lack of support for the
product people already own, and by making all new developments incompatible with
it. Example: Norton Internet Security 2006 is designed for Windows XP and 2000
only, and not for the Windows 98, for which the older Norton Internet Security
||The electronic industry, most notably producers of cell phones and personal
computers, has brought built-in obsolescence to dizzying new heights.
As long as the full environmental impact is not incorporated into the price of
consumer durables, there will be an undue economic incentive to replace items
rather than to repair or to upgrade them. Since continuous replacing creates
waste and pollution, and uses up natural resources, it has to be avoided. Also,
unbridled consumerism and a throw-away mentality have to be abandoned as quickly
as possible, as well as manipulating a customer into buying a new product
before the old one had come to the end of its life.
The mass consumption and rampant consumerism, so typical for the U.S., have
spread not only to other industrialized nations but succeeded in penetrating
much of the developing world as well. Millions of middle class people across the
globe have adopted lifestyles pioneered in the United States.
25 But why are we
doing all the damage to nature? Edward Goldsmith claims that this is because
our society is committed to economic development and progress - a process which
by its very nature must systematically in-crease the impact of our economic
activities on an environment not capable of sustaining it.
18 A shorter answer
would be that we are degrading nature (biodiversity) in the name of profit (of
large agribusiness corporations making megabucks). 10
The greatest of the environmental challenges which lie ahead is our need to
adopt sustainable patterns of production and consumption.
It is claimed that ten times as many people can survive eating a corn crop as
can survive eating cattle that have been fed on corn. However, the ratio ten to
one appears does not appear to quite right. In 1990, the World Food Program at
Brown University calculated that, if the world harvest over the previous few
years was distributed fairly to all the people of the world, it could provide an
adequate vegetarian diet for 6 billion people. In contrast, a meat-rich diet
could only manage to feed 2.6 billion. The ratio of 2.3 to one appears to be
more realistic than 10 to one. However, even with the smaller ratio a vegetarian
diet seems to be the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most
urgent social issue. 26
There were 800 million victims of starvation in 2000, between 840 million and
850 million in 2004 (a third of them in sub-Saharan Africa), and the number of
people who die from hunger and malnutrition is still increasing. Many food aid
resources were wasted due to inefficiencies, policy obstacles, and poor
targeting, but there could have been, in the form of a vegetarian diet, enough
food to go around.
As to the present situation, available statistics are anything but reassuring:
||3.6 billion people are barely getting enough to eat, with more than 1 billion
of them in total abject poverty. 30 In 2002, one quarter of the population of the
world lived on less than one dollar a day in appalling misery.
||One person dies from hunger and malnutrition every 5 or 6 seconds. 32, 33
||Somewhere between 10 and 30 million children die every year of starvation
related diseases. 27 Malnutrition is a factor in at least half of the 10.4
million child deaths which occur every year.
||There seems to be some cause for concern even in the United States: A 1984
report noted that there has been a 50% increase in poverty among children since
As the population grows, the actual number of poor people is rises as well.
rich must live more simply that the poor may simply live.
On one hand people die of hunger, on the other hand, millions of people in rich
countries suffer from overweight and obesity. In 2005, 6 in 10 Americans were
over-weight, more than 1 in 4 obese. 36 Basically, Americans are on average
eating 200 more calories a day than they were in the 1970s.
||Compared with the mid-to-late 1970s, American farms are producing 500 more
calories of food a day per American. People are managing to pack away 200 of
them . A lot of the rest is being dumped overseas, or wasted, or burned in the
cars as ethanol.
||According to the Journal of Preventive Medicine, the average weight of the
Americans increased by 10 pounds during the 1990s, requiring an extra 350
million gallons of jet fuel to fly them around during 2000. That's about 2.4% of
the total volume of jet fuel used domestically that year.
||It is not surprising that the U.S. is a nation of fat adults: On the average,
a child in the U.S. eats 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time
they become high school graduates. 38
||Official surveys indicate that every year more than 350 billion pounds (160
billion kg) of food is available for human consumption in the United States. Of
that total, nearly 100 billion pounds (45 billion kg) - including fresh
vegetables, fruits, milk, and grain products - are lost to waste by retailers,
restaurants, and consumers. By contrast, the amount of food required to meet the
needs of the hungry is only four billion pounds, according to the advocacy group
Food Not Bombs. 25
The rich are responsible for most of today's environmental damage - they get
richer at the expense of the poor. If the poor are to be fed and housed, and if
the global environment is to be saved, the rich must reduce their economic
growth. This has been an anathema for traditional economists who have shown
singularly little concern for the deterioration of the global environment.
According to the 1972 Report of the
Club of Rome, the high rate of consumption
and pollution of the rich would be impossible for the whole of the world. This
is referred to as the
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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JUL-02
Latest update: 2006-JUL-02
Author: Vladimir Tomek