Overpopulation will steal another 20% of the planet's land and resources

Overpopulation will steal another 20% of the planet's land and resources

Starting from the current and future population, a group of researchers from The Nature Conservancy organization and several North American universities have estimated the impact that so many new people will have on the planet's natural resources. Scientists projected current levels of urbanization, agriculture, or energy use forward to determine which regions and habitats will be most threatened by humans' growing needs for food, energy, or new urban spaces.

Discounting Antarctica, 76% of the earth's surface can still be considered in a natural state, as published by the researchers in PLoS ONE. The percentage is optimistic, since it includes the rest of the frozen areas of the planet, such as Greenland. However, in the coming decades, natural habitats will suffer a significant decline. According to this study, 19.68 million km2 of now virgin or semi-virgin lands will be altered by humans. Almost all of Europe, including European Russia, fits into such an area.

The study analyzes nine major sectors whose growth is inevitable if the needs of a growing world population are to be met. Among these land thieves is the accelerated process of urbanization. A phenomenon that took centuries in Europe and North America, is developing in the rest of the planet in decades. In 2030, urban areas will have grown by 185%, according to this research.

Another sector with a direct impact on nature is agriculture. Either due to the extension of biofuels or to meet growing food needs, by mid-century, crops will have grown 50% compared to their current extension. Mining shows a similar growth rate.

Researchers focus in particular on energy resources. His analysis is more realistic than alarmist. They start from the assumption that consumption in rich countries will stagnate and become more efficient. But the imbalance will come from those who never had electricity, heating or cars and want to have them. Sectors such as conventional fuels (oil and coal) and non-conventional fuels (fracking) will need to grow between 30% and 50% to meet demand. But the most spectacular growth will be in renewable energy. By 2040, wind energy production will have increased by 400% and solar by 1,000%.

But the great contribution of this work is the overview. On a world map, they turned their estimates for each sector and identified the regions and ecosystems most threatened by this accumulation of dangers. "In many places, development impacts are only considered on a project-to-project approach, without taking cumulative environmental impacts into account," says The Nature Conservancy geographer and lead author of the study Jim Oakleaf in a note.

Their approach, with a spatial resolution of 50 kilometers, has allowed them to determine which natural habitats are most at risk. For large geographic areas, the worst part of development will be carried by the ecosystems of Latin America and Africa. The biomes of the former will lose up to 4.32 million km2 of extension. But it will be the African continent, with more than 8 million km2, which will see a greater proportion of land converted into a source of resources for humans.

"Our analysis shows that the largest cumulative threats to development overlap with the greater amount of natural lands in South America and Africa," says Oakleaf. "Although many other places, such as Asia, we see great risks derived from development, these areas are located in regions where previous development has already altered habitats, so there is no danger of land conversion," he adds.

Today 21% of all biomes have at least half of their natural habitats converted and 57% more than a quarter. Future development could cause half of all the world's biomes to suffer alteration of more than half of their habitats and all, except for boreal forests and tundra, will have at least 25% of their land at risk of conversion, the authors estimate in their study.

Fleeing catastrophism, the authors believe it is possible to balance the needs of humans that will come with conservation policies. And their work only seeks to identify the risks and areas most threatened by development. As Oakleaf says: "We don't have to choose between development and natural resources, we can have both. However, measures for conservation must include strategic plans for land use and for proactive mitigation that anticipate conflicts and impacts. that would allow us to benefit from development while maintaining natural systems in good condition for both humans and nature. "

The country

Video: How Many People Can Earth Support? (January 2022).