A recent study by Professor Bill Laurance of James Cook University has found that humanity’s environmental footprint has impacted almost the entire planet. Only the most remote areas have not been directly impacted or changed by human activity, and 71 percent of ecoregions across the globe have seen a marked increase in human activity in recent years. Comparing data from 1993 and 2009, the most recent he had access to, Professor Laurance found that our ecological footprint expanded by 9 percent in that time.
However, population increased by around 25 percent in that time, and economic growth by 150 percent, which means that we are doing a better job of restraining our environmental footprint, because it could have been worse.
“Could have been worse” is not nearly as good as “getting better,” but it is a step in the right direction.
Laurance also found that the greatest growth was in areas with growing populations but weak governments that are less capable of reining in human impacts. He cautions that parts of Africa and Asia are seeing some of the worst parts of that environmental footprint.
He doesn’t want to lay the blame on developing countries though, because large countries, like the United States, consume out of proportion with their population. In order to rein in the how much we impact the world in the future, he argues that we slow population growth in developing nations and demand that wealthy nations consume less. Those are both easier said than done, but there is an argument to be made that wealthy nations could more easily curb consumption and owe it to the rest of the world to do so.
It’s not particularly fair to ask developing nations to restrict population growth when those populations aren’t the people who are demanding, and wasting, so many resources.