A study published in the Journal Nature in August this year shows that although the global population grew by 23% between 1993 and 2009, the human “footprint” increased by just 9%. In the same period, the global economy grew by 153%. The author’s note that this demonstrates that as the population grows – and as the world economy expands – “the global human economy is increasing its efficiency”. That is, for each new person born, the impact on the environment is less than for the previous person.
These results validate the view that economic development and population growth can coexist with environmental conservation. Contradicting the Malthusian predictions of activist groups such as the WorldWide Fund for Nature – which believes that “it would take 1.6 Earths to produce all the renewable resources we use. And worse, the human population is expected to use the equivalent of 2 Earths of renewable resources per year by 2050” – and Greenpeace, which ominously advocates “stabilizing” the global population.
Another interesting finding was that for the 24 wealthiest countries, the total human footprint actually decreased during the period 1993-2009. The authors note that this appears to indicate that “increased wealth and urbanization [have led] to reduced human footprint”. This finding negates decades of warnings from activist NGOs regarding the rising environmental damage wrought by decadent Western lifestyles.
Somewhat puzzlingly, one of the authors of this recent paper – which demonstrates the declining impact of population and economic growth on the environment – is Professor William Laurance of James Cook University. Laurance is on the record as saying that “The bottom line is that we need to slow rampant population growth, especially in Africa and parts of Asia, and demand that people in wealthy nations consume less,”. The research shows that economic growth in both the developing and developed world is progressively reducing the impact that each of us has on the environment, and that “people in wealthy nations” are having a decreasing impact on the environment.