Fate of Earth
The world population is growing at an astounding rate. As the population clock is racing towards the 7 billion mark, we are faced with a huge problem. [U.S. Census Bureau] A problem of balancing the ever-increasing demands for the earth’s natural resources and the fast depleting sources. Our over dependence on fossil fuels to meet the surging energy requirements has already started to show dangerous environmental consequences. Acid rains, global warming, Stratospheric Ozone depletion, climate change, air pollution, destruction of marine ecosystems, deforestation – all these environmental problems have a common underlining issue that of over population and the ensuing resource crisis. Current population projections indicate that in another 50 years, the world population is slated to increase by 40 to 50% creating a huge strain on the already scant resources. With already 1.1 billion people or 1 out of 6 people in the world lacking access to safe drinking water, we can easily imagine the looming crisis that is ahead of us. [World Water Council] The population explosion is a real problem for Earth. Our over exploitation and depletion of natural resources has destroyed the natural ecosystems that have evolved and been sustained for billions of years. These precious natural resources such as air, water, fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas have to be wisely used to sustain the growing population demands. A brief outlook into these important environmental issues and a discussion of the alternative and sustainable solutions to the pressing problems would provide more insight into the problem.
Water is undoubtedly one of the most basic human needs. Growing human population implies more demand for fresh water for drinking, cooking and sanitation. As water is also needed for agricultural purposes, shortage of water also affects the food production. However, only 3% of the water on earth is fresh water and only a third of this is accessible for us. The rest of the fresh water remains in a frozen state in the form of polar ice caps and glaciers. [WWF] Almost half of the World’s 500 rivers are polluted. [Blue Planet] Of the available fresh water over 70% is used for agriculture, 20% for industrial use and only 10% for homes. [WWF] There are two types of aquifers replenishable and non-replenishable. The replenishable aquifers can supply water as long as they are recharged by natural phenomenon of rain. The non-replenishable aquifers however cannot be recharged and once all the water is pumped out they cannot supply anymore.
With the projected population growth, there is going to be more demand for water for agriculture. Around the world there is increasing drop in levels of the water table due to over pumping and over exploitation of water for agricultural needs. A case in point is the depleting water table in the Northern China Plain, the fertile region in China producing more than half of the country’s wheat and one third of its corn. This has forced the farmers to bore deep to tap into the fossil aquifers to continue irrigation. However, as the World bank report states, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that deep wells [drilled] around Beijing now have to reach 1,000 meters [more than half a mile] to tap fresh water, adding dramatically to the cost of supply” The report also warned of “catastrophic consequences for future generations” [Lester Brown] Population overgrowth, increasing agricultural water demands, fast depleting non-replenishable fresh water sources- the equation presents a gloomy picture. Shortsighted policies and blind exploitation of water resource will have serious environmental repercussions.
Over Population (Energy Crisis)
Every country’s progress depends on the availability of energy. Energy is essential for transportation and for generation of electricity. Coal, oil and natural gas are fossil fuels that have developed by natural degradation over several millions of years. These fossil fuels are however increasingly exploited to fulfill the escalating energy demands of the world and its surging population. The result is that very soon the world’s supply of fossil fuels will be exhausted creating a global energy crisis. Many energy experts believe that we have already peaked in our oil production and the future forecast only indicates a declining trend in production capacity. There is also an increasing reliance on coal for electricity generation and in many countries, coal remains the chief source of electricity. Particularly in countries such as India, China and the U.S. coal continues to be used heavily for electricity generation resulting in severe air pollution. It is estimated that the use of coal contributes to as much as 20% of the total green house gas emissions. [Pew Center]
The U.S. releases as much as 2 billion tons of CO2 emissions from burning coal. India and China, two of the fast growing economies of the world are going to need more energy plants driven by coal. In the year 2006 alone, China added as much as 90 gigawatts of coal-powered power plants. The resulting carbon emissions are contributing to the global warming and climate change phenomenon that is already seen in the world. In view of the fact that the dependence on coal and other carbon-based fossil fuels will not change significantly in the immediate future, it is important to avail of technologies to limit or to contain the carbon emissions. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is one new technology that could be used effectively to minimize climatic impact. The technology is based on separating Co2 from the emission gases and storing it in underground geological reservoirs. China has already started implementing CCS technology in many of its new plants. “China has since become the major world market for advanced coal-fired power plants with high-specification emission control systems,” [Keith Bradher, (2009)]
Though the carbon emission control systems are very much required, the hope for the planet really lies in the increasing reliance on renewable energy sources. China has also seriously focused on alternative pollution free sources of energy. The Impressive ‘Three Gorges Dam’ which generates as much as 10% of its national energy requirement is an important achievement in this sector. China has also doubled its reliance on wind-based energy systems and is expected to overtake the U.S. In wind-based electricity generation very soon. Researchers have reported that it is very much possible for the country to switch over to wind-based power generation for its entire power needs. As Xi Lu, a researcher of wind-based energy reports, “Wind farms would only need to take up land areas of 0.5 million square kilometers, or regions about three quarters of the size of Texas. The physical footprints of wind turbines would be even smaller, allowing the areas to remain agricultural,” [Science Daily, 2009] Among other alternative forms of renewable energy is solar energy. Though at present converting solar energy into electrical energy involves high cost investments, given the fact that the fossil fuels are fast depleting and seriously polluting, there is no alternative but to embrace renewable energy solutions. In the near future, advancements in nano technology would make solar power a more affordable source of energy. [Nathan S. Lewis, (2007)]
There is no question of doubt that we are faced with a huge problem. Population growth and the need for more energy and other natural resources have driven us to a crisis stage. Carbon-based economies are creating a havoc to the earth’s delicate ecosystems by increasing Greenhouse gas emissions and disturbing the natural climatic cycles. There is an urgent need to address these problems in order to prevent a catastrophic turn of events. Our planet has survived billions of years but just one century of explosive growth of human population and irresponsible exploitation of natural resources has raised serious concerns about the ‘The Fate of Earth’ in the 21st century. Will the planet be able to survive the onslaughts? Will it be able to sustain life when the very life sustaining water, air and its soil are exploited and polluted by its greedy inhabitants? The answer is ‘Not for much longer’. The only hope rests in being sensible and alert to the danger we have incurred upon ourselves. Going green and seriously focusing on renewable forms of energy is the only way that we could save this planet from the impending disaster.
1) World Water Council, ‘Water Crisis’, retrieved Oct 1st, 2010, from, http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/index.php?id=25
2) U.S. Census Bureau, ‘World Population Summary’, retrieved Oct 1st, 2010, from, http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/worldpopinfo.php
3) WWF, ‘Water: Our Rivers Lakes and Wetlands’, retrieved Oct 2nd 2010, from http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_freshwater/
4) Lester Brown, (Oct 2001), ‘China’s Water Table Levels are Dropping Fast’, retrieved Oct 2nd 2010, from, http://www.grist.org/article/table/
5) Blue Planet, ‘The Facts about the Global Drinking Water Crisis’, retrieved Oct 2nd 2010, from, http://blueplanetnetwork.org/water/facts
6) Pew Center, ‘Coal and Climate Change Facts’, retrieved Oct 2nd 2010, from, http://www.pewclimate.org/global-warming-basics/coalfacts.cfm
7) Science Daily ‘Environmental Scientists Estimate That China Could Meet Its Entire Future Energy Needs By Wind Alone’, retrieved Oct 2nd 2010, from, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090910142350.htm
8) Keith Bradsher, (May 2009), ‘China Outpaces U.S. In Cleaner Coal Fired Plants’, retrieved Oct 2nd 2010, from, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/world/asia/11coal.html
9) Nathan S. Lewis, (Feb 2007), ‘Towards Cost-effective Solar Energy Use’, Science, Vol. 315. no. 5813, pp. 798 — 801