The good, the bad, and the environmentally aware

Is “bad” awareness, better than no awareness at all?

With almost 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States enrolled in college, school enrollment is at an all-time high. The Master’s degree has become the new Bachelor’s degree, and a high school education is so essential it’s almost insignificant. But with all this education, was Smashmouth right when they said “Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb”? In the words of countless celebrities dealing with “leaked” sex tape scandals and bad breakups – “Bad publicity is better than no publicity”. Is the same true for environmental awareness?

We are being bombarded by both sides of the spectrum: the good and the bad. The same magazine that features breathtaking landscapes of the Amazon rainforest in one issue is publishing devastating pictures of Borneo’s rainforest stripped for oil palm plantations in the next. The same newspaper that highlights innovative energy-saving water distribution systems, and buildings that use chilled beans for cooling (see: 30 The Bond, Sydney Australia) are the very next day showcasing how “costly” preventing global warming is in comparison to simply dealing with the consequences (an estimated 3 trillion dollar difference). With the United States drowning in 14 trillion dollars of debt, who can blame people for worrying about family finances over rising sea levels (especially if they don’t live on the California coast).

- Rainforest, Brazil (untouched)

- Oil palm plantation, Borneo

- 30 The Bond, Sydney

So all this raises the question of which is better: to raise environmental awareness in a negative light or not raise awareness at all? Although it may not be ideal, I’m going with the former as the lesser of two evils. Fair is fair and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Some people may believe global warming is a hoax, just like some people may believe that unicorns being mystical creatures is a hoax, that they are so elusive we simply haven’t seen one yet (sorry, I had to – I am still an environmentalist after all!). The fact is: differences of opinions raise debates, debates promote awareness, awareness increases knowledge, and knowledge is power – the power to find solutions. And isn’t that what we’re all after anyway?

Global food security

The Challenges of Feeding a Growing World Population

While food production in most regions has been steadily increasing along with population size, Sub-Saharan Africa currently has a very low agricultural productivity rate. In the past, the region has neglected miracle crop varieties such as wheat and rice that were essential to the Asian Green Revolution. Factors that contribute to this include: lack of higher education, agricultural research, and technology-transfer extension services. Drought, poor soil fertility, and local pests and diseases also impede agricultural development. Additionally, over-reliance on external funding for agricultural development programs created an unhealthy relationship with aid recipient national programs and caused a succession of paradigm shifts dating back to the 1950s.

Global population and per capita income and consumption will increase dramatically over the next 40 years, which means retaining global food security will be a challenge. Not only must we find a way to do more with less, but we must do so with minimal environmental and societal impact. Avoiding malnourishment due to lack of essential micronutrients and ensuring poor people are fed will also pose a challenge.

Factors that might threaten the ability of the world to feed its population include: crop genetics (ex. poor disease resistance), poor production performance, technological inefficiency, land degradation, lack of property rights, food waste (ex. from lack of infrastructure), over-consumption, and low soil carbon levels. Furthermore, projections of a larger and wealthier population pose the challenge of addressing a higher demand for food. Production, storage, processing, distribution and access must all adapt accordingly.

Meeting the world’s future food needs while preserving the environment is a difficult task, as the two will surely conflict. Climate change affects sea levels and glacial melt, flooding fields and altering seasonal river system flows, which in turn affects certain crop yields. Arable land is also being lost to urbanization, salinization, and desertification. Scientific innovations such as genetically modified food require the construction of research, processing, and storage facilities as well as the necessary transportation and water and communications infrastructure.

New perspectives of existing regulations are needed to address the global food challenges. Safety assessments on biotechnology and the development of a USDA public facility for safe testing are crucial. Effective integration of aquaculture and agriculture can help minimize environmental impact and pathogen content, incorporating organisms from various trophic levels. Inland seawater systems can aid the elimination of nutrient flow from land to sea, while compensating for rising sea levels. All of these things can decrease agricultural demand while controlling pollution due to agronomic waste.

Global Population Change

In the past century, the global population has expanded at an unprecedented rate. Population growth of this magnitude unveils a slew of both local and global issues. Recognizing and addressing these issues is key to securing a sustainable future for our planet.

Most of the recent population growth has occurred in developing regions. Contributing factors can be divided into two broad categories: lower mortality rates and higher fertility rates. Scientific progression brings new health care innovations, decreasing infant mortality rate and increasing life expectancy at birth. Improved education programs for medical personnel and better access to proper health care aids in lowering mortality rate. This increases the chances of healthy births and illness recovery, and enhances elderly care. Gender inequality and minimal opportunities for women often contribute to higher desired fertility. For women with little education and personal income, this increases the likelihood of future support from children. Reduced access to methods of contraception is also attributed to higher fertility rates.

Population growth in developing countries can unearth issues of poverty, environment, gender status, and sustainable economic development. In a country without an established economy it means fewer jobs for more people. The inability for people to find work in an under-developed job market is a major factor leading to poverty. Population growth in a country without the financial means to expand increases population density, which can lead to decreased sanitation and increased spread of disease. Poor living conditions and dampened spirits, and a population majority below working-age does little to fuel ingenuity and economic development. Furthermore, an increase in fertility coincides with a decrease in the percentage of women in the workforce, and women of developing countries often represent an untapped economic resource.

There are various ongoing debates about population growth trends and projections, and many unanswered questions. One major uncertainty is the effect of family planning programs on fertility rate. Another debate is in relation to urbanization – one view foresees poverty and misery, while another projects shortages stimulating ingenuity and increased technological advancements. Yet another major debate is on the future of longevity. Although both support compression of morbidity, one view is skeptical of any more than minimal future life expectancy increases, highlighting the likelihood of novel health threats; The other foresees the adoption of a “perfectly healthy” life-style where all available medical care is taken advantage of.

The struggle to predict future population trends is overwhelming. Due to population momentum, the lag between action and population reaction results in many unanswered questions regarding the effect of today’s decisions on our future. In a continually varying and ever-expanding world, surmounting global population change remains a challenge that can unite or destroy our world as we know it.