3.8 Environmental demands of human populations


3.8.1: Explain the concept of an ecological footprint as a model for assessing the demands that human populations make on their environments

  • Ecological footprints: the hypothetical area of land required by a society, group or individual to fulfill all their resources needs and assimilation of wastes

Ecological footprints can be increased by:
  • greater reliance on fossil fuels
  • increased use of technology and energy (but technology can also reduce the footprint)
  • high levels of imported resources (which have high transport costs)
  • large per capita production of carbon waste (high energy use, fossil fuel use)
  • large per capita consumption of food
  • a meat-rich diet

Ecological footprints can be reduced by:
  • reducing use of resources
  • recycling resources
  • reusing resources
  • improving efficiency of resource use
  • reducing amount of pollution produced
  • transporting waste to other countries to deal with
  • improving country to increase carrying capacity
  • importing resources from other countries
  • reducing population to reduce resource use
  • using technology to increase carrying capacity
  • using technology to intensify land

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3.8.2: Calculate from appropriate data the ecological footprint of a given population, stating the approximations and assumptions involved

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There are factors ignored when calculating the ecological footprint which influence the amount of land a population needs to support itself:
  • the land or water required to provide and aquatic and atmospheric resources
  • land or water needed to assimilate wastes other than carbon dioxide
  • land used to produce materials imported into the country to subsidize arable land and increase yields
  • replacement of productive land lost through urbanization

3.8.3: Describe and explain the differences between the ecological footprints of two human populations, one from an LEDC and one from a MEDC

LEDCs have small ecological footprints as MEDCs have much greater rates of resource consumption. This is partly because MEDCs have higher incomes and the demands for energy resources is high. MEDCs consume a lot of resources as they are wasteful, they also have more waste and pollution. LEDCs are the opposite with lower consumption as people do not have too much to spend. The economy of the country forces them to recycle many resources, however they are developing and they’re ecological footprint is increasing.

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3.8.4: Discuss how national and international development policies and cultural influences can affect human population dynamics and growth.

Development, policies and cultural influences on human population dynamics and growth
  • Policies: banning abortion or one-child policy
  • Development: UN Millennium development goals e.g. end extreme hunger and poverty
  • Earth Overshoot day: which remind people when we exhaust our ecological budget

Also, education and economic development could encourage having less children.

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3.8.5: Describe and explain the relationship between population, resource consumption and technological development, and their influence on carrying capacity and material economic growth.

Because technology plays such a large role in human life, many economists argue that human carrying capacity can be expanded continuously through technological innovation. For example, if we learn to use energy and material twice as efficiently, we can double the population or the use of energy without necessarily increasing the impact imposed on the environment. However, to compensate for foreseeable population growth and the economic growth that is deemed necessary, especially in developing countries, it is suggested that efficiency would have to be raised by a factor of 4 to 10 to remain within global carrying capacity.

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