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We have yet to find a sufficient replacement for nature as the “best solutions mimic nature”. From the readings and media, they share themes of unrestricted population growth, increased waste generation and mismanagement, and the resulting threat to the longevity of ecosystems and to all organic life. History will repeat itself, and humankind’s mismanagement and ignorance regarding the sustainable limits of our ecosystems is clear; this issue is not novel, as further evidenced by the ruins of a Viking city from the 1300’s, Hvalsey, plagued with the same issues we are presented with today.
Large scale reversal of environmental damage is still feasible, though it is difficult to realistically expect rapid change when our environmental impact is only gradually increasing.
Whilst, regrettably, our awareness of our impact has grown and little change has occurred. In modernity, ignorance is no longer an adequate defense for inaction. Whilst the New York Times article on population explosion and ZPG pertain to the same issues; I will be addressing common misconceptions and the variety of perspective.
Serving as an interesting connection to population growth, the award winning documentary “Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground,” and the podcast on the “NYC Poop Train” will be used in conjunction to demonstrate issues arising from inadequate waste management both in developed and developing nations. Supporting details will be added from Chapters 1 and 7 of the “Environmental Science: For a Changing World” textbook, to provide further information on the “Goals of Sustainability” and viable solutions to “Managing Solid Waste,” respectively.
Environmental issues had broken out into mainstream media as early as 1966, author Harry Harrison outlined a doomsday and dystopian scenario wherein far too many individuals were fighting over dwindling resources, titled “Make Room! Make Room!.
” Films and even songs such as “In the Year 2525” addressed concerns of an ever increasing population. Though the most notorious was the Stanford educated biologist Paul R. Ehrlich. His novel “The Population Bomb,” sold millions of copies and asserted that we are on an apocalyptic path which would lead to the demise of hundreds of millions of people via starvation. Needless to say these predictions were not accurate, though even to this day he firmly stands by his assertions and simply claims that they were correct but the timeline false. On the other end of the spectrum was Norman E.
Borlaug, an American scientist, who had a rather optimistic approach and instead suggested that “high-yielding, disease-resistant crops” could serve to save us. The Zero Population Growth (ZPG) movement, now known as Population Connection, addresses the same concerns of uncapped population. It was recently their 30th anniversary and their mission has remained the same: to “raise public awareness of the link between population growth and environmental degradation.” The movement encourages people to stop at two children, and they focused on two facets. Environmental awareness and reproductive and contraceptive rights. As legislative change extended contraceptive rights and access alongside people peaked interest in sustainability and population, the fertility rate dropped from “3.4 children per woman in the 1960s to 1.8 in 1975”. Today progress is muddled due to political and religious involvement with population concerns.
In connection to population growth, inarguably, with a growing population increased amounts of waste are generated. Consequently, with less space for such waste in developed countries, the formation of dumping grounds in places such as India, Pakistan, and Ghana occured. In Ghana, the slum Agbobloshie, nicknamed Sodom and Gomorroah by the locals, is home to a massive open dump for e-waste. Open dumps are one of the cheapest methods for waste management and are far more common in developing countries. Agbobloshie was once a beautiful wetland, generations prior, but now it is a massive and unsightly hazard for its citizens who are forced to scavenge for salvageable parts to sell. Plastic and other non biodegradable and synthetic materials are often burned in an attempt to reach traces of rare materials often found on computer chips, or for metals such as copper which can still be sold.
These markets exist all over the world, and another prime example is in China. Where another “shadow market for e-waste” thrives. In the documentary the grad students had discovered that not only are there environmental risks but safety concerns. Whilst in Ghana, a harddrive was recovered which revealed potentially sensitive information regarding the company Northrup Gruman, which is one of the largest United States government contractors. Certain organizations within the United States claim to safely recycle hard drives and computers though it seems that is not the case since when the waste is shipped out of the country the hard drive and the information it contains is sometimes intact. Another clear example of waste mismanagement was presented in the podcast discussing the “New York City Poop Train,” though in this case it occurs in a developed nation.
Sludge, or rather millions of pounds of human waste sat idly by for two months as it was blocked from passing by a community. The waste was simply transported to where it could be permitted by local laws and whilst New York had banned such solid waste to be sent to landfills within their state, they send it to others like Alabama which have far more lenient fees and zoning laws. With regards to population concerns expressed in the NYT article and by Population Connection I am unsurprised that there are implications to a growing populace for it strains our resources and historically it has caused heavy environmental damage. However, I did not consider that a higher population density does not necessarily equate to poorer living conditions. For I would typically consider cities such as Mumbai and Beijing which have tremendously poor air quality and waste mismanagement. However, cities such as Seattle and Boston serve as a counter example.
I do still believe that a higher population density can lead to a lower quality of life, and that regardless of how many people can fit on land available, it is not enough to assert that we have more room to add to the population. For consumption and its resulting emissions must be considered; given that the “7 percent of the global population (the wealthiest) are responsible for half the world’s carbon dioxide emissions”. The amount of emissions produced per capita, especially in developed nations such as the United States is astounding, the rich must change their way of life. There must be a comprise on usage for the current rates of consumption, by the aforementioned 7 percent, is unsustainable. With regard to the textbook, we must focus on sustainable development and we must limit our usage of non renewable sources of energy such as coal.
“Ecosystems are naturally sustainable”- and as such we should model our consumption and even recycling based upon nature and the natural order of things (Chapter 1). By creating synthetic compounds and materials, we are removed from that cycle. In response to the documentary on Ghana and the “NYC Poop Train”, the issue may stem from a large population though it is primarily due to improper waste management. I was rather taken aback that this was also an issue in developed nations such as the United States. It sickens me that the people of Ghana and regions in China (among many more nations and municipalities) must live amongst waste that is not even theirs.
It will be a lengthy process to pass legislation and regulations that are able to be consistently reinforced on a large scale, and countries like Ghana and China have a culture of corruption so the interests of the public are often disregarded. Regulations and laws are the first step and “take-back laws” wherein manufacturers are responsible for receiving in turn the product when consumers are ready to throw them out this serves as an effective way to incentivize manufacturers to “design products which can easily be salvaged and reused.” Such changes will encourage companies to consider the product at every stage of its life. In turn, consumers are able to be more environmentally friendly.
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