As the century begins, natural resources are under increasing pressure, threatening public health and development. Water shortages, soil exhaustion, loss of forests, air and water pollution, and degradation of coastlines afflict many areas. As the world's population grows, improving living standards without destroying the environment is a global challenge.
Most developed economies currently consume resources much faster than they can regenerate. Most developing countries with rapid population growth face the urgent need to improve living standards. As humans exploit nature to meet present needs, are we destroying resources needed for the future?
How people preserve or abuse the environment could largely determine whether living standards improve or deteriorate. Growing human numbers, urban expansion, and resource exploitation do not bode well for the future. Without practicing sustainable development, humanity faces a deteriorating environment and may even invite ecological disaster. Environmentalists and economists increasingly agree that efforts to protect the environment and to achieve better living standards can be closely linked and are mutually reinforcing.
Slowing the increase in population, especially in the face of rising per capita demand for natural resources, can take pressure off the environment and buy time to improve living standards on a sustainable basis. As population growth slows, countries can invest more in education, health care, job creation, and other improvements that help boost living standards. In turn, as individual income, savings, and investment rise, more resources become available that can boost productivity.
As population and demand for natural resources continue to grow, environmental limits will become increasingly apparent. Water shortages are expected to affect nearly 3 billion people in 2025, with sub-Saharan Africa worst affected. Many countries could avoid environmental crises if they took steps now to conserve and manage supplies and demand better, while slowing population growth by providing families and individuals with information and...