Wildlife, human population, and confusion

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

The Wildlife Trusts have produced a statement on population, resource use & consumption in the UK.  It begins:

The Wildlife Trusts believe that it is insufficient simply to prevent the further decline in the quantity and quality of existing habitats, species and natural places.  We must enable nature to recover, on a grand scale.  We must create Living Landscapes and secure Living Seas.  For nature to recover, a broad cross section of society must:

  • understand that humanity is part of a complex natural world and wholly dependent on it;
  • understand the true value of nature to us, to our local communities, to wider society and to our economy;
  • appreciate the consequences of our decisions and actions for nature – and in particular for the natural environment on which our health, happiness, wealth and wellbeing depend;
  • translate that understanding into action that reduces the harm we cause to the natural environment and that helps nature to recover.

An important part of this is the impact of the growing human population on the natural environment.  Increasing population is only one contributor to our increasing impact on the natural environment, but the presence of more people will inevitably make nature’s recovery more difficult.

The overall impact of the UK’s human population on the natural environment can be represented using a simple equation

EA  =  PS x C x EIUC

where: EA =  environmental impact, PS =  population size, C =  consumption per head of population – and

EIUC =  environmental impact per unit of consumption

An increase in any of the three factors that contribute to this equation will increase the pressure on the natural environment caused by human beings, unless there is a corresponding reduction in one or both of the other factors.  Some aspects of our environmental impact (such as disturbance to wildlife from recreational use of local natural greenspaces, or building houses on floodplains) will be greatest close to where we live, so they will be felt most acutely in places with a high population density.

In many ways is a splendid (if rather sad) rationale for why the Wildlife Trusts need to exist. The emphasis on the urban, and how urban living needs to change to something much more restorative of natural and social capital, is very welcome.  That said, I still think that there is a problem at the heart of the paper.  Just below the equation (which is anything but "simple" to my mind), we find:

To reduce our environmental impact, we must all play our part in:

  1. reducing the harmful environmental impacts of the goods and services that we consume;
  2. reducing the amount we consume; and
  3. stabilizing the population of the UK;
  4. helping nature’s recovery by investing to create Living Landscapes and secure Living Seas that will help to provide for the future needs of society and the economy.

The problem is this: When a Chair or a Director of a Wildlife Trust is asked what their Trust is doing about all this, they will give convincing responses in relation to the 1st, 2nd and 4th points – but what (on Earth) will they say about the 3rd?

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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