It took all of recorded history until 1830 for world population to
reach one billion; by 1930 we were at two billion; by 1960, three
billion; 1975, four billion; 1986, five billion; and in 1999 we crossed
the six billion mark. Advances in medical technology have led to
remarkable extensions of human life in most of the world, as well as
substantial improvements in reducing child and maternal mortality
and morbidity.
There can be no question that the world is paying a costly
environmental and ecological price for this prodigious proliferation of
human growth. Our forests are declining, our topsoil is eroding, our
deserts are expanding, and our climate is undergoing radical change.
We are looking at resource shortages – including severe scarcity of
water and food in many developing regions.
We are today a world of 6.2 billion people, growing by 78 million
each year. Ninety-seven percent of that growth occurs in the poorest
countries. Rapid population growth is primarily attributable to
enormous strides in lowering mortality through medical
breakthroughs, mass inoculations and sanitary improvements.
We have been less successful, however, in making a wide variety
of effective, efficient and affordable methods of family planning
universally accessible. This failure has led to rapid population growth
accompanied by devastating environmental consequences. For
example, in only the last 10 years, 600,000 square miles of forest
have been cut down. Particularly alarming is the staggering loss of
tropical rain forests - the source of much of many drugs that are
indispensable in fighting deadly diseases, including cancer.
Fifty percent of the earth’s last remaining rainforests are located
today in just three countries: Indonesia, in Brazil, and in the Congo.
None of these three countries has come up with a conservation plan
to protect its share of these rapidly vanishing, vital environmental
and ecological repositories. The problem is compounded by the fact
that 70 percent of all developing world families depend upon wood as
their sole source of energy. How can we tell a family to preserve its
forest when their day-to-day lives and well being depend on wood –
not only to provide warm meals but to protect themselves and their
children from the ravages of bitter cold weather?
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