Flourishing within limits

Brian Fath gave a lecture on the 21st of July about the topic of “Flourishing within limits” at IIASA, Laxenburg. He pointed out that population growth leads to greater use of energy and material resources, which in turn leads to changes in biogeochemical cycles, changes in land use, climate change and eutrophication, acid precipitation and depletion of the ozone layer.

The lecture also addressed food waste, which is another important issue that is inevitable in the current food production and distribution system, but it can be reduced by e.g. incorporating food stewardship into education.

The problem of overpopulation mentioned in the lecture is that people cannot sustainably use the resources on the planet if they aspire to the “Western” lifestyle, which is high in resource and energy use. Technological progress and human exploitation of natural resources currently have very adverse impacts on life on planet earth. More precisely, humans themselves destroy the nature. We achieve a lot in science and technology, but we have forgotten the rational use of resources along the way.

My comment

Overpopulation, environmental exploitation, and the economy can be seen as drivers of unsustainability. These factors are interrelated and cannot exist without each other. The consequences of overpopulation can be the following problems: deficit of drinking water, lack of food resources, rising food costs, reduced availability of fuel and energy, environmental degradation and surplus labor.

The deficit of drinking water is already a problem in many countries and is getting worse every year. What is more, underdeveloped countries are unable to feed their growing populations due to a lack of appropriate agricultural technology, a shortage of fertile land, and unfavorable climatic conditions.

But the expansion of agricultural land cannot be endless. Moreover, because of the environmental situation there is a tendency of losing the arable land. Energy is another very relevant issue - fossil resources are both exhaustible and the source of the current climate crisis. Thus, there is an urgent need to reduce their use, but with a growing population and an economic system built around their use this is challenging. Developed countries are actively working on alternative renewable energy sources, but so far this is a drop in the ocean. Mankind causes enormous damage to nature by extracting resources, destroying ecosystems, and poisoning the atmosphere and hydrosphere. As the economy in its current structure grows, the negative environmental impact increases. Many growing countries that are expanding their industrial production do not have the environment as their main focus, magnifying the climate crisis by further fossil fuel combustion. What is more, with the development of machinery and technology, human physical strength in production becomes less in demand, leading to an increase in the number of the unemployed. One approach to mitigate the crisis in developed countries is to actively shift to alternative energy sources. The Scandinavian states are planning to completely abandon the use of fossil fuel resources by 2050. Germany, England, and Spain are developing installations that use wind energy. Many countries are developing fuel from food and agricultural waste.

The world community calls for a fair and rational distribution of resources. If a country produces an abundance of energy, it can share with a country that is experiencing a shortage. Another approach lies in protecting ecosystems through major conservation measures. The problem of food waste stems from expiration of products, packaging failure, product damage and markdowns. The main ways to reduce losses lie in improving refrigeration during transportation and storage, improved packaging, and customer education.

Based on the lecture "Flourishing within limits" by Brian Fath during AEMS 2022.
Written by: Yuliia Hadaieva

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