Ehrlich accepts prize, gives environmental update
BY DAVID F. SALISBURY
The past decade has been critical for the environmental sciences because of developments in three major areas, according to Paul R. Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford and president of Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology.
Ehrlich reviewed what has happened in those areas human population growth, impact on the biosphere, and scientific efforts to overcome the problems of achieving sustainable growth in a lecture he delivered on Sept. 25 in Amsterdam.
The speech was part of the ceremonies presenting Ehrlich with the $125,000 H. P. Heineken Prize for Sciences by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In the lecture Ehrlich noted:
- The scale of the human enterprise,
as measured by energy use, has increased some 20-fold since 1850.
In the past five years, it has increased by about 5 percent.
- One positive development has been a
small but significant decline in fertility rates in many nations of
the world. Although this is a move in the right direction, Ehrlich
said, this decline simply moves the projected date when the
population will pass 8 billion from 2019 to 2024. That compares to
estimates of the world's long-term carrying capacity of about 2
- Thirty years ago, finding ways to
slow and halt population growth was near the top of the agenda of
the environmental science community. Curbing runaway consumption
may be even more difficult. The most serious population growth in
the world is in the United States because of its extremely high
levels of consumption. But the consumption patterns in the rich
sectors of some developing countries are beginning to rival those
in America. For instance, China already has surpassed the U.S.
consumption per capita of both pork and eggs, and the 6 million
residents of Hong Kong devour 300,000 tons of seafood annually.
- Despite a determined campaign of
denial by certain elements of industry and of the science
community, it has become increasingly clear that human activities
are influencing the global climate. Equally important is growing
documentation that human activities are increasingly disrupting the
functioning of ecosystems around the world. Humanity is now using
more than half of the world's accessible freshwater runoff, and
some 43 percent of Earth's vegetated land area has been degraded by
- Environmental scientists are making
important gains in understanding the significance of negative
environmental trends by finding ways to counter them and helping to
move humanity onto a path to sustainability.
- There is a rapidly growing
cooperation between economists and ecologists to find policies that
can help preserve humanity's natural capital.
- Environmental scientists are
realizing that they cannot depend on governments alone to solve the
growing environmental crisis. Instead the emphasis is shifting to
recruiting the business community into the struggle to achieve a
- Technological changes such as electronic communications instead of travel and substitution of environmentally more benign energy sources can help solve the world's environmental problems, but changes in lifestyle and human ambitions also will be necessary.
For a complete copy of the speech,
contact the Stanford News Service at (605) 723-2558.