World Resources and Endangered Animals
There is grave concern for the ecology of the entire world, not just Africa's greatest lakes. The problems, however,
are most acute in developing countries, which are striving to attain the same wealth as industrialized nations. Two
problems, global overpopulation and the exploitation of world resources, are the focus of our ecological concerns.
Global overpopulation is at the root of virtually all other environmental problems. Human population growth is
expected to continue in the twenty-first century. Virtually all of this growth is in less developed countries, where 5.4
billion out of a total of 7 billion humans now live. Since a high proportion of the population is of childbearing age,
the growth rate will increase in the twenty-first century. By the year 2050, the total population of India (1.6 billion)
is expected to surpass that of China (1.4 billion) and the total world population will reach 9.3 billion. As the human
population grows, the disparity between the wealthiest and poorest nations is likely to increase.
Human overpopulation is stressing world resources. Although new technologies continue to increase food
production, most food is produced in industrialized countries that already have a high per-capita food consumption.
Maximum oil production is expected to continue in this millennium. Continued use of fossil fuels adds more carbon
dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change. Deforestation of large areas
of the world results from continued demand for forest products, fuel, and agricultural land. This trend contributes
to climate change by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide from burning forests and impairing the ability of the
earth to return carbon to organic matter through photosynthesis. Deforestation also causes severe regional water
shortages and results in the extinction of many plant and animal species, especially in tropical forests. Forest
preservation would result in the identification of new species of plants and animals that could be important human
resources: new foods, drugs, building materials, and predators of pests (figure 1.6). Nature also has intrinsic value
that is just as important as its provision of resources for humans. Recognition of this intrinsic worth provides
important aesthetic and moral impetus for preservation.
(a) A Brazilian tropical rain forest. (b) A bulldozer clear-cutting a rain forest
in the Solomon Islands
FIGURE 1.6 Tropical Rain Forests: A Threatened World Resource.
(a) A Brazilian tropical rain forest. (b) A bulldozer clear-cutting a rain forest in the Solomon Islands. Clear-cutting for
agriculture causes rain forest soils to quickly become depleted, and then the land is often abandoned for richer soils.
Cutting for roads breaks continuous forest coverage and allows for easy access to remote areas for exploitation.
Loss of tropical forests results in the extinction of many valuable forest species.
An understanding of basic ecological principles can help prevent ecological disasters like those we have described.
Understanding how matter is cycled and recycled in nature, how populations grow, and how organisms in our lakes
and forests use energy is fundamental to preserving the environment. There are no easy solutions to our ecological
problems. Unless we deal with the problem of human overpopulation, however, solving the other problems will be
impossible. We must work as a world community to prevent the spread of disease, famine, and other forms of
suffering that accompany overpopulation. Bold and imaginative steps toward improved social and economic
conditions and better resource management are needed.