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ENVS504: Society, Economy, and the Environment

Unit 7: Carrying Capacity: Overpopulation and Consumption   In late 2011, the global human population exceeded 7 billion people; this was just 12 years after the population had reached 6 billion people.  The current rate of population increase is exponential, which means that it takes less time to add each additional billion.  While there is some debate as to whether growth in population is ultimately a problem, it is undeniable that more people will require more food, water, space, and other resources, leaving fewer resources for other species and ecosystems.  At the same time, economic development in many countries has rapidly increased the per person consumption of resources, leading to additional strains on the environment and passionate discussions regarding fairness across nations and cultures.  Indeed, the argument that dissuaded the United States from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol was over whether total carbon emissions (which would have favored the United States) versus per capita carbon emissions (which would have favored China and India) should have been the metric of compliance.  The debate over “total” versus “per capita” underlies many of the resource struggles at global and regional scales.

This unit will explain carrying capacity as well as several of its measurements, such as the Ecological Footprint index and the I=PAT equation.  The index measures the sustainability of a specific level of resource consumption and illustrates the consequences of population versus consumption on natural resources.  The unit will conclude with a discussion of policies aimed at slowing population growth (which have largely succeeded) and reducing consumption (which have mostly failed).

Unit 7 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 9.5 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 7.1: 8.25 hours
 

☐    Sub-subunit 7.1.1: 2 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 7.1.2: 3.75 hours

☐    Sub-subunit 7.1.3: 2.5 hours

 

☐    Subunit 7.2: 1.25 hours

Unit7 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Define and discuss terms and concepts such as: carrying capacity, ecological footprint, forest transition, per capita, and the rebound effect. - Outline a timeline for human population growth and consumption rates of important resources (such as oil, forests, precious metals, etc.). - Describe policies that have been successful at reducing population growth and why they work. - Describe policies that have attempted to curb consumption and the most likely reasons for their failures. 

7.1 Human Population Trends   7.1.1 Historical Population Growth and Carrying Capacity   - Reading: United National Environment Programme, Global Environmental Alert Service: Bruce Pengra’s “One Planet, How Many People? A Review of Earth’s Carrying Capacity” Link: United National Environment Programme, Global Environmental Alert Service: Bruce Pengra’s “One Planet, How Many People?  A Review of Earth’s Carrying Capacity” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this report
for background information on global human population growth.  This
report discusses how human population growth relates to and impacts
the global carrying capacity for this population.  

 Reading this report and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Current State and Trends Assessment: “Chapter 27: Urban Systems” Link: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: Current State and Trends Assessment: “Chapter 27: Urban Systems” (PDF)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and then select the link for “Chapter 27: Urban Systems” to download the PDF.  The proportion of the global population living in urban areas has dramatically increased in the past century and will continue the trend well into the future.  This chapter describes the urbanization of human societies and how these urban areas interact with the surrounding environment.

    Reading this chapter and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

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7.1.2 Demographic Transitions   - Lecture: Yale University: Professor Robert Wyman’s “Lecture 14 – Demographic Transition in Developing Countries” Link: Yale University: Professor Robert Wyman’s “Lecture 14 – Demographic Transition in Developing Countries” (JWPlayer)

 Also available in:  
 [Transcript](http://oyc.yale.edu/transcript/684/mcdb-150) (HTML)  

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this
lecture.  You may also click on the link above to download and
follow along with the transcript.  This lecture describes what
demographers call a “demographic transition,” where a population
shifts from rapidly growing with a large proportion of youth (under
30 years old) to a stable (or declining) population with equal
numbers of people in the middle-aged and elderly age brackets.
 Professor Wyman describes how these transitions occurred in
European countries, and then he contrasts them to how populations
are or might transition in developing countries.  He attributes
these differences primarily to cultural views on birth control and
women’s empowerment.  

 Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour and 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
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  • Lecture: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “Who’s Afraid of Population Decline?” Link: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “Who’s Afraid of Population Decline?” (iTunes and PDF)

    Instructions: Please click on the link, scroll down to the lecture files (a podcast 15 and PDF slides).  Download the slides, and scroll through them as you listen to the podcast.  The lecture describes the benefits to the population decline after a demographic transition and argues that if managed correctly with supportive policies, the decline can solve or mitigate many problems (particularly environmental ones).

    Listening to the podcast, studying the slides, and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

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7.1.3 Immigration Trends and Consequences   - Lecture: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “International Migration: Guest Workers, Dependents, Asylum and Others” Link: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “International Migration: Guest Workers, Dependents, Asylum and Others” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link scroll down to the
lecture files (a podcast and PDF slides).  Download the slides and
scroll through them as you listen to the podcast.  The lecture
begins with the history of human migration, how it affects the
demographic trends in the source and host countries, as well as the
economic consequences for the migrants and the source and host
countries.  

 Listening to the podcast, studying the slides, and taking notes
should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Lecture: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “Demographic Behavior of Immigrant and Minority Populations” Link: University of Oxford: David Coleman’s “Demographic Behavior of Immigrant and Minority Populations” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please click on the link, scroll down to the lecture files (a podcast and PDF slides).  Download the slides and scroll through them as you listen to the podcast.  The lecture discusses the social impacts of immigration on host countries throughout the world.

    Listening to the podcast, studying the slides, and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

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7.2 Consumption Trends   7.2.1 Overconsumption   - Web Media: YouTube: Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” Link: YouTube: Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” (YouTube)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this video. 
In this video, Leonard discusses the current linear system of
extraction of materials through consumption and then disposal of
products into landfills (or otherwise not recycled).  The video
points out the social, economic, and environmental impacts of this
system.  

 Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 30
minutes.  

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7.2.2 Waste   - Web Media: Science Podcast: Edward Hurme and Jeffrey Mervis’ “Garbology 101: Getting a Grip on Waste” Link: Science Podcast: Edward Hurme and Jeffrey Mervis’ “Garbology 101: Getting a Grip on Waste” (MP3)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and listen to the
podcast.  Note that you can download the podcast, or you can simply
press the play button and listen to it online.  In this podcast,
Mervis discusses the types of wastes produced by different societies
as well as solutions to managing and reducing these types of
wastes.  

 Listening to this podcast and taking notes should take
approximately 15 minutes.  

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  • Web Media: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “E-Waste” Link: Vimeo: University of Idaho: Greg Möller’s “E-Waste” (MP4)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this brief video.  Greg Möller addresses the growing problem of the disposal and recycling of electronic waste (or “e-waste”).  If not managed carefully, this waste can be quite toxic to the environment and the humans who come in contact with it.

    Watching this video and taking notes should take approximately 30 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.