Water engineers speak out on population pressures

Posted: 12 May 2008

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, CIWEM, has added its voice to those who are now calling for a fresh awareness of the population-sustainablity problem.

In a statement issues this month CIWEM said that population growth is not only one of the main causes of climate change, but that the associated rising consumption levels are outstripping the biological capacity of the Earth by 25 per cent each year

If all countries achieved UK levels of wealth, the global population would need the natural resources of four or more planets, it said. "This is not the model of a sustainable world that will achieve social justice and harmony."

With the global population projected to rise from 6 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050, CIWEM believes that politicians and environmentalists must confront the real challenge of climate change.

Flawed strategy

The UK Government's 2005 sustainable development strategy, Securing the Future, condemned any society operating outside environmental limits as unsustainable. However CIWEM is concerned that the strategy does not mention the rise in population and consumption in relation to living within our environmental limits.

It wants the Government to recognise that although a large population may bring economic benefits, people are not just economic units contributing to the gross domestic product (GDP). CIWEM calls for a demonstrable commitment by the Government to align all aspects of the UK economy, including its population, with the principle of living within environmental limits.

Nick Reeves, CIWEM
Nick Reeves, CIWEM
Nick Reeves, Executive Director, CIWEM.
"There must be an end to the presumption that economic growth via a rising population is essential for a successful society. Large unsustainable populations, when allied to high levels of consumption, cause environmental degradation and contribute to climate change." the organisation said.

CIWEM Executive Director, Nick Reeves, said: "The UK Government must make concerted efforts to increase resource efficiency in areas such as transport, energy and water and the public must be moved away from living materialistic and highly consumptive lifestyles. This is the age of 'me, me, me', where you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it. But be warned - there is a price to pay that is greater than overdraft charges or the credit card bill. Consumerism is rapidly exhausting our resources and breaching the capacity of the Earth to support us.

"Politicians see big populations as an indicator of economic strength, but large populations contribute to an environmental footprint which is unsustainable. If governments around the world are really committed to sustainability, it is time for a grown-up debate on an issue politicians avoid and on a problem that is unlikely to go away. How much longer can we continue with this rate of growth, without something really scary happening?"

Source: CIWEM Press Release, May 6, 2008. CIWEM is an independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world. See: www.ciwem.org