As human population rapidly grows, we must become more mindful of the increased level of impact our actions have on the planet. In today’s American culture, it is difficult for the masses to be fully aware of the global environmental crisis, since our population appears to be moderately sustainable, efficient, or at least “good enough to get by.” Because consequences of unsustainable behavior are for the most part out-of-sight, they are just as well out-of-mind. Once our population reaches higher levels in the near future, however, our errors will become all the more evident, and it may be too late to make amends.
Over-population is not the main cause for the present environmental crisis. Rather, as suggested in Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the issue, it is the overly luxurious and environmentally indifferent lifestyles of “first world” society. “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.”
When the population of a wealthy nation increases, high-quality living expectations remain. Then, the increased number of consumers takes a toll on resources, which in turn harms our planet. Though there may be a shortage of resources, the increasing demand of the ever-growing population remains.
In our consumer-minded society, population growth increases industrial development to meet the consumers’ demands. Mass production facilities often aim towards making profit. When profit is viewed as the greatest good, the cost efficiency of a factory will persuade a company to make decisions which are inconsiderate of the environment. For this reason, countries like the U.S. enforce strict regulations on factories to prevent air and water pollution.
While America’s production policies may be sustainable, our consumer mentality is not. Most merchandise nowadays are manufactured in countries without environmental ethics and regulations. For example, we import most of our products from China, because production in China is cheap. Why is it cheap? Because production factories in China are allowed to compromise environmental harm in favor of cost efficiency. For this reason, air pollution is a major problem in China. According to a U.S. study reported on by the Washington Post, 4000 citizens of China die per day due to air pollution. A contributing researcher stated that breathing Beijing air is as hazardous as smoking 1.5 cigarettes per hour. Although China may be partially to blame for this, equal, if not greater guilt falls on us, the consumers, who support their unsustainable methods of production.
We have to make a decision as a global community not to support environmentally hazardous production, even if it strains our debit cards. The well-being of the planet is not threatened by over-population, but rather our corrupt spirit of waste and consumerism. Perhaps if we could live simpler lives, without so many demands for luxury, our planet would not suffer so much from our excessive consumption of its resources.