cultural influences. The value placed upon large families (especially among under-privileged rural populations in less developed countries who benefit least from the process of development), the assurance of security for the elderly, the ability of women to control reproduction, and the status and rights of women within families and within societies are significant cultural factors affecting family size and the demand for family planning services.
Even with a demand for family planning services, the adequate availability of and access to family planning and other reproductive health services are essential in facilitating slowing of the population growth rate. Also, access to education and the ability of women to determine their own economic security influence their reproductive decisions.
POPULATION GROWTH, RESOURCE CONSUMPTION, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
hroughout history, and especially during the twentieth century, environmental degradation has primarily been a product of our efforts to secure improved standards of food, clothing, shelter, comfort, and recreation for growing numbers of people. The magnitude of the threat to the ecosystem is linked to human population size and resource use per person. Resource use, waste production and environmental degradation are accelerated by population growth. They are further exacerbated by consumption habits, certain technological developments, and particular patterns of social organization and resource management.
As human numbers further increase, the potential for irreversible changes of far reaching magnitude also increases. Indicators of severe environmental stress include the growing loss of biodiversity, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing deforestation worldwide, stratospheric ozone depletion, acid rain, loss of topsoil, and shortages of water, food, and fuel-wood in many parts of the world.
While both developed and developing countries have contributed to global environmental problems, developed countries with 85% percent of the gross world product and 23% of its population account for the largest part of mineral and fossil-fuel consumption, resulting in significant environmental impacts. With current technologies, present levels of consumption by the developed world are likely to lead to serious negative consequences for all countries. This is especially apparent with the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and trace gases that have accompanied industrialization, which have the potential for changing global climate and raising sea level.
In both rich and poor countries, local environmental problems arise from direct pollution from energy use and other industrial activities, inappropriate agricultural practices, population concentration, inadequate environmental management, and inattention to environmental goals. When current economic production has been the overriding priority and inadequate attention has been given to environmental protection, local environmental damage has led to serious negative impacts on health and major impediments to future economic growth. Restoring the environment, even where still possible, is far more expensive and time consuming than managing it wisely in the first place; even rich countries have difficulty in affording extensive environmental remediation efforts.
The relationships between human population, economic development, and the natural environment are complex. Examination of local and regional case studies reveals the influence and interaction of many variables. For example, environmental and economic impacts vary with population composition and distribution, and with rural-urban and international migrations. Furthermore, poverty and lack of economic opportunities stimulate faster population growth and increase incentives for environmental degradation by encouraging exploitation of marginal resources.
Both developed and developing countries face a great dilemma in reorienting their productive activities in the direction of a more harmonious interaction with nature. This challenge is accentuated by the uneven stages
of development. If all people of the world consumed fossil fuels and other natural resources at the rate now characteristic of developed countries (and with current technologies), this would greatly intensify our already unsustainable demands on the biosphere. Yet development is a legitimate expectation of less developed and transitional countries.
THE EARTH IS FINITE
he growth of population over the last half century was for a time matched by similar world-wide increases in utilizable resources. However, in the last decade food production from both land and sea has declined relative to population growth. The area of agricultural land has shrunk, both through soil erosion and reduced possibilities of irrigation. The availability of water is already a constraint in some countries. These are warnings that the earth is finite, and that natural systems are being pushed ever closer to their limits.
QUALITY OF LIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
ur common goal is improving the quality of life for all people, those living today and succeeding generations, ensuring their social, economic, and personal well-being with guarantees of fundamental human rights; and allowing them to live harmoniously with a protected environment. We believe that this goal can be achieved, provided we are willing to undertake the requisite social change. Given time, political will, and intelligent use of science and technology, human ingenuity can remove many constraints on improving human welfare worldwide, finding substitutes for wasteful practices, and protecting the natural environment.
But time is short and appropriate policy decisions are urgently needed.