Mar 122009
Authors: Chloe Wittry

The continual and rapid growth of the world’s population is impacting infrastructures, causing more inequality in the distribution of wealth and increasing the number of deaths per year due to natural disasters.

Lori Peek, a sociology professor, presented to students, faculty and community members Thursday night in on how nature is being affected by rapid population growth.

“How many people are we asking our climate to sustain?” Peek asked the Lory Student Center North Ballroom crowd.

According to Peek’s presentation, most of the world’s population growth has been experienced in lesser-developed countries that can’t support its citizens financially or lessen those people’s effects on the environment.

“The wealth inequalities in all nations are growing as the populations increase, with 85 percent of the wealth usually being distributed to the top 10 percent of the population,” Peek said.

She emphasized that wealth provides safety and access to political structures and major institutions.

“One sixth of the world’s population live in shanty towns, which have no water, no electricity and no protection from disasters,” Peek said.

According to the presentation, it is estimated that by 2012 the world’s population will have increased to seven billion people, dramatically increasing the climate crisis.

With the increasing population, people are continually extracting more of the world’s resources to try to maintain standards of living — with the world’s top 20 percent of people consuming three quarters of all private and public goods.

English professor John Calderazzo, who coordinated the event, said, “It’s too easy to think that the human world and the natural world are separate. All day we sit at our TV screens, computer screens or on our phones and these things promote our inaction in taking steps toward helping this global climate problem.”

Peek highlighted that due to the increasing population, infrastructures are falling apart and killing thousands of people. Also, thousands of new buildings are being developed in unsustainable areas.

“We are increasingly destroying our natural areas,” Peek said.

She said that since 1930, 1.2 million acres of coastal wetlands have been lost because of human action. Wetlands provide the shock absorber for storm surges generated by hurricanes and when they are lost, more people will die or be displaced from the disasters.

“We’re seeing acute disasters hitting major densely populated areas, like Hurricane Katrina, which caused the most abrupt and massive displacement of people,” Peek said.

Her presentation showed that the countries causing the largest amount of climatic problems are experiencing the least amount of impact.

“A lot of it boils down to wealth and other complexities,” Peek said. “In the United States, wealth provides us with great medical infrastructures, the eradication of disease and a clean water supply which countries with little wealth cannot provide.”

There are things being done in other countries to combat the climate crisis and raise awareness on the issue, Peek said.

“There is a program in the Philippines called Plan that goes into disaster-prone regions and reaches children,” Peek said. “The children draw maps of disaster areas and plan evacuations for their schools to raise disaster awareness.”

Peek said that it is very easy to not worry about the climate crisis in the United States because it is one of the countries whose people are least affected, but it is an ethical imperative and actions need to be taken.

“I learned a lot from attending this meeting,” said Jennifer Caldwell, a freshman human development and family studies major. “There were a lot of shocking statistics. Students need to be informed about the statistics because it will prompt them to take action in their own lives.”

“Adaptation begins with awareness,” Peek said. “You have to ask yourself where you can make a change in your own life that will reduce your impact on the environment.”

Staff writer Chloe Wittry can be reached at

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