As our world becomes more urbanized, Earth itself might actually be better off. That’s according to George Martine, lead author of the 2007 State of World Population report published by the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA). Martine told EarthSky it’s natural to think of urban areas as bad for the environment. But would anything be better if Earth’s huge population were spread out across the countryside?
George Martine: And we have a world population that is almost 6.7 billion people. If you put say 3.3 billion people out of urban areas and into rural areas, what would happen to natural ecosystems? It would be disastrous. There’s no question about it.
Martine said that right now, about half of the world’s population lives on less than three percent of Earth’s land area.
George Martine: The fact that cities concentrate most environmental problems is not because of concentration, per se. It is simply due to the fact that cities concentrate the lifestyles and the production and the consumption patterns of modern civilization such as we know it. So the problem is not concentration. The problem is the kind of civilization that we are promoting and the kind of concentration of wealthy and affluent consumers in cities.
Martine added that better city planning is needed to prevent sprawl and lessen the impact cities make on the environment. He also said that, within a generation, the population of cities in developing countries is expected to double.
George Martine: Together, Asia and Africa have an increase of about one million new urbanites per week. That’s a huge amount of people to shelter, provide infrastructure, provide services for.
Martine said that cities in the developing world can begin to transcend their environmental and social problems. With planning, a city can provide the economic growth and environmental sustainability needed to lift people out of poverty.
George Martine: Having a residence, a secure place in which to put your stuff, an address that people can relate to, a place where you might set up your own little cottage industry, a place where your kids might feel safe, this is absolutely the starting point for people to profit from anything that the city has to offer.
In his years with EarthSky, Jorge Salazar conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists. He knows a lot about as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. Jorge currently works as a Technical Writer/Editor for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which designs and deploys powerful advanced computing technologies and innovative software solutions for scientific researchers.