Human World

Urbanites soon to outnumber country dwellers

EarthSky spoke with Gene Rosa, a sociologist at Washington State University who studies the human impact on the environment.

Rosa said human population increase and consumption are the most important drivers of environmental change. Now he’s studying another factor – urbanization.

Gene Rosa: It could be this year, it could be in a year or so, there will be an unprecedented event in world history and that is the number of people living in cities will exceed the number of people living in rural areas.

Rosa is studying whether this shift will make it easier or harder for humanity to live sustainably on Earth.

Gene Rosa: Often the detritus in the rural area becomes the fertilizer or compost or whatever for growing crops or for other useful purposes. In the city, it becomes a waste to get rid of and therefore requires infrastructure and energy and a variety of other things.

On the other hand, Rosa said there are ecological benefits to urbanization. For example, high density, multifamily housing is more energy efficient than separate, single family homes. And it leaves more land free for wild nature.

Gene Rosa: So that’s part of the reason why it’s an interesting and complicated problem because it has countervailing elements.

Our thanks to:
Gene Rosa
Washington State University

July 15, 2006
Human World

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