In fact, research by WSU sociologist Eugene A. Rosa and colleagues, Richard York of the
Through the creation of a research program called STIRPAT, the trio has developed a highly refined way of systematically and empirically assessing the human-generated factors that drive adverse environmental impacts. Using the STIRPAT statistical model, they have examined what is known as the “ecological footprint,” a quantitative measurement of the stress placed on the environment by demands for available lands and resources to meet the need for food, housing, transportation, consumer goods and services.
In a variety of cross-national analyses of the driving forces behind environmental degradation, STIRPAT persistently identifies population size as the primary influence on the global environment,
“With few exceptions, we find that the environmental impacts of population growth increase with affluence,” he said. “The effect is much higher in developed nations than in under-developed nations. For instance, the ecological footprint of the
The findings by
“When we analyze the ability of increasing technological efficiency to counteract the environmental impacts of increasing population and consumption, we find that even if we were to achieve a four-fold increase in efficiency among all nations – which is a very unrealistic expectation – negative environmental impacts still increase, although at a much reduced rate,” he said.
For some specific negative environmental impacts, such as that from carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers found that there is a theoretical point at which growth in a nation’s per capita gross domestic product begins to produce benefits sufficient to begin to offset negative environment influences. But while such hypothetical levels of economic growth can be successfully modeled,
“Our data show that to achieve environmental sustainability on a global level for carbon dioxide, for instance, under best circumstances every nation in the world would need to achieve a gross domestic product per capita of $10,000 or more,” he said. “This is a highly unrealistic possibility, given that more than 75 percent of the world’s nations have a GDP per capita of less than $5,000. Many of these nations are in the
Such findings provide little support for the theories predicting a decline in a nation’s environmental impacts in the mature stages of economic development,
“This suggests we’re not likely to achieve ecological sustainability by continuing to pursue endless economic growth, ignoring our growing population and hoping for a last-minute technological fix that will solve our problems,” he said.
”There is no magic bullet. The ramifications for our society are potentially profound,” he said. “Achieving sustainability may require a fundamental change of values and changes in the way we have been doing things for a very long time.”
Rosa is currently the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy in the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service, past chair and professor of sociology, affiliated professor of fine arts, affiliated professor in environmental science and regional planning, and faculty associate in the Center for Integrated Biology.
His research has focused on environmental topics – particularly energy, technology and risk issues – with attention to both theoretical and policy concerns. His recent research is devoted to the complementary topics of global environmental change and risk assessment, with the focus of the first topic on structural features of national environments and the focus of the second on the decision processes for addressing environmental challenges.
Late last year,
He has previously held numerous appointments with U.S. National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences and in 2004 accepted an appointment to that group’s Committee on Metrics for Global Change Research.