NPG is Pleased to Announce the Winners of Our 2018 Essay Scholarship Contest

NPG is pleased to offer challenging contests as part of our mission to enlist a new generation of activists, who will be focused on calling attention to the dangers of population growth.  We send our thanks to all of our members and friends who have so generously contributed – as well as our appreciation for the tens of thousands of students who have competed in our contests.  It is your support and participation that make this critical program possible!

2018 Topic:

With America headed toward a population of approximately 400 million people by 2050 (up from the present 327 million), such huge numbers will surely intensify many of our country’s most critical environmental problems. Select ONE environmental issue from below, explain how it is made worse by population growth, and describe what measures you would recommend our nation’s leaders take to ensure we protect our fragile environment for generations to come.

  • Air Pollution
  • Availability of Clean Water
  • Climate Change
  • Destruction of Wildlife Habitat
  • Detrimental Effects of Coal, Oil and Natural Gas Extractions
  • Loss of American Farmland
  • Protection of Wetlands
  • Shrinking of Parks and Green Spaces
  • Urban Sprawl

Click on each name to read their winning essay.

AwardWinner NameSchool

$2,000

Hannah Sackles

University of Florida
Gainesville, FL

$1,000

Grace Klein

Denison University
Granville, OH
$750 Abigail Snellgrove University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC
$750 Susan Leigh Thomassie Loyola University of New Orleans
New Orleans, LA
$750 Clarke Williams Howard University
Washington , DC
$750 Morgan Zenon Lakeland University
Plymouth, WI

Click here for previous years’ Essay Scholarship winners.

NPG

There is no remedy that can possibly avert disastrous Climate Change and Global Warming unless we first address the problem of world population size and growth, and its impact on the size of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.That means that we need to address the population size and growth of each nation, which together make up the world total.

World population, now over 7.3 billion, is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, an increase of almost two billion, or 23%, in the short space of only 34 years from now.In the highly unlikely event that per capita greenhouse gas emissions could possibly be decreased by an equal percentage in such a short space of time (a blink of an eye) the total amount of worldwide emission would remain the same!

From this simple illustration it would appear that without drastically reducing the size of world population, there is no solution to the problem.None at all.So then why do our world leaders pretend that there is one?What is to be gained by pretending rather than by proposing a solution that would solve the problem – a reduction in the size of world population to not more than 1- 2 billion?
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Hannah Sackles
$2,000
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

White picket fences, large suburban yards, and an escape from the city after a long day of work are iconic ideals associated with “The American Dream”.  However, these romanticized principles are also related to a myriad of environmental problems including increased use of fossil fuels for longer commutes, urban heat island effect, loss of wildlife habitat, and disruptions in the water cycle caused by the spread of impermeable surfaces.  As per a 2012 report by the United States Census Bureau, 80.7% of the American population lives in an urban area, and the urban population rate of increase between 2000 and 2010 was greater than the rate of increase for the nation’s total population growth.  This shocking trend indicates that as the population of America is predicted to increase to 400 million people by 2050, much of that growth will be unevenly distributed in urban areas, compounding the problem of urban sprawl currently plaguing our nation.

In Living in the Environment, Miller and Spoolman cite availability of land, suburban housing loans for World War II veterans in the 1950’s, cheap oil prices, federally-funded highways, poor zoning laws, and taxes that favor home owners as the main causes of urban sprawl in the United States.  These precedents have created an urban infrastructure that will only continue to encroach onto rural lands as a greater population of Americans inhabit urban spaces that grow farther away from city centers to accommodate the increasing population. Through my participation in the Future Leaders in Planning program hosted by the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, I learned from urban planners, engineers, and architects in the Tampa Bay Area about the measures that the City of Tampa is implementing to mitigate the effects of urban sprawl.  Many of the urban planners stressed the importance of creating infrastructure that grows “up” rather than “out”, meaning constructing and renovating multistory buildings with mixed use development (homes, parking garages, commercial businesses, and offices all in one space) to concentrate daily activities in a confined urban space.  The urban planners and city transportation officials also explained the importance of accessible and appealing mass transit systems, as well as safe biking and walking paths, to encourage urban residents to walk, bike, or carpool to work.  This would reduce the number of cars on the road that not only promote urban sprawl by allowing farther commutes between work and home, but that also create harmful pollutants that contribute to climate change, acid rain, health problems, and urban smog. 

To protect the natural environment from urban sprawl in the face of rapid population growth, I would incorporate my knowledge of current models for urban sprawl mitigation to create a multi-faceted approach, including creative solutions to the problems outlined above, to suggest to the nation’s leaders. First, I would suggest a gradual reduction of the federal subsidies provided to oil companies that were designed to keep gasoline prices low, until the price of gasoline matches its true environmental cost of $3.80 beyond the pump price (as estimated by the 2015 article The Social Cost of Atmospheric Release).  This would discourage Americans from living farther away from city centers, and the money that was originally spent on gasoline subsidies could instead be used to improve mass transit systems and pedestrian/cyclist paths throughout major cities.  I would also encourage the nation’s leaders to dismantle antiquated zoning laws that prevent the mixing of commercial and domestic spaces to allow for mixed-use development throughout American cities.  The nation’s leaders could also publish information on the importance of creating appeal in urban centers (such as the incorporation of green spaces or mixed-use development) to attract citizens and businesses from outlying suburbs.  Additionally, I would suggest creating strict boundaries for new and existing urban populations, which would further encourage local planning commissions to concentrate development closer to city centers to accommodate the growing American urban population.  The predicted population growth to 400 million Americans by 2050 will undoubtedly cause severe urban sprawl unless preventative measures are quickly enacted.

 

Citations

Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott E. Spoolman. Living in the Environment. 16th ed., Cengage Learning, 2011.

Shindell, Drew T. “The Social Cost of Atmospheric Release.” Climatic Change, vol. 130, no. 2, May 2015, pp. 313–326.,  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-015-1343-0 

US Census Bureau Public Information Office. “Growth in Urban Population Outpaces Rest of Nation, Census Bureau Reports.” United States Census Bureau Newsroom Archive, United States Census Bureau, 26 Mar. 2012, www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb12-50.html.

Grace Klein
$1,000
Denison University, Granville, Ohio

Plant Growth v. Population Growth

As a member of a small, farm-town community in a rural stretch of Ohio, I know the importance of farming first hand and how it affects the community’s food supply. But I also know first hand how population growth affects that farming. Because of the population growth there is a decline, even in my community, in farmland and in farmers. According to top organizations, this phenomenon is not only happening in my community but to most farming communities throughout the United States. To stop this deterioration, lawmakers must take action and designate plots of land that will be used exclusively for farming and come up with greener ways to farm in order to help sustain the environment. The farming community can still thrive despite population growth but lawmakers must take action now before it’s too late.

The population of the United States is expected to grow at an alarming rate over the next 35 years. In 2015, the U.S. population was at 322 million and by the year 2050, the population is expected to grow to 389 million (Mayo). This rapid population spike means there will be more people who need more houses that need more land. The more land needed for urban development means there is less land used for farming. California Department of Conservation member John Lowrie states that, “Population growth in and of itself is one of the most significant forces in the quest to develop land for interests other than agricultural production and open space” (qtd. in Adler). This effect has already been seen over the last decade. From 2008 to 2015, the amount of farms decreased from 2,184,500 to 2,067,000 and the amount of farm acreage decreased from 918,600,000 to 912,000,000 (Mayo). The relationship of increasing population and decreasing agricultural space is growing ever-stronger and lawmakers must start taking action now.

The first way lawmakers should take action to secure the agricultural industry is by setting aside plots of land used specifically for agriculture. Like they do for National Parks, the government should designate specific land areas that are used to aid the agricultural community and sustain its resources without interference. By designating land for farming use, a secure place is created for farmers to farm without worry that their farm will be replaced for urban development. It is necessary to have more adequate farmland and farming resources in order to supply food for the growing population and, therefore, this plan is imperative. The land chosen for this project has to be land proven well-suited for farming or existing farmland that the government now protects. It also has to be beneficial to the community and cannot harm it in any way. This project should start in areas where urban development is increasing and the farming community is at risk. Not only would this program be beneficial to agriculture but it would create and sustain jobs for current and future farmers across the United States. This project would create jobs and support agriculture making our country and Earth a more secure place for future generations.

The second way lawmakers should take action to help sustain agriculture is by creating and enforcing greener methods of farming. Protecting the agricultural community is important but so is protecting our delicate environment. If we do not stand up for our environment, agriculture, as well as most everything else, will cease to exist. That being said, farming uses an abundance of natural resources, requiring a great deal of water and soil. The use of pesticides and fertilizers as well as factors contributing to erosion take harsh tolls on the ecosystem (Green). All of the farming equipment using natural gas contributes to air pollution as well. Lawmakers should work with agricultural experts to come up with ways, like alternatives to pesticides or irrigation, to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable while farming. When a decision is reached on the new solutions, the practices should be implemented and enforced on as many farms in America as possible. This will enable agriculture to not only thrive but to help save the environment for future generations.

 

Works Cited

Mayo, Doug. “Population Growing but US Farm Acreage Declining.”  nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu. 4 March, 2016.

Adler, Steve. “More prime farmland feared to be lost to population growth.”   dailydemocrat.com. 6 August, 2012.

Green, Jared. “The Effects of Population Growth on Land Use.”  dirt.asla.org. 9 November, 2009.

Abigail Snellgrove
$750.
University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

Population Growth: Wildlife Destruction

Not everyone has the opportunity to live in the best city in the world as I do.  Charleston, South Carolina is the best city for so many reasons.  The allure of the history, the weather, and as stated in Conde Nast Traveler magazine “The friendliest city in the world” attracts people by the masses.  “The official number of new people moving (net new arrivals) into the Charleston metro is: 34 people a day.” (Holba & Renegar, 2017).  These qualities are the same things that attract big industry such as Boeing, Volvo Cars, and Mercedes Benz to our beautiful city.  The influx of people and industry has had a profound impact on the availability of habitat for our diverse wildlife population.

Population growth in the Charleston area is exceeding the availability of land for the people that are relocating here. “In the Charleston area, for example, from 1973 to 1994, a one percent increase in population resulted in a six percent loss in forest and farm land” (Allen and Lu 1998).  Forest and farm land are not the only habitats being destroyed.  Charleston is known for its beaches and fresh seafood is a staple in this area.  Climate change caused by a growing population has started causing sea levels to rise.  Rising sea levels can cause devastation to nesting areas for sea turtles and different types of birds that nest on the coast.  Sea turtles are already an endangered species and they are also creatures of habit.  They return to the same spot every couple of years to nest and if these nesting spots are destroyed by rising sea levels the population of sea turtles will not grow and they will eventually become extinct.  Sea turtles are not the only species that is being affected by population growth, species such as bats, woodpeckers, warblers, and salamanders are also being threatened in South Carolina.  Population Connection states “over 2,500 species are listed as endangered and threatened species.  And as human population continues to grow in the U.S., reaching up to 420 million by 2050 (as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau), many more species will be added to the list.”  Not only is their existence being threatened by the invasion of their natural habitats, but there have been increasing numbers of incidents caused by wildlife living in populated areas.  Animals driven out of their habitats into residential areas have resulted in many headlines.  People have come home to alligators on their front porches, deer have leaped into cars, and there have been countless numbers of birds mistakenly flying into windows or homes.

What measures can we, must we, take to stop the destruction of wildlife habitat due to population growth?  Investing in infrastructure to revitalize cities to alleviate urban sprawl, investing in mass transit to eliminate the number of cars on the road, stricter and enforced regulations on manufacturing facilities to reduce pollution, and requirements for developers to retain more green space when building.  With the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to climate change related to population growth it is time for leaders to get on board and do something positive to at least slow the damage caused by the population.   Our nation’s leaders need to take a stronger stance about environmental change, if they do not there will soon be no nation left to lead. 

 

References

Allen, Jeffery and Kang Shou Lu.  1998.  Modeling and predicting future urban growth in the Charleston area.  Strom Thurmond Institute. Clemson University.

CNT editors. (2017) The Friendliest Cities in the U.S. retrieved from www.cntraveler.com

Holba, K. & Renegar, J. (2017) Exactly How Many People are moving into the Charleston Region Each Day? Retrieved from www.Crda.org

N.A. (2017) Alligator ‘ Intruder’ Lays Claim to South Carolina Family’s Porch. Retrieved from www.foxnews.com

N.A. (2018) Caught in the Crosshairs. Retrieved from www.PopulationConnection.org

N.A. (2016) Climate Change Impacts to Natural Resources in South Carolina. Retrieved from http://www.dnr.sc.org

N.A. (2017) Endangered Species in South Carolina. Retrieved from www.bollotpedia.org 

Susan Leigh Thomassie
$750.
Loyola University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA

The word ‘park’ brings a throng of pleasant images to mind:  colorful playground equipment, crawling with children; meandering walkways, threaded between the trunks of spreading trees; vast stretches of manicured lawn, spread invitingly in welcome of picnics or casual Frisbee games.  Each mental picture is accompanied by the promise of either relaxation or a rollicking good time.

Appealing as these images are already, urban green space offers benefits far beyond boosting physical and mental health.  The spreading trees and manicured lawns perform functions that help the environment, such as oxygen production, pollution control, and air cooling.[1] The playgrounds and walkways provide opportunities for community members to mingle and enjoy themselves regardless of “age, race, income, or physical or cognitive ability”.[2] And taken as a whole, parks boost the local economy by generating new jobs through parks and recreation agencies,[3] increasing nearby property value,[4] and drawing businesses looking for new locations.[5]

Given this wide array of benefits, any threat to the preservation of public green space should be taken very seriously—perhaps none more so than the looming threat of population growth.

The U.S. population is currently climbing through the hundred-millions (with growth in cities surpassing the rest of the nation),[6] bringing increased urbanization with it.[7]  This clashes with the establishment and upkeep of parks, as the characteristic mutability of developing urban systems cripples attempts to plan for a stable environment that sustains plant life in the long-term. Additionally, high population levels aggravate a perceived need for more resources and residences, which in turn leads to the degradation of existing green space in the never-ending quest for materials and construction sites.  If left unchecked, our nation’s tendency to put short-term concerns above long-term ones may lead to a dramatic loss in public park land, possibly even causing its extinction in low-income areas where its benefits are most pronounced.

Effectively resolving such a nationwide issue requires a concentrated effort.  State governments have begun to tackle the problem of shrinking green space by offering grants to cities that set aside land for recreational purposes; however, bringing the gravity of the situation to the public eye demands the involvement of a higher authority—the federal government itself.

This involvement begins with engaging the public.  By taking a proactive, well-informed position, our nation’s leaders are capable of fostering a robust dialogue through which to engage lower-level legislators industry leaders, NGOs, and private citizens alike, educating them and encouraging them to take action.  Yet words alone are not enough. If it is to successfully curb the negative effects population growth has had on green space, the federal government must pair public engagement with more aggressive measures. Urban development policies are a viable way to nip the issue of unbridled urbanization in the bud:  Congress can require municipalities and states to pool a fund that provides for the preservation and upkeep of public parks, or can make federal funding of urban projects contingent on the designation of parkland.  To combat land degradation, it can force mitigation by insisting that certain footage of green space be set apart for every corresponding footage developed or stripped for resources.  And in areas where the local government cannot afford to provide for park construction and maintenance, the federal government can offer grants specifically designed to pay for these amenities.  All of these steps would ensure that green space is preserved in both the places where it is most threatened and the places where it is most needed.

While addressing the issue of shrinking green space may seem out of the federal government’s scope in the eyes of some, it is vital to remember that our country’s leaders are bound not only to protect and run the nation, but also to promote the quality of life for both current and future generations.  Parks and green spaces bring benefits that touch almost every area of concern in the United States—health, society, the economy, and the environment—making their preservation a serious concern for all levels of our society, the highest level most of all.  And with the U.S. population growing at such an explosive rate, particularly in metropolitan areas, the need for a watchful, conscientious administration is greater than ever.

 

[1] Paul M. Sherer, The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space, reprint of “Parks for People” (San Francisco: The Trust for Public Land, 2006), 19-20, accessed April 17, 2018, https://www.recpro.org/assets/Library/Parks/benefit_of_parks_jul2005.pdf.

[2] Economic Impact of Local Parks (Ashburn, VA: National Recreation and Park Association, 2018), 4, accessed April 17, 2018, https://www.nrpa.org/siteassets/research/economic-impact-study-summary-2018.pdf.

[3] Economic Impact of Local Parks, 5.

[4] Ibid., 11.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Growth in Urban Population Outpaces Rest of Nation, Census Bureau Reports,” United States Census Bureau (website), United States Census Bureau, accessed April 17, 2018, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb12-50.html.

[7] “Urbanization and Population Change,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (website), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, accessed April 17, 2018, https://cfpub.epa.gov/roe/indicator.cfm?i=52.

Clarke Williams
$750.
Howard University , Washington , DC

As America’s population continues to gradually increase, it is imperative that we consider how population growth affects the environment around us.  It is clear, based on environmental issues that have plagued this Earth for decades that population growth has long-lasting effects on the environment.  These effects are manifested in issues like air pollution, climate change, and more.  I chose to focus on urban sprawl in this short essay to highlight the issue that is ever present in my own hometown, Baltimore, MD, and make suggestions to policy makers, elected officials, and any other person that cares about what we leave for generations to come.

Urban sprawl is an issue that is greatly impacted by population growth because of the increased housing demand that comes with more potential residents of metropolitan cities all over the country.  The Encyclopedia Britannica defines urban sprawl as “the rapid expansion of the geographic extent of cities and towns, often characterized by low-density residential housing, single-use zoning, and increased reliance on the private automobile for transportation.”  The detrimental effects on the environment are clear even in the term’s definition.  “Rapid expansion” implies a lack of environmentally friendly urban planning, which promotes air pollution and excessive energy use.  Urban sprawl causes people to rely on their cars more to get around urban and suburban areas.  This is dangerous because carpooling and using means of public transportation are very important in the efforts to protecting the environment.    

To make the concept of urban sprawl more clear, I decided to research its effects in Baltimore, MD.  Baltimore presents an interesting case because of our recent population decline, but the devastating effects of urban sprawl on one of the country’s largest cities (population decline or not) will demonstrate how dangerous urban expansion is for larger cities, which will become increasingly common for cities around the country as America’s population is expected to increase approximately 30% by 2050.  As urbanization conquers cities, rich forests and farmlands are destroyed to build more residential areas and structures to accommodate the rising population such as malls, supermarkets, hotels, and more.  With more urban housing comes more infrastructures to support said housing.  This infrastructure is not often very environmentally friendly.  The septic system, waste management, and construction industry contribute to the harming of the environment each and every day.

With all of these negatives to consider, it is also important to look toward the future with hope and concrete solutions.  The time to take preventive action has passed us, so the best we can do now is work towards recovery and permanent reversing efforts.  Protecting cities from urban sprawl will promote overall greener living and will protect the waterways, farmlands, and wildlife from the harmful effects of excessive urbanization and the centralization of industry.  My first suggestion is to implement clean and green forms of public transportation.  This includes trains, buses, bicycles, and all forms of ride sharing.  Bike lanes should be implemented and encouraged.  It would even be a good idea to promote bikes in schools by providing school-aged children access to affordable bikes and the safest routes.  On a larger scale, bills need to be drafted protecting waterways.  For example, The Chesapeake Bay is currently in great danger with multiple scientists citing poor water-quality due to pollution, suburban runoff, and high nitrogen and phosphorus levels from sewage.  These are all effects of urban sprawl.  Lawmakers will need to provide stricter regulations on sewage treatment plants with the help of the Environmental Protection Agency.  I also suggest something a tad outlandish.  We have police departments to protect us from crime, but there is no force that protects the environment from the harmful agents that constantly put it in danger.  I suggest cities implement task forces to prevent pollution, monitor waste and sewage management, promote green living with programs in schools and youth centers, and maintain the overall health of the environment by controlling the man made, negative effects.  Saving the environment should be seen as much less of a volunteer effort and more of a required change in lifestyle for people all over the world.  Extreme circumstances call for extreme solutions.  With more action-based solutions, America’s leaders can reverse the effects of urban sprawl and prevent cities from succumbing to it as the population continues to rise in this country.     

Morgan Zenon
$750.
Lakeland University, Plymouth, WI

Changing Our Climate Begins with Changing Our Habits

Living in the suburbs was once considered to be a fulfilment of the American dream. A large house with a white picket fence and a child-friendly car or two in the driveway was the picture of success for millions of U.S. citizens.  For many, this dream still exists today.  But how much does this comfortable suburban lifestyle contribute to climate change?  It may not be obvious but our consumption, driving and housing habits may hasten global warming more than we realize. 

Americans are the worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gasses, producing double what all of Europe discharges and five times more than the global average.  Much of our toxic vapor output comes from the way we consume. Diana Ivanova, a PhD candidate at Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Industrial Ecology Program, and her research team published a study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology in 2015 which found that “between 60 - 80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption,” (qtd. by Bazilchuk, “Household consumption significant driver of climate, other environmental impacts”).

Ivanova stated the majority of consumption’s damaging effects do not come from the direct use of resources, like fueling vehicles with fossil fuels, but from the consumer’s indirect use of resources, like eating chocolate that took thousands of gallons of water to make or buying paper sourced from a cleared forest.  Through water and land pollution, deforestation and direct gas emission during manufacturing, these processes can have a drastic effect on overall atmospheric toxicity.  When we buy these products, we contribute to the ozone deterioration yet people often think of this issue as unrelated to their personal contributions to air pollution. The population of the United States stands at 325 million and is expected to double by the end of the century.  These poor consumption habits coupled with a rapidly growing population mean emissions from this country will significantly worsen over coming generations. The Center for Biological Diversity stated over half of all American citizens now live in suburbs (“Human Population Growth and Climate Change”). These regions tend to have income levels higher than the national average and the more affluent a person or family is, the more likely they are to consume at high levels.

Americans also collectively drive over three trillion miles annually and that figure is growing.  Suburban commuting contributes to this number and overall transportation makes up one-third of the country’s carbon emissions.  The homes that fossil fueled cars drive from also contribute to air pollution.  Around twenty percent of domestic greenhouse emissions come from homes and their construction.  In 1970, the average U.S. home held 3.1 people but that number fell to 2.6 in 2000.  However, new homes are still increasing in size and this creates the need for more resources, namely trees, used for building that would otherwise reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

From a legislative standpoint, there are a number of things our leaders in government can do to make life in the suburbs less damaging to the planet – the first deals with changing consumption patterns.   Lawmakers can give rewards like tax exemptions to companies that do things which help the environment such as – limiting their pollution levels, recycling adamantly or working with local residents to rebuilt area forests or clean waterways.  Grants can be given to companies that invest in alternative yet sustainable goods, like creating paper from hemp rather than tree pulp. Businesses should be incentivized to make their products in ways that do the least amount of damage to the planet as possible and consumers should be educated on what effects their purchases can have. All this could ultimately lower levels of indirect carbon emissions by consumers.

There should also be more public transportation to and from the suburbs.  The government could provide funding for the construction of rail systems or the addition of numerous bus lines to the suburbs of metropolitan areas all across the country.  If more people commuted without using their personal vehicles, it could significantly reduce emissions from transportation. Homes should also be downsized in the future and lawmakers can reward construction companies that work to restore the forests their lumber is sourced from.

The suburbs can be wonderful places to live and grow up but conversely, life in the area can make it difficult to reduce one’s carbon footprint.  However, with a few lifestyle changes and initiatives from the government, this does not have to be the case forever.

 

Works cited

Bazilchuk, Nancy. “Household Consumption Significant Driver of Climate, Other Environmental Impacts.” Geminiresearchnews.com, 19 Feb. 2016, geminiresearchnews.com/2016/02/household-consumption-significant-driver-of-climate-other-environmental-impacts/.

“Human Population Growth and Climate Change.” Center for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/climate/.