5 Environmental and Human Trends Worth Celebrating This Earth Day

Peak Population: The world population will likely peak at 9.8 billion people at around 2080 and fall to 9.5 billion by 2100 in the medium fertility scenariocalculated by demographer Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis.

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Forest Expansion: Global tree canopy cover increased by 2.24 million square kilometers (865,000 square miles) between 1982 and 2016, reported researchers at the University of Maryland in a September 2018 study in ​Nature​.

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Simon Resource Abundance Index: Data for 50 foundational commodities covering energy, food, materials, and metals was collected by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund between 1980 and 2017. Adjusted for inflation, the prices for 43 commodities declined, two remained equally valuable, and five commodities increased in price. On average, the real price of 50 commodities fell by 36.3 percent.

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U.S. Air Pollution Trends: The Environmental Protection Agency reports that between 1980 and 2017, U.S. gross domestic product increased 165 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 110 percent, energy consumption increased by 25 percent, and U.S. population grew by 44 percent. During the same period, emissions of carbon monoxide fell by 72 percent; lead by 99 percent; nitrogen oxides by 61 percent; compounds from automobile exhaust associated with ozone by 54 percent; sulfur dioxide by 89 percent, and particulates by 61 percent. During the same time period, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 67 percent.
Peak Farmland: Global arable land (annual crops like wheat and corn) and permanent crops (such as coffee and cocoa) were planted on 1,371 million hectares in 1961. That rose to 1,533 million hectares in 2009. Rockefeller University researcher Jesse Ausubel and his co-authors project a return to 1,385 million hectares in 2060, thus restoring at least 146 million hectares to nature. This is an area two and a half times that of France or the size of ten Iowas. While cropland has continued to expand slowly since 2009, the World Bank reports that land devoted to agriculture (including pastures) peaked in 2000 at 4,918 million hectares and had fallen to 4,862 million hectares by 2015. This human withdrawal from the landscape is the likely prelude to a vast ecological restoration over the course of this century.

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