Stormclouds on mankinds horizon

Wednesday, 01 December 2004


    Graduates entering the corporate world face unprecedented social, economic and environmental change by the time they reach senior management level. Professor Nicholas Klomp, head of the School of Environmental and Information Sciences at Charles Sturt University tells Fiona Stewart about the future implications for business managers of the human population explosion.

    "Homo sapiens have been around for some 300,000 years, but it took the world's population until around 150 years ago to reach its first billion," says Klomp. "Now we are 6.2 billion, and will be nine billion by 2060. The effects of the past 150 years of human population growth have been astonishing.

    "By adding 50 per cent more people in the next 50 years, life will be challenging, to say the least.

    "Changes in population have massive implications for the managers of tomorrow. I suspect the most successful will be those that can best adapt and have the flexibility to take advantage of sudden changes," predicts Klomp.

    There is little debate among scientists that exploding populations and their increasing levels of consumption, especially in developed countries, threaten the natural underpinnings of human life.

    "It is not just that there are too many people, but that we are extracting resources and degrading the environment at a rate that is simply not sustainable," says Klomp. "We have got away with this so far by allowing the environmental debts to build up so that it will be a problem for future generations. But the future has arrived."

    Klomp argues that in the past few decades the effects of approaching limits in water, energy and space have already been felt in some regions and the lessons for future managers are beginning to emerge.

    "It took only a naturally occurring drought in some parts of Australia over the past two years to expose how close to the edge we live," he says. "This small environmental perturbation has resulted in significant changes to government policy and legislation. Imagine the changes to be wrought as the environment declines significantly."

    According to Klomp, increased global warming will result in coastal area flooding and more biodiversity loss, but he sees the biggest problem to be greater weather fluctuations. The prediction is not just warmer weather, but more extremes in heat and cold, many more floods, droughts and storms.

    Continued clearance of land will lead to further loss of biodiversity but, for humans, the greatest impact will be on the environmental services provided by these ecosystems.

    Acid and saline soils are already claiming huge tracts of previously arable land. Loss of topsoil reduces agricultural yields while erosion and silting diminishes aquatic productivity. Resulting destruction of catchments and contamination of groundwater are already causing clean water shortages around the world.

    "Increasing numbers of people located in greater density can only mean higher rates of disease and more famine." Klomp says.

    In addition to climate change, environmental catastrophes are likely to become more prevalent.

    "Future managers can expect that, as environmental degradation becomes obvious to the public and voters in particular, there will be more legislation enacted to protect natural resources," Klomp warns. "This will see exploitative and polluting industries and companies forever chasing new standards.

    "The public will be angered by each new catastrophe and will look to lay blame. Increasingly it will be governments and corporations that will be held accountable, fairly or unfairly.

    "I also suspect there will be 'retrospective blaming'. Human society has a long history of this behaviour,

    dragging out leaders and policy-makers after the event." Klomp says.

    "Globally, there will be much more political turmoil. There will be increasing urgency to claim dwindling resources, and they will be taken by the powerful, either through trade or other means.

    "All of this means that management leadership will be more challenging than ever before. It sounds rather depressing and, in many ways it is, but it also makes for an amazing few decades ahead.

    "The best modelling available to date suggests that the human population will level off at around 12 billion people in 2100 but this depends on education levels and access to contraception in developing countries.

    "Birth rates are fairly easy to predict, it is future mortality that is so unpredictable."


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