How to measure the core impact: the force of economic activity upon geographical region
Let me suggest a simple formula: Pressure = Force / Surface. We won’t discuss its physical dimensions, but instead will focus on the fact that our unceasingly expanding society with all its production and population generates great pressure on the ecosystems. This is a cause of concern, since with the advance of global climate change somewhere in the 2030s the mere providing of substantial goods will be impeded in many places in the world. True, the rates of economic growth in the world have diminished since 2008 as a consequence of the recent crisis, but the impacts remain high. Despite all signs that some rebalancing in the world economic powers does occur, the natural systems are on decline in the emerging world. The main factors of this human pressure are well-known: the increasing number of people and their highly enhanced economic activity, which depend on their growing aspirations.
Contemporary human pressure on the environment in practice consists of economic production and consuming population, to add the import consumed. Excluding the net trade approach, the gross domestic product represents almost the same. Though often criticized, it is not inappropriate in this case to use the monetary measure of GDP for studying the human impact on the environment (purchasing power standard to eliminate the policies of the central banks). It may sound a bit instructive, but money is the best way to represent the human force. Money means interactions; it shows the possibilities of living, the fulfillment of consumer wishes. Money leads to existence and increase of goods, services, wealth: to development, and mostly unsustainable. The enterprise profits are closely connected with environmental degradation, with the exemplary instance of China’s economy. On the other side, the Western economies, self-perceived as green and clean, export environmental damage to the Third world.
The surface, where the economic force is taking place, is planet Earth. The main reason to calculate the formula is to define the carrying capacity of a given region, or the natural boundaries of human settlements there. The biomass or total energy stock is a good benchmark, keeping in mind that some ecosystems are more vulnerable than others, while having same productivity. But for the purpose of first approximation on this subject, it also may be useful to use the smallest region for which GDP data are on disposal – i.e. to denominate namely the surface.
The mentioned considerations lead to elaborating of a new integral indicator for Demographic pressure, which includes gross economic product and population – its number, density, urbanization, and age structure. The function of these indices acts as Force of economic activity, and does it upon Geographical regions. Pdm = Fa / Gr.
The novelty of this approach consists of using at the same time money and people to represent the environmental impact. The idea is that people with their production and consumption create pressure on the ecosystems. Demographic pressure is acting tacitly or more visibly on regions with different carrying capacities, and it is plausible to suggest that it also migrates from regions with high to regions with low Pdm. But it may be also be the opposite: regions with high economic activity attract ever more, at least to a point. Pdm is a territorially flexible index depicting the rate of demand on natural resources. The dynamics of the carrying capacity of the surface may be traced through some degradation coefficients– deforestation rate, drinking water availability, soil erosion, etc.
Some preliminary results
The best possible approach to measure the human economic activity is to re-calculate GDP, deducting the net trade and adding the imports. Like in the Ecological Footprint index, the denominator could be not simply the surface but produced biomass. And some coefficients of degradation would be valuable approximation to the reality. But since the study of Demographic pressure in the outlined frames is still just a research proposal, we have to turn to a simplification of the formula. It has been applied on a country level, multiplying the GDP per capita (PPP) with population density and then divided to the national territory. In this simple operation we combine population, economy and territory, and we have a new mind-joggling measure: dollars per people per square kilometer.
The first numbers give promising food of thought. For example, on every square kilometer of its territory the US creates less money per capita than the world’s average. This is something that conflicts with our knowledge of USA as greatest consumer and creator of waste – and may indeed give some explanation for the relatively quick return to economic growth in America after the Great recession, while Japan and Western Europe with very high Pdm stagnate.
The same territorial distortion emerges in all calculations referring to “country continents”, for instance Russia, China, Brazil, and Australia. This fact could be regarded as a token that the state territory is not always the best unit for which to compute Demographic pressure through GDP and population density.
The simplified macro calculation reveals some interesting results, especially when countries of similar “character” or region are compared. For example, in the calculations with data for 2007, Demographic Pressure, so expressed, is in Portugal a third higher than in Spain. The Demographic pressure in Bulgaria is 50% lower than in Romania, and Bulgaria has the lowest demographic pressure in the European Union. This fact, in respect with the low GDP per capita, depopulation and very high biodiversity in Bulgaria, increases the putative plausibility of the indicator. Greece’s demographic pressure is twice as high as in Bulgaria. And Italy along with Switzerland has one of the highest Pdm in the world: more than 1 million USD per people per square kilometer. Just five other countries have such high Pdm: Netherlands, Korea, Japan, Germany, and UK.
The explanation why neighboring countries absorb different pressure lies maybe in their political history or mentality – and not necessarily in the geography or industrial structure. But to draw broader conclusions it is preferable to include more stuff to express more precisely the Force of human activity and also to subdivide the administrative territories into truly natural, geographical regions.
Which factors play role in Demographic Pressure
The Force of activity (Fa) may be calculated as a power function including two sets of indicators:
- The core impact
1) GDP generated in the respective region (Analytical Approach).
2) Population density;
3) Urbanization rate;
4) Fertility, Migration, Economic Active Population (people from 15 to 70 years);
5) Roads, km;
6) Trade (flows of goods and terms of trade);
7) Degradation coefficient: rate of degradation of a main component supporting the human environment system;
- Miscellaneous sensitive variables
8) Land use: fallow land, arable land, erosion;
9) Certified environmentally sound practices, (renewable energies, zero carbon buildings, sustainable forestry and fishery e.g.) – to be deducted from the Fa;
10) Carbon emissions generation;
12) Neighborhood formation: people living in suburbs, slumps;
13) Noise contamination;
14) Urbanization thresholds, Site formation age;
15) Information assurance (Internet access per people/ per company);
16) Money generation rate (inflation);
17) Industrial production, Construction, Mining;
18) Energy production;
19) Trade centers;
20) Recreation; Tourism.
The powers of the indices should be determined by weighting of the function: first on a global level then regionally.
Why to use index for Demographic pressure
The first thought hearing the phrase “Demographic pressure” may be a vision of insurgent flows of aggressive people, fleeting from a military induced environmental disaster. It is worth mentioning that the population pressure is continually associated with human aggression, and we do have evidences from the animal world that the increase in the number of individuals on a limited space is resulting in population stress. Yet we have an alternative assumption that the higher density of urban population could turn out to be the best way to lessen the human impact on rural areas. And just like human capitalist creativity increased when the number of people in the circumscribed medieval cities surged, the emergence of new society based on electronic information may be thought as an unintended consequence of the population boom of the 1960s. Of course, it is undeniable that information society exports its negative consequences and transforms the less-developed world.
Although the economic impact on the environment is a subject of extended studies, the monetary approximation of the economic pressure on the environment is seldom used. With some elaborations on the formula, a scientific collaboration could establish an index of Demographic pressure relatively easy up to the scale of EU NUTS 2 level. On this basis one may discern different patterns for Pdm in different regions, for example in high mountains, mountainous terrains, territories along big rivers, wetlands, coastal regions, even marine ecosystems. It would be useful to have a tool to compare the impact of the forest industry with that of a wine-growing or orchard sector. Such indicator could stress the different supply of entropy by urbanized and rural areas, Pdm reveals the “center – periphery” model. Pressure is exported, when goods imported, and vice versa.
The research plan also includes comparison between the indicator for Demographic pressure and the Human Development Index. One has to have in mind from the very beginning that same demographic pressure could emerge through different combinations of money, people and surface. This is not necessarily a culprit and may lead to considerations for the best allocation of the Pdm factors. When monetary flows are examined from the point of view of sustainable prosperity, as if nature and people mattered, it certainly turns out that a great many economic projects are unfeasible. We could also discover new dimensions where to develop, like recreation and bio-agriculture.
There are some more hypotheses, which could be examined through correlations, yet the qualitative reasoning could prove to be more useful: knowledge and technology transform the very nature of the demographic pressure. The contemporary information infrastructure acts as a kind of chimney for the population’s pressure. Unfortunately the same role may play military conflicts. Finally, stress-relieving territories with fewer roads and limited energy generation are needed in order to conserve some core functions of the ecosystems, thus strengthening the denominator of Pdm. The application of “pressure valves” for the military conflicts in the form of migration or big infrastructure projects is another promising application.