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Chapter 1.2 Trends and Transitions

Chapter 1.2 Trends and Transitions
Population size has increased globally throughout most of human history, stimulating rising demand for environmental resources. This relationship has proven to be so strong that virtually all assessments of sustainability begin with it. Over the last two centuries, however, this driver of environmental change has been joined by that of increasingly high levels of individual consumption. This combination of forces has escalated demands on the environment to unprecedented levels and raises important questions about sustainability. What do current trends in population and human well being imply for those of the environment, informed by insights from past human-environment relationships? Can we bring about a future transition to sustainability, meeting the needs of a much larger but stabilizing human population while sustaining the life support systems of the planet? This chapter addresses these and related questions. It begins with a review of the three major global transitions in human-environment relationships that have occurred since the appearance of Homo sapiens, setting the stage for understanding the broad character of human-environment relationships. The next section summarizes trends in population, human wellbeing and consumption during the latest and most important phase which started with the industrial revolution and continues today. This is followed by an overview of the implications of the recent expansion of demand for environmental services for stocks of natural capital. A concluding section looks ahead and discussed the prospects for completing transitions to sustainability.