On Friday afternoon, the College of International Studies welcomed Dr. David Lopez-Carr to speak on the topic of population, health, and environment transitions in Latin America. Dr. Lopez-Carr is the director of the Human-Environment Dynamics Lab at the University of California Santa Barbara and a professor of Geography, Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina. Dr. Lopez-Carr focused his presentation on the interactions between populations and the environment in Latin America.
Although Dr. Lopez-Carr is primarily a geographer, he amazed me with how many different aspects of research is involved in many of his studies. Instead of a study being solely land-focused, one must think in other scales involving population, human habits, etc. For example, one of the major points that he made was that less than 1% of the earth’s land masses are human-occupied. Furthermore, Dr. Ward made the argument that more than 75% of the earth’s land contributes to animal production. This entails growing the animals themselves (for human consumption) and growing crops to feed the animals (in order to grow them so that humans may consume them). According to Dr. Lopez-Carr, “available agricultural land is a diminishing and constraining resource”.
Dr. Lopez-Carr also compellingly commented that there is “no relationship between forest change and population change” in Latin America – partially due to the fact that big-scale farming processes now use more technology than human labor. There have been noted increases in re-forestation, though, and this has been largely due to climate change. Because climate change causes major shifts in weather patterns, areas that previously received little rain are now receiving higher levels of it, ultimately resulting in re-forestation.
A few of the broader statements that Dr. Lopez-Carr made stood out to me, as well. One of them being that we should be wary of binaries (that not all concepts are black and white – most things fall on a continuum). Additionally that we must not stop pursuing the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. He also stated that the United States has an important role to play in what we’re displaying in terms of being environmental and sustainable, such as whether we use enhanced technologies or greener farming practices. A question that Dr. Lopez-Carr asked continues to echo in my mind: “How much do we care about economic growth versus a sustained environment for our grandchildren?”